Pulling Back the Curtain: Industry Advice

Georgia McBride WigsNow that the techniques of wigs, hairpieces, and hairstyles has been explained, you might be wondering how people breakthrough and maintain their own career.  As you have seen in the previous post, working in the Hair and Make-up Department requires diligence, patience, and a love for this art.  As I reveal some tips for those who want to open the doors in pursuit of this career, I’ll also show you what these artists want you take away from the knowledge you now have about the ins and outs of their world:

Exactly how do you begin a career in the Hair and Make-up Department? Here’s how the Hair and Make-up Artists I interviewed began their careers:Trisha

Background crew from "The Hunger Games" (2012), Hair Stylist: Sheryl Blum.

Matt Prokop from “Furry Vengeance” (2010), Hair Stylist: Sheryl Blum.

So, once you’ve worked in theatre, every other experience is the same? There may be some similarities, but it’s different from company to company. Trisha, who has toured on Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake and Edward Scissorhands, points out that her work in regional theatre allows her to become comfortable with a set location or routine, something she can’t do on tour while adjusting from venue to venue. Jocelen adds that her work in summer stock theatre companies requires more hours and commitment with thirteen hour days for twenty-three days. Sheryl tells me more about the differences in her expansive career in theatre, opera, television and film: “Opera is bigger and broader, theatre (depending on how big the house) is smaller than opera and a bit broader than television. Television is finer than theatre and film is as seen by the naked eye. Fashion is bold.”

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Wig for Tarzan from “Tarzan the Musical” (2013), Hale Center Theatre, Wig Designer: Trisha Ison.

What is the best part of working in Hair and Make-up? Is it always a fun and glamorous experience? The answers I received on this ranged across the board: Sheryl loves seeing the final product of a collaboration, Trisha enjoys having different tasks each show, Christiana enjoyed ventilating and keeping her hands busy and running shows backstage, Eric loves to teach others his knowledge and developing a bond of trust with performers, Meredith admires the passion and commitment to the artwork, and Jocelen is simply happy to do the work she loves. But in reality, not everything is as simple as it seems.  Finding steady work (six months max on one film, three days max on commercials, a couple of months on a local theatre production), stress on wrists and hands from repetitive motion, standing long hours, the competitive work atmosphere combined with little credit for work, and not being able to spend time with friends and family during holidays, evenings, or weekends make this line of work not for everyone.

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Make-up and Costume project from Meredith Murphy during her classes at Monster Maker Studios.

So, what advice do these Hair and Make-up Artists have for those who want to pursue a career in this industry? Christiana suggests learning different techniques to find which way works best for you. Eric also adds that being as versatile as possible will make you more valuable.  He also warns that coming into a job with the attitude that you know everything doesn’t pay off. Make-up products and techniques are always changing, which is why Meredith is continually looking into training programs and internships in the Denver area in addition to reading books and finding information online. When it comes to finding work, remember Christiana’s advice: “Our industry is really about being at the right place at the right time. You get jobs from people you meet from other jobs.” Although not every Hair and Make-up Designer or Artist has a cosmetology license, Sheryl recommends attaining one as it teaches the importance of sanitation and other skills.   She stresses the importance of education and experience: “Lay your foundation, get educated, apprentice, get an appropriate license, because it’s the 21st century and throwing stuff in a box and calling yourself a make-up artist is not enough. I work with the best of the best, and we are always perfecting our craft.”


Wig for Fiona in “Brigadoon” (2013), Hale Center Theatre, Wig Designer: Trisha Ison.

What is the most important thing to know about Hair and Make-up? That it’s not always glamorous or the same as working as a hairdresser or cosmetologist for a salon (and even those in salons have their challenges). Working as a production hairstylist or make-up artist is also often seen as gender-specific work that only women or gay men can succeed in, but like any job, what determines your success is your work ethic and the connections you make in your field.  This industry has the best trained professionals with many who have Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees as well as additional training through internships and workshops. It’s not easy work that can be done instantaneously with society’s dependence on technology; everything is this industry requires attention to detail, patience, and commitment. Styling hair or make-up for theatre, opera, film, or similar mediums is a specialized art form requiring historical research and creative story-telling. In the words of Trisha: “My interest in hair and make-up is to help an actor develop their character and contribute to the overall vision of a show.”

Special Thanks: Jocelen Barnett, Sheryl Blum, Eric Clark, Trisha Ison, Meredith Murphy, Alan Richards, Christiana Tise.



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