Les Wigerables. When Cutting A Rug On Stage Means Whole Lot More

Posted on 31 December 2014

Hayley is a wigs, hair and make-up artist who has worked in theatre, film and television. Her latest job was Deputy Head of Hair and Wigs on the West End musical The Bodyguard

What was you first theatre experience as a child? 

I can't quite remember my first experience of theatre, but I remember that we went a lot! Cats and Starlight Express were my favourite shows growing up and I remember that pearl once winked at me during a show!! ! I always used to focus on one character on stage and try to make eye contact. My parents always used to get us seats near the front so that I could take in every detail of the makeup. 

What made you chose to train to be a Theatrical Make-up and Hair artist? 

I was always into art at school, I remember having a lot of trouble deciding what I wanted to do when I grew up. I was changing my mind all the time. After school I studied Beauty Therapy, but it wasn't creative enough for me. Although I did enjoy the few make-up lessons we had. I then went to a careers advisor and said that I wanted to be a make-up artist and didn't have a clue how to do it. He suggested a course for me at another college, so I left after one year of beauty therapy and started a course in 3D Design, Media and make-up. Two years later I found myself at the London College of Fashion studing a BA (Hons) in make-up and prosthetics for performance. It was great as I got to do a lot of design, but it also covered every aspect of the industry from making facial hair, wigs, full facial prosthetics, fashion, TV and Film make-up. 

I was also inspired by films like Mrs Doubtfire, The Nutty Professor and so on. Movie legend make-up artists like Rick Baker and Dick Smith - I was fascinated by the transformation process and used to spend hours in my room trying out different make-up looks, and researching SFX make-up techniques.  

So you've worked on some really big shows, which one is your favourite? 

All the shows have been very different and I have enjoyed them all for different reasons. I would say The Bodyguard has been my favourite if I had to choose one. It was a show where I was able to grow as a person and I got to work with and look after some incredible people.

I know you worked on Les Miserables, who had the best and worst wigs?

All the wigs on Les Miserables are beautiful - in terms of how they are made, the fit and the quality of materials used. But I guess in terms of characters the Thenardiers have the most grotty looking wigs due to them being very working class, owning a pub where they rip off their customers and add the most comical value to the show. Fantine has in my opinion the most amazing wig, as it is real human hair, extremely long, blonde and the most gorgeous period style, but it's a shame as you dont get to see it much in the show as she has to have it all cut off to sell for money.

Are there lots of wig and make-up changes during a typical West End show? 

There are generally a lot of  wig and make-up changes in a West End show. It all depends on the type of show, how many scenes there are, how many characters an actor will play, what time frame the show is set over (days or years) and ultimately how big the show is in terms of budget. 
If the leading lady/man is on the stage a lot, the changes have to be very fast, a great example is Rachel Marron in The Bodyguard. The scene changes are very quick and Rachel has to have her hair and costume different in every scene to show the passing of time. To cheat the look of lots of different wigs we used various different hair pieces and pinned them into Rachel's own wig, we also did a lot of hair up's, down's, plait's and pleat's.

Mostly the actors and actresses will do their own make-up unless they are a big name and request a make-up artist, or they won't be able to do their make-up themselves as it is a complicated look. The Lion King, Oliver, Wicked, Shrek and Phantom of the Opera are just a few shows that have make-up artists working full time. 

What was the funniest on stage wig disaster? 

Luckily we haven't had any full on wig disasters, but once on a show I was doing a different wig plot (a wig plot is basically the route that you follow backstage during the show, different wiggies look after different people and have to be in different areas backstage at different times according to different scenes) that I hadn't done in a while, and I was meant to go to the ensemble girls dressing room in the interval. However for what ever reason, I forgot, and the ensemble girls also forgot, and they went backstage ready to enter for their scene at the beginning of Act 2, and realised they didn't have a wig on, so about 30 seconds before grabbed a wig off a shelf and went on! Luckily, the audience wouldn't have noticed as they weren't featured, they were mostly in the background. We just couldn't believe that I forgot and they didn't even realise that I hadn't been to their dressing room!

Another time I was looking after the leading lady on a show, on a very busy plot, with lots of wig changes and the next scene was very important to the show. With about 90 seconds before the change, I realised the wrong wig piece had been set, so I pelted it up 5 flights of stairs to the wig room, grabbed the wig piece and pelted it back down. I made the change with about 5 seconds to spare, but it felt like I was about to have a heart attack! I had never run so fast in all my life, everyone was clapping backstage when I made it in time. That would have been awful if I hadn't of made it, as there is film footage running alongside her performance in that particular scene, and her hair wouldn't of matched it!

Have you ever wanted to be on the stage?

I haven't ever wanted to be on stage, but a number of times I thought it would have been funny to just run across pulling a silly face at the audience or something!

What advice would you give to someone looking to start a career as a Theatrical Make-Up Artist? 

I would say to do an all round make-up and hair course, as until you experience the backstage life, and the hours you may not like it and will you will narrow your career prospects by just doing a theatrical make-up course. Getting into theatre is very hard, as is with film and television, it's mostly about luck, being persistent and being in the right place at the right time with somebody willing to give you a chance.

80% of the job is wigs and hair, so you need to be very confident at putting wigs on, blocking wigs up properly, putting rollers in, and doing pin curs along with general hair styling. Barbering and being able to cut hair will also help you to stand out stand out, being a great make-up artist is just a bonus. 

You should send your CV to every theatre, asking for work experience and then phone them up a few weeks later to ask if they have received your CV and plead with the Head of Department (HOD) to give you a day or two shadowing the wig plots of the show - dress well, ask lots of questions and be as helpful as possible. Every HOD in the West End, pretty much knows every other HOD so if you impress they will pass your details on to another HOD and keep you in mind for future work. Finding good, talented, reliable people is hard, so once you find one, you will help them out as much as possible!

Interviewed by Nicky Sweetland