Friday, July 28, 2006
The Wigs for "The Greater Good"
Charles G. Lapointe: Hair and Makeup Designer
I’m very lucky to have four exceptionally good people working for me. This meant that we could build all of the wigs for The Greater Good in about a week. When you are able to custom build a wig for someone it looks much more natural because it fits their head perfectly. That can make the difference between something looking like a wig, or looking like the singer’s real hair. To build a wig we begin by doing a head wrap on the actor. This means prepping them in a wig cap, covering it with tape, drawing out their hair line, and then removing that from their head. We then construct a netted fabric in the shape of their head, select suitable hair, and ventilate it into the netting. Ventilating is the process of tying the pieces of hair to the netting. It’s called ventilating because in the 18th century wigs were primarily built with felt, which didn’t breathe a lot. Louis XIV brought high fashion into wigs at that time. Someone invented a wire mesh material to tie the pieces of hair to, which was much more comfortable than felt. This was called a ventilated wig and from then on the process has been called ventilating.
My initial interaction was with Deborah Shippee, the Costume Director. We had a conversation about the designs and she sent me all of the sketches for the season. From there I talked to the costume designer (David Zinn). We got together and went over the looks for the show. He had very specific ideas for the looks, but allowed me to take care of a lot of the details. I didn’t work with the director, David Schweizer, until the tech rehearsals onstage. Decisions about what hair color to use and how to style the wigs, are primarily mine. I try to stay within the hair color ranges of the singers. It is very difficult to take someone with black hair and make them a platinum blonde. If we do change people’s hair color, then their skin tone has to be taken into account as well. I start to think about what can be done with the makeup to make the hair color look natural. I’ve described all of this in a very clinical way as if there is a process to it. Honestly, I really just go on instinct. I just do it. If I think about it too much I get in my own way. Often times I sit there thinking, “What the hell am I doing?” Then I sit down with the hair and just do it.
In terms of makeup, I’m a non-makeup makeup artist. It’s not really my thing. I’m probably utilitarian at best. There are basic concepts of shadow and light that you follow. We use very little color on the face. Unless they are supposed to look “made up,” like the prostitute Boule de Suif, I want singers’ faces to look completely natural. We start by taking away all of the shapes and contours of the face and them putting them back, a little bigger and bolder so that they can be read from the house. I want the singers to look like themselves up there, as if they’re not wearing makeup.
That natural look is something that my crew and my business partner Tom Watson and I believe in very strongly. From Tom I’ve learned a great deal about this craft. He was a hairdresser and then fell into this business because of his love of opera. Tom is primarily self-taught. All of us who work for the company are as well, for the most part. This gives our work a very naturalistic style. Often times when you go to the theater the wigs look very hard and structured. They look intentional. I want my wigs to look like any second the hair styles could fall out. It should look as if they did their hair themselves. That looseness in design is the main thing that I’ve learned from Tom. It has to look real.
Photos (from left to right):
1. Allison Imoto (Hair and Makeup Intern) preps a wig for The Pirates of Penzance.
2. Molly Weinreb(Hair and Makeup Assistant) builds one of the wigs for The Greater Good.