It’s one of the few things that can truly change a person’s appearance in a matter of minutes. But when you see it on stage, you might not realize it’s there.
Wig Master Cheyenne Holbert gives all the hairy details behind the hundreds of wigs at Tuacahn in this month’s Backstage Notes spotlight.
“…a multitude of wigs to tell the story properly…”
When the characters in any of Tuacahn’s theatrical productions step on the stage, Cheyenne Holbert hopes you won’t notice all the work she’s done.
It’s not that she’s trying to be modest. And it’s certainly not because she hasn’t spent hours perfecting her craft. But as Tuacahn’s wig master, if Holbert and her team have done their job, you’ll never know which characters are sporting wigs and which are wearing their real hair.
“That’s the goal,” Holbert says with a laugh.
Then, just for fun, she tossed out a dare.
“I challenge anyone who comes to see School of Rock to pick out the child wearing hair that’s not their own,” she says. “It’s always surprising for people to hear of the kids wearing a hair piece.”
This season there are between 400 and 500 wigs, hair pieces and facial hair used in the four outdoor productions — with The Count of Monte Cristo using 217.
“When you have a show like ‘Count’ with such a big cast of characters that spans so many years, you have to have a multitude of wigs to tell the story properly,” Holbert says.
Not only do wigs assist in aging the characters, they serve as a way for the audience to identify each person — even for those audience members in the back of the Amphitheatre.
“Everyone has to look unique as far as the color, length and silhouette of their hair,” Holbert says. “Costumes and the silhouette of the hair clue the audience members in to who is who. Even if you’re in the back, you still need to be able to tell which character is talking.”
As you can imagine, building that many wigs takes countless hours before the season opens. Holbert says a team of three builders is responsible for the creation of the wigs this season. In some cases the wigs are built entirely from scratch — a process that can take up to 60 hours for one wig. Other wigs are purchased and then cut and styled to fit the character, which takes considerably less time, but still a few hours each.
Once the shows open, a whole new kind of wig work begins.
“We have six or seven people backstage assisting with wigs, depending on the night,” Holbert says. “It’s a lot of people just working on hair here.”
In addition to making sure the wigs stay looking fabulous during each performance, the wig team is responsible for the wigs’ nightly cleaning.
“We spray the inside of the wigs and scrub the lace nightly with alcohol,” Holbert says. “Then, as we approach the 21 performance mark, we shampoo and restyle the wigs completely.”
The cast of wigs at Tuacahn is a combination of synthetic hair and human hair — each with its own pros and cons. When it comes to battling the elements in a hot, dry, outdoor theater, Holbert says synthetic hair is often better choice. But human hair wigs tend to look more natural on stage. So it really depends on the show.
“Wigs and makeup are the easiest ways to completely transform a human in a half hour.”
“Most of the wigs for ‘Count of Monte Cristo’ are human hair,” Holbert says. “They look more natural and for a period piece, that is the goal; whereas ‘School of Rock’ uses more exaggerated styles, which works well with synthetic wigs.”
Whether working with real hair, or the man-made stuff, Holbert says the world of wigs is truly a magical art.
“Wigs and makeup are the easiest ways to completely transform a human in a half hour. That always really fascinated me,” Holbert says.
And even though all that work is only on display for a couple of months, it’s all part of the appeal in this line of work.
“I have always been an artist who really appreciates efficacious art, meaning that when you apply art to people, it moves and does things, but it is also temporary,” Holbert says. “It’s the same reason I love live theater. It’s here and then it’s gone. If you’re not there in the moment, you won’t catch it.”
Holbert enjoys knowing her role impacts the way the actors think and feel about their roles.
“Whenever I ask actors how their performance changes from regular rehearsal to full dress rehearsal, they say that once they look in the mirror and it’s no longer their reflection staring back, it is easier to get into character,” Holbert says.
Thinking of one actor in particular in this year’s School of Rock, Holbert says it was amazing to see the change in him when they added his costume and facial hair.
“His character was completely different on stage,” she says with a laugh. “They feel more comfortable taking on a different persona when they don’t look like themselves.”
Even with all the things she loves about working with wigs, it doesn’t mean things are always perfectly coiffed back stage.
Occasionally we’ll have someone who gets sick or injured and they have to ‘swing out’ in the middle of the show,” Holbert says. “We have to have all the wigs ready for the swing person. Regardless of who is on stage it’s a little stressful, but so exciting!”
Get in on all the excitement at Tuacahn this season at performances of The Count of Monte Cristo, School of Rock, and Disney’s Beauty and the Beast running through Oct. 23. For details and tickets check out www.tuacahn.org And don’t forget this year’s holiday celebration with A Christmas Story the Musical and Tuacahn’s Christmas in the Canyon Nov. 26 to Dec. 22.