THE WIG MAKER -
An Interview with Colleen Rosenthal
By Stacy Deemar, ITA Member
"I love wearing wigs because
they're instantly transformational."
Does the wig make the character or does the character make the wig? The actor's resemblance to the time period or the actual person is exquisite due to the wig maker who seamlessly fuses art and science to create coiffured, flowing, and luxuriant hair as well as disheveled, matted and/or frizzy hair too. The color, texture, and style of the hair impeccably embodies the character. How does the wig maker design such a masterpiece?
The unsung hero behind the scenes of theatre, opera, dance, television and film is the wig maker. The job includes designing, ventilating, coloring and styling a wig that is fit on the actor for each show, cleaning and storing the wig daily, and making repairs.
Freelance wig maker,
Colleen Rosenthal, shared her insight into the art of wigs and the experience of practicing her craft on Broadway, television, film, and at opera houses.
How did you get started in wigs?
I started doing make-up working for Elizabeth Arden Salon and then I worked for Yves Saint Laurent along with freelancing and some commercial work. From there, I worked at the Chicago Lyric Opera for one season doing make-up and eventually found myself in Dallas working in the hair and make-up department of the Dallas Opera expressing desire to learn how to make wigs. The department heads introduced me to Tom Watson, a wig master.
With not much experience in wigs, I traveled with Tom from Opera Philadelphia to the Minneapolis Opera, Sante Fe Opera, and the Metropolitan Opera because Tom needed an extra set of hands and I wanted to learn wig making. I worked with him for a year.
At the Metropolitan Opera, I learned how to measure heads and begin the stages of ventilating which is putting hair in wigs. My mentor was Irene Vasquez, an amazing wig maker. I also was able to style wigs and run shows.
How did you get jobs in the industry?
I started talking to Broadway stage door managers and I left my resume with them. I landed a job on
Beauty and the Beast as a make-up artist and I did that for a month or so. They moved me to wigs because one of the hair crew did not show. I learned the job on the job. I was a swing on this show which is like a substitute worker. I was responsible for a specific number of actors' wigs and running a track.
Are there any licensing or union requirements to becoming a wig master?
I was working Taft-Hartley on
Beauty and the Beast. Once I maximized my days, I was told I had to join the union. Local 798 is the union for make-up artists and hair stylists who work on film, television, and theater in New York. In order to join the union, I had to have a cosmetology degree. At that time, I had a degree in aesthetics and not for hair. So I went to cosmetology school during the day and worked on
Beauty and the Beast at night.
Did you work on any other Broadway shows?
I worked on Broadway at night for three years. I was a swing for
The Lion King,
Phantom of the Opera,
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,
The Grinch Who Stole Christmas,
The Boys from Oz,
The Wedding Singer,
Amour, and other shows including
Did you have a day job?
When I was not working a matinee show, I worked during the early morning at Madame Tussauds Wax Museum in New York City styling hair, repairing wigs, doing wax repair, coloring, and hair insertions. It was at Madame Tussauds where I learned how to style hair by looking at photographs of celebrities that were approved by the museum.
Have you designed wigs for television?
Though I never designed the wigs, I worked on Saturday Night Live from 2003 - 2007 with Bob Kelly Wig Creations building specialty wigs.
What has been your favorite job as a wig master?
I have liked all the jobs. I learned from every job but Saturday Night Live was my favorite because it was always evolving. Because there is a new show every week, I could work with a wig from beginning to end. I liked the fast pace, the fact that the show was live, and the improvisation.
How do you design a wig?
1. Begin by taking the following actor's measurements:
corner of the eye to top connecting point of the ear for both
ears, the height of each ear from the top connecting point to the bottom of the lobe, circumference from hairlines behind the ears, forehead hairline to the nape of the neck hairline, top of the connecting point of ear to ear, crossing the hairline, top of connecting point of ear to ear directly overtop of the head, the hairline adjacent to the corner of the eyebrows around the back of the head and the length of the hairline on the nap of the neck.
2. Pad out the mannequin head/block with clear tape to recreate the shape and measurements of the actor's head with padding (paper, tape, cotton, etc.)
3. Trace the hairline of the actor onto the block based on the measurements.
4. Create the lace foundation on the mannequin head which is the sculpture of the actor's head.
5. Ventilate the hair in the direction you want it to lay. This is similar to a latch-hook.
6. The hair is colored before ventilating the hair.
7. Wet the hair to cut and/or to perm.
8. Style