“Are You There Chelsea?”
By Gina Silverstein, February 13, 2012
You just never know who you’re going to meet in your career and what will happen in theirs. This is a common thread for the team behind the new show “Are You There Chelsea?” and is especially true for Costume Designer Bonnie Nipar. This multi-camera sitcom veteran was a wardrobe supervisor on 71 episodes of the series “Grace Under Fire” in the mid-90s, a Chuck Lorre production where she first met Dottie Zicklin, a writer for a few early episodes. Lorre and Zicklin went on to create “Dharma & Greg” in 1997 and brought Nipar with them. She designed the series until 2001. Writer Julie Ann Larson also worked on the hit show, penning 15 episodes.
In 2011, Zicklin re-teamed with Larson to create “Are You There Chelsea?” Although a decade had passed, the pair remembered Nipar from their days on “Dharma & Greg” and asked her to join them to design the costumes for their new project. Nipar says there was no way she would have passed up the opportunity, describing them as “two of the most down-to-earth ladies in the business.” She says working with them has been nothing less than pleasurable. “They’re bright; they’re creative but also loving and care about people. They get a group and keep us together so it’s a family environment in many ways.”
Nipar is also happy to get back to her forte. Most of the new critically acclaimed sitcoms in the last three years have been single-camera shows and it seemed the multi-camera format was a dying art form. During those years, Nipar continued to work, assisting on films and creating made-to-order costumes for other designers, which she has a background in and enjoys. When the multi-camera format returned and she was offered “Are You There Chelsea,” it didn’t take her long to get back into the groove. That’s not to say things haven’t changed since she last worked on a multi-camera show, which still shoots before a live audience on Fridays but now has pre-shoots on Thursdays and more extensive costume requirements.
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Recently, someone told Nipar they had designed a four-camera sitcom years ago and was bored. She laughed at the thought of that with “Are You There Chelsea?” “For one of my shows alone,” she says, “I had 70 changes for my principle actors, not counting 75 extras in three changes each, guest stars and costume jokes that we had to build and create.” She also works with a fairly tight budget that has been stretched thin at times but manages to work it out as some shows require more than others. Drawing from 26 years in the industry and having an “awesome, hand-picked crew” helps Nipar get through the challenges. Her department consists of supervisor Laura Liz Little, key costumer Dana Axelrad, and costumers Nicole Leitner and Carlie Tracey – a team she says is “self-motivating… and really cares about the project and how it looks.” Donn Hook at Warner Bros. Costumes has also been helpful.
Being able to appreciate the content of the show is a plus, as well. Even before she got the call from Zicklin to do the series, Nipar had already read Chelsea Handler’s book “Are You There Vodka? It’s Me Chelsea,” which the show is partly based on. She likes Handler’s humor, describing it as edgy and controversial, hitting on subjects people think about but don’t say out loud. Nipar isn’t Handler’s only fan. The comedienne consistently delivers high ratings on her late-night talk show, “Chelsea Lately,” especially among young female viewers, and was named in the top 100 powerful women in entertainment last year. The “Are You There Chelsea?” team hopes that some of this magic will rub off on their project, as well. Besides using her “Vodka” book as a guideline, Zicklin and Larson use bits and pieces of Handler’s other books, “My Horizontal Life” and “Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang,” to come up with a comic stew loosely based on her 20s, when she worked in a New Jersey bar.
In some regards, the show is also about characters who are open with their thoughts, what they feel about relationships and their working environment, which is a message Nipar connects with. “Let’s face it, if you spend two-thirds of your life working,” Nipar explains, “you ought to be doing something that you love.” She believes in looking beyond the straight-and-narrow responsibility of life and putting more fun into it. It seems this philosophy is universal in the way she approaches design, as well. “I draw inspiration from rock and roll,” the Pittsburgh native explains. “I love those wild, crazy people like Jimi Hendrix, like Janis Joplin who didn’t have stylists. They didn’t have designers. They evoked what they were feeling and what the lyrics moved them to do, as our scripts move us to create these characters.”