ASK PLAYBILL.COM: Make-up | Playbill

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Ask ASK PLAYBILL.COM: Make-up answers your (and sometimes our own) theatre-related questions.


Ask is a weekly column that answers questions about theatre, generated by readers and staff, every Thursday. To ask a question, email [email protected]. Please specify how you would like your name displayed and please include the city in which you live.

If your question is used in our column, you will receive a mug.

This week's question comes from Eric Lee of Dallas, TX.

Question: I know that a show has a make-up designer, but do the actors have any input into those decisions? Also, who actually applies the make-up? The actor? Make-up artists? Fellow performers? Answer: spoke with Thelma L. Pollard, production make-up supervisor for Phantom of the Opera, who started off in the hair department when the show opened in January 1988 and became make-up supervisor soon after Michael Crawford (along with his make-up supervisor) left the show in September of that year.

For Phantom, Pollard says, the make-up was originally designed by Maria Björnson (who designed the sets and costumes) and Christopher Tucker (whose official credit is "Phantom character make-up created and designed by") for the original London production. Pollard's task is "maintaining the show as it was when it opened" with the make-up scheme Björnson and Tucker designed (Björnson passed away in 2002).

Typically, when a show has a lot of complicated make-up —such as the make-up effect to create the ugly part of the Phantom's face, underneath his mask, which is eventually revealed — that show will have a specified make-up designer, Pollard says. The designer doesn't have to stay with the show — he or she can bring in a make-up supervisor to oversee it on a daily basis. When there's only minor make-up, a show might only have a make-up supervisor, or a make-up consultant (Pollard is a consultant on Passing Strange). A show's original actors do have a say in their make-up, just as they often talk with the costume designer about which costumes fit the character, and with the director about how to play the character.

The performers apply their own make-up. Other performers can't do it for them. "It's against union rules," Pollard says, referring to Local 798, the union for workers in hair and make-up. The exception is for effects make-up, such as the Phantom's ugly face — Pollard spends a little over an hour every night on that project, which mainly involves applying three prosthetics (a head piece, face piece and lips) and putting on make-up over it. (Pollard is also in charge of supplying the actors with make-up, which she orders from the company Alcone in Long Island City in Queens.)

When new performers join the cast, Pollard teaches them how to put on their make-up. Many use the basics: foundation, eyeliner, eye shadow, contours, blushes and mascara. Other performers have to get a bit fancier, such as the ones who have the Kabuki-style white faces. After teaching, Pollard watches the performer put on his or her own make-up to make sure he or she is doing it right.

Pollard mainly gives each performer the same instructions as all the performers who played the role previously. But she often has to adjust the instructions to accommodate the performer's particular face. For instance, if a person has smaller eyes, their eye shadow can't be as dark, or else audiences will have a harder time seeing their eyes, Pollard says.

Pollard later sits in the audience during a show to make sure the new performer put on the make-up correctly. She also has to watch for renegade actors who change their make-up routine on their own. "Sometimes actors, [when] they get bored, they may want to change the lipstick or something. Or they might put on too much blush or not enough blush. They might say, 'I saw this model, I saw her make-up,' and they might put on too much eye shadow." She adds, "They might not think they look glamorous enough" when the role requires an unglamorous look. Pollard also has to make sure their make-up fits with turn-of-the-century Paris. "The period was smoky eyes," she says. "People might think the darker eyes might make them look too old."

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