I haven’t posted in a bit because I’ve been working on a play. I was cast as Marjorie, the lead in William Mastrosimone’s Extremities. It has been a challenging, exhilarating experience and I’m so sad it’s almost over. It seems inevitable that I end up teaching someone how to do stage makeup every time I do a show. When I was taught how to do this style of makeup, way back when I was in school, I learned using Ben Nye and Kryolan products. These are sometimes known colloquially as “grease paint”, although never by theatre people! When I teach folks in community theatre, people who will rarely use the makeup, it does seem silly to have them purchase all of the products they would need (which can be a bit pricey), so I’ve come up with a way to get the same effect with street makeup. Why do we use this freaky looking makeup? The blast of the stage lights will flatten your face, making you look like a body with a bright blob on top (yes, even if you’re dark-skinned). Stage makeup is designed to render the three dimensional features of your face so the audience can identify them…and, critically, your expressions. Men, yes, you need to wear makeup on stage. Get over it. You can follow the tutorial in the same way, just choose a more neutral lip color and a thinner eye-liner line. Please note, this is the way I do this style of makeup, other actors may choose to do things differently. One actress I know puts a red dot at her tear duct. As long as it reads from 30 feet…
This is a photo of all the products that I will use in the tutorial. As you can probably tell, I don’t use one brand of makeup. Over time, as I’ve tried different products from different companies, I have found which items I like for each bit of makeup. Here’s the rundown of the things you’ll need:
-Concealer (If you have dark under-eye circles.)
-Liquid Foundation (Yes, liquid. No, mineral makeup is not just as good. Trust me.)
-Bronzer (Several shades darker than your natural color.)
-White or light beige eyeshadow
-Loose powder (Not pressed. Pressed has too much oil, a real enemy to keeping your makeup in place.)
-White/Natural Beige eyeliner (I prefer a white pencil but, with my regular kit at the theatre, I used beige today. Sometimes you can find a “brow highlighter” pencil, that works just as well.)
-Black or Dark Brown eyeliner (Pencil or liquid, your choice.)
-Black or Dark Brown Mascara (I like the kind that has a primer that leaves “extensions” on your lashes and then the color goes on top. Mostly because I hate wearing false lashes and avoid it unless it is a very large stage.)
-False lashes (Optional, see above.)
-Lip liner (You can either match the lipstick or go with a tone that is similar to your natural lip color.)
-Lipstick (The shade really depends on your character. You don’t want a “virginal” character wearing blood red. I don’t know many people who can get away with not wearing lipstick on stage. I never wear it in “real” life, but I always wear it when acting.)
-Makeup sponge (For your liquid foundation/concealer. Do not use your fingers.)
-Powder Brush/Powder Puff (I really love my kabuki brush, though most drugstore powders come with a puff.)
-“Liner” brush (For filling your eyebrows. The thinner, the better.)
-Eye shadow brush(es)
-Enlarging Mirror (Optional but, oh, so helpful.)
Ok, we’re ready, let’s begin!
Dear God, am I seriously posting photos of myself without makeup online! Yes, yes I am. No, I’m not sick or tired, those dark circles are hereditary…moving on!
You must start with a clean face. No trace of prior makeup can remain. It’s best to have freshly cleaned skin. You will sweat under the lights, any oils on your skin will allow the sweat to make your makeup susceptible to being rubbed off. It’s best to avoid extra oil for this reason. I do not moisturize before applying stage makeup for the same reason. If you have very dry skin, try to find an oil free moisturizer. For the rest of us, we’re only wearing this for a few hours in a stretch, skip the moisturizer.
Apply concealer to under eye circles and any red blemishes, then apply liquid foundation all over your face, down your jawline and onto your neck. Make sure the foundation goes all the way into the hairline (this is why I style my hair after I do makeup). Apply the foundation right over your eyebrows, eyelids, and lips. Think of foundation as the “glue” that will hold all of your makeup in place.
