The Theatre Makeup Artist

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A career in makeup is both creative and challenging. As a freelance professional you’ll be working for yourself on different jobs in different places every day. This is the 4th blog in the series of What is a Makeup Artist and today I will be discussing the Theatre Makeup Artist.

A Q&A with Joanna Smedley

joanna-smedley-300pxOver the next two weeks our Peter King TV & Film Makeup Course students are lucky enough to have Head of Wigs and makeup tutor Joanna Smedley guiding them through the art of wig and facial postiche.

When I say we are lucky I really mean this as, the day after she finishes tutoring our students, she is flying off to Japan with the Olivier Academy award winning show ‘Top Hat’ … and what’s more she’s taking one of our BAMM Graduates with her!

So before I get into; The ‘who does what’ and ‘how it works’ I wanted to ask Joanna a few questions about what it is about working in Theatre that made her start and keeps her going.

Joanna, you have worked as a theatre makeup artist now for 12 years was it always your passion to work in theatre whilst studying to become a Makeup Designer?

No as it happens! I always imagined I would work in film but I was lucky enough to get work experience on the West End show The Lion King and from there offered a full time position.

What was your preconception of working in theatre?

I imagined it to be all glitz and glamour, lots of fun obviously and great to see how the show comes together back stage.

And what is it really like?

Actually a bit like how I imagined… It’s a really fun atmosphere, creative with different styles of wigs and character makeup and I never believed I would have travelled around the world doing a job that’s so much fun and so fulfilling.

Where have you been and what was your favourite job?

I have toured America, Cuba; I have been all around Europe, and so many places in the UK that I wouldn’t have necessarily visited of my own accord.

My favourite I have to say was Cuba with The Royal Ballet – just because of the culture and how the audiences appreciated the show and it’s cast. One dancer in particular, Carlos Acosta was a national star in Cuba so they put up screens in the streets for people to watch from outside the theatre, which was so incredible for those who couldn’t afford to watch the show from within and it gave me a real sense of pride to be affiliated with the show itself.

CARLOS ACOSTA; Principal Dancer; The Royal Ballet; 2011, Credit:Johan Persson,

CARLOS ACOSTA; Principal Dancer; The Royal Ballet; 2011, Credit:Johan Persson,

Whilst you are working, do you get much free time to see the places you tour and what are the hours like?

Yes we get a lot of free time to explore, are hours are mainly evenings when the shows are on unless we are doing a matinee which starts at around 2pm. Which is twice a week.

What can you expect to earn working in the theatre?

Each production company varies, as a trainee you can start on anything from £100.00 per day – working your way up to Makeup designer who get paid a rather large sum to set the show up over a rehearsal period of a couple of weeks averaging £10,000 – £15,000.

What is it like back stage and do you socialise with the cast and crew?

It’s fast paced, energising, and an uplifting atmosphere. Everyone is supportive; you are all working together as a team to get the show up on time and for it to be the best it can be. It is a very social job and generally everyone is very like-minded…

What do you mean by like minded?

Most people are quite outgoing, confident and like to socialise with each other out of work.

Who wouldn’t be right for a role as a makeup artist in Theatre?

First of all anybody that isn’t willing to work with wigs (as there are a lot of wigs) and anyone is not good at working unsociable hours or possibly travelling…. Also must be prepared to work fast during quick changes and not get stressed easily!

When looking for a trainee, what experience would they need or would you be looking for?

Somebody that has studied on a reputable hair and makeup course.  I would expect them to know the basics such as: How to block a wig, put a wig on, wrap hair under a wig and of course have general makeup skills.

The majority of our work is learnt on the job but basic understanding of hair and makeup is a necessity.

Theatre makeup artist

So if this little Q & A has got your creative juices flowing and you are beginning to feel the urge perhaps get out of that office job and amongst the bright lights, read on as this could be your career journey and Pathway to the top.

How it works in Theatre

The Wigs and Makeup designer/ Supervisor

Oversees and is in charge of the whole ‘look’ of the show, They do not work on the show during the running but come in as and when necessary.

When a new show is produced the Makeup designer decides how they want it to look. If the show is a long running show lets say for example the Lion King, The Makeup designer at the start of a new cast turn around or tour will tweak the makeup design for new artists or update products being used and take new head wraps for new styles of wigs.

The Head of Department for Wigs and Makeup (HOD) or an older fashioned term ‘Wig Mistress’

In charge of everyone, and sees that everything runs smoothly during each show. The HoD makes sure that everyone knows his or her track/ role or plot. They decide who does what, they order in the stock and organise the rota. The HoD does not always have their own plot/ track but looks after the principle artist.

Deputy head of wigs and makeup

Second in charge, when the HoD is off they run the show and have their own track to follow making up other principle characters.

Assistant wig and makeup artist

There are normally 1-3 or possibly more assistant wig and makeup artists – each having their own track/ plot to follow with the ensemble or a semi principle, as they get more confident. They are often doing quick wig and makeup changes under the stage. They prep the wigs prior to the show and dress them out.

Trainee/ Junior

They are taught all the tracks and plots for the cast members makeup and wigs.

They have a short track/ plot to follow and if someone is sick they will cover. It’s a really good way of learning basics and working your way up the ladder. A trainee may also act as a swing.

Swing

Comes in and covers holidays or sickness and fills into different tracks /plots

If you would like to learn more about becoming a professional Makeup Artist in Television & Film contact the Bath Academy of Media Makeup, they will put you on the right path to finding the best course that is right for you.

At BAMM we make sure you’re prepared to grab this opportunity with both hands. We cover every aspect of Makeup artistry as well as all the other things you’ll need to know from film set etiquette to invoicing your clients.

If you are serious about a career in makeup, we’re serious about you.

Other posts in this series

The Television Makeup Artist

The Film Makeup Artist

What is a Makeup Artist?

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About the Author

Melanie Crump

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Melanie Crump is the founder and Academy Principal of the Bath Academy of Media Makeup. Born and raised in Bath, Melanie left home as a teenager to train as a Makeup Artist in London. Since 2002 she has worked successfully in many fields of the media; Television Drama, Fashion, Entertainment, Music, News, Sport and Current affairs.