Now, we begin contouring. I usually start with the cheeks because, having a naturally full cheek, the only time I see strong cheekbones is when I do my stage makeup. Gently suck in your cheeks, you don’t need to make a fish-face, you’re just looking to find your natural hollow, and use your blush brush to apply the bronzer along the underside of your cheekbone (from the hollow of the cheek diagonally upwards to the “sideburns”). Don’t be timid, this needs to be a strong color, remember, 30 feet is your goal).
Continue with the bronzer, following the underside of your jaw and down a little way onto the neck. I love this, makes my “soft” jaw look sharp! If I were doing old age makeup, I would use the contouring here to create jowls and wrinkles in my neck. Since this is beauty makeup, I’m giving myself a fashion model jawline!
Apply contouring with an eye shadow brush to the sides of your nose (you can make a crooked nose look straight and vice versa), into the crease of the eye, in the dip between the lips and the nose, along the hairline, and in the crook created between your mouth and chin. The right side of this photo shows the contouring, the left is pre-contour.
Where there is shadow, there must be highlight. My arrows seem to have disappeared…here’s where you put the highlight (I used a very light eye shadow because my skin is pretty pale, if your skin is darker, you could use a shade of foundation that is too light for your skin):
-along top of nose
-along top of cheekbones
-above the eyebrows
-on top of chin
-along the jawline
This is part one of highlighting, there’s more to come. But first…
Set the face with loose powder. Use a shade that is a close match to your skin. Pat it on, your don’t want to wipe shadow onto your highlight, or highlight onto your shadow. Powder your whole face and neck. Although this helps to set your makeup in place, avoid touching your face as that will likely remove some of your makeup, or smear it across your face.
Fill in your brows. Everyone needs to do this. I have black hair and brows and even I fill in my brows. Eyebrows frame your face, give you expression, and can even establish time period…they’re important. If you’re a blonde or redhead, fill them with a medium brown (yes, I know, you’re not used to seeing them so strong, remember how important they are!) Brunettes and all us raven-haired beauties, dark brown shadow is good. Black can be too harsh. A good, fine brush will help a lot here. Brush it on in short strokes, almost like you’re painting individual hairs. You can play with your natural brow shape here, I like to extend the end of my brows, a la the 1930’s. If you base them out very pale, you could give yourself super sharp angles….very evil. You could use a pencil, but then you have to set it with some sort of powder or you risk wiping them across your face halfway through Act 1!
More highlighting! Using white or a neutral color, draw a line under your eyebrow, under your lower lashes, and add some to the area right next to your tear duct. I like to extend this line out and down a little as it makes my small, deep-set eyes look just that much bigger.
Set your highlight with light eye shadow. I like white or a light beige or cream. Avoid anything sparkly! That’s a rule for all your makeup, but especially the eye shadow. Under the stage lights (or a photographer’s flash), the sparkly bits (usually mica or something similar) can catch the light and make you look sweaty! You don’t want your audience to know how hard you’re working…even though you will be, in all likelihood, really sweating.
Use a neutral eye shadow on the eye lid to the crease and then re-emphasize the crease with dark brown shadow. Then it’s time for…eye liner! I prefer to use a liquid liner, black for me, dark brown for my fair-haired co-stars. A fairly thick line is good and I like to extend beyond the lash line (remember, I’m trying to make my eyes look bigger). If I were to wear false lashes, I would apply them after my liner. That way, if there’s a little gap between my lashes and the falsies, no one will be able to tell. Yes, lining is tricky…that’s what practice is for! I find that gently pulling the outer corner of the eye out (to make the skin of the lid taut) is very helpful. If all else fails, ask someone else to help you.
As I said in the intro, I like to use the kind of mascara that has a primer/extender on one end of the tube and the mascara on the other. Several companies make this kind of mascara. Notice, I do not line or put mascara on the bottom lashes. I know you want to. Resist! The whole point of the light liner under the eye is to draw as much light into the eye, dark liner or mascara will completely un-do this. If you were on a large stage, you might choose to draw a “lower lash line” under your eye, about 1/4″ from your actual lower lash line. Talk about a tricky line to draw.
I have yet to meet anyone with perfectly symmetrical lips. This is why lip liner is so crucial. With lip liner, you can match up the two halves of your cupid’s bow, or give a period look to your lip. A Twenties “Clara Bow”? A Forties “Joan Crawford”? It’s all in the lip liner. If you have small lips, use the liner just outside your natural lip line. If you have full lips and would like them to look thinner, line inside your natural lip line. This is why we applied the foundation right over our lips.
Fill lips with lip liner. Fill in the entire lip with lip liner. This will help lock your lipstick in place for the duration of the show. You can sip through a straw (water only, no drinks other than water once you get in costume), with minimal damage to your lip rouge.
Apply lippy! Apply your lipstick right over the filled-in lip. Colors to avoid…anything frosted, sparkly, very glossy, or pale! I like to use a nice orange-y pink for my olive skin for normal characters. Red for va-va-voom or villains. When I do dark-skinned ladies, I love to move it into the plum colors…so lovely! Makes me jealous.
So, once the makeup is done, I wipe off any excess foundation or powder that got into my hairline and style my hair. As you can see, it looks really strange up close. Actually, the photograph lies a bit, it’s even stronger in person. Look at those cheekbones! Love them! Now, let me share some tips and tricks:
You want a nice, fine point on your pencils, which is impossible to accomplish with a gooey pencil “lead”. Before sharpening, place your pencils in the freezer for a few minutes. This will harden the waxes, allowing you to get a sharper point. Also, be very careful about trying to use a pencil that isn’t totally sharp. Wood scratches delicate face skin and hurts!
Finding the Foundation that Matches:
Oh, how I wish this was easy! Unfortunately, without being able to test the product, this can be a bit hit or miss. All of us have different shades just on our face. Generally our jaw area is darker. This can be especially noticeable on dark-skinned folks. The rule of thumb is to match the inside of your wrist. It will be paler than some sections of your face, but a good overall match. You probably can’t tell from the photos because the lighting in my bathroom is very orange, but I have very pale skin. My Ben Nye foundation is actually called “Death Flesh”. In the store, if there’s not a sample to try, lay the bottle over your wrist and walk to the front of the store. Try to see it in as close to natural light as you can (just don’t set off the anti-theft sensors!). There’s no guarantee this will get you a perfect match on the first try but, with so much contouring, you can get away with using a shade that’s not perfect.
Drugstore vs. Department Store:
Here’s the thing, makeup is made of (mostly) the same ingredients. I don’t pay a lot for department store stuff because I’ve never found that it’s so much better as to justify the significant price increase. Not to mention the pressure from the salesladies (who are only doing their job) to get you to buy all of their products. If you need a funky eye shadow color, but a cheap brand. Add a little water to your brush and you will pick up more product, which will make the color stronger on your eye lid. The trick of filling in the lips with lip liner first can also come in handy for strong eye shadow shades. I don’t use “cream” eye shadows, I find them too greasy to stay put under the lights. Pencil and shadow.
A Note on Kohl:
If you have been asked to do a kohl-rimmed eye (very hard to pull off, on stage or in life), place a generous amount of loose powder under your eyes (like, a mound you can see under each). Line the eye with a black pencil, draw your shape as you desire and fill it all in with the black pencil (be careful not to open your eyes wide at this point, the pencil can get on your brow bone area accidentally, bummer). Set the black pencil with black powder. Once all the black is in place, use a large brush to brush off the extra loose powder. This should prevent you from getting little flecks of black on your under-eye area, making it look like you have dark circles.
Have on Hand:
Q-tips, towels, makeup-remover wipes, and cold-cream or cleanser. Q-tips come in handy for all sorts of things. Get a bit of liquid liner or mascara on the side of your nose? (Don’t ask.) Let it dry, then place the Q-tip right on top and give it a twirl. The messy makeup will come off easily, with minimal damage to your foundation. Are you someone who goes to bed periodically wearing your makeup? Oh, come on, you know we’ve all done it! It’s imperative that you don’t do that with your stage makeup. As soon as the show is over and you are backstage, wipe off the major portion with a makeup-remover wipe, then follow with cold cream (remove with towel) or a good cleanser. I like the cold cream because it leaves a little moisture on the skin, so I don’t have to moisturize. There’s also something nostalgic about using the same product as generations of other women.
I try, as best as possible, to avoid sharing my makeup. I replace my makeup sponges each time I use them, wash my brushes periodically, and make sure my tackle box (I’m not kidding, largest one I could find) is cleaned out periodically, tossing old product and cleaning every nook and cranny. Of course, as I have experience and a lot of products, I do get asked to do other’s makeup. As long as I have a new sponge, I don’t mind sharing foundation, contouring items, and powder. I do not share lip liner or lip stick (I don’t get cold sores, I’d like to keep it that way), or eye liner and mascara. If someone is desperate, I will give them my mascara, but will buy a new one for myself before the next performance. Eye shadow is a little tricky. In general, I don’t mind sharing it, I just make sure I use a clean brush and, if someone gets frequent sty’s, or possibly has conjunctivitis (pink eye), I will not allow them near my eye shadow. I do not allow others to use my brushes, I will use them to apply product, but I have spent some good money on a few nice brushes, I don’t want them to walk away.
How long does it take to do stage makeup? I get asked all the time. I can crank out a face in fifteen minutes…if I have to. When I do my own face, I like to have a minimum of 45 minutes. It’s about my routine, my meditation, my calming time, and my mental prep for the show ahead. I don’t listen to music, and I prefer others wear ear phones if they do. I like to get to the theatre early, about 2 to 2 1/2 hours before curtain. Once again, this is more about my mental prep, my way of leaving the day behind.
Makeup for Others:
Why do I do other’s makeup? Sometimes they are hapless. There’s a particular male actor who is older and likes to have a bit of a tipple before getting to the theatre to calm his nerves. If I design the costumes for a show and he’s in it, he and I already know I will be doing his makeup. I also like to do my young student’s makeup. It’s a way for me to pass on the stage makeup techniques that I have learned, and get them into good habits. As they get older, they can do it for themselves and know what they are doing. Sometimes people will specifically ask me. If I’m in the show, I don’t mind doing one or two faces, if there’s more than that, it eats into my “me” time. A little pet peeve of mine…I don’t expect to be paid if I do someone else’s makeup but, if I’m using my products to do it, it is good practice to offer to replace something if it is running low. I may turn you down, but it shows that you are aware that I am using items with a value, and skills with a value, to make you ready for stage. If I’m designing a show and there is any kind of special effects, or complicated makeup, you better believe I’m doing it myself. It needs to look how I designed it every night, which I can best ensure by doing it myself, or teaching one of a handful of people that I trust to do it for me.
Old Age/Specialty Makeup:
I may some day post a tutorial on doing old age or other specialty makeup. Until that time, all you need to know is that shadow and highlight are your friends. Shadow goes on the bottom, highlight on top. Research is also very crucial. If I’m doing a period look, I try to find as many images as I can for hair and makeup. If the character is a “normal” person, I try to find as many regular snapshots as I can. Joan Crawford may have had her makeup done a certain way in the movies, and women may have emulated her, but I don’t want to put Joan Crawford’s face on a frumpy housewife.
Just realized I’ve spent two hours on this post! That’s in addition to the time it took to do the makeup and take the pictures! I hope people find this helpful. Please let me know if there’s anything that needs clarification by leaving a comment. I’ll do my best to respond in a timely manner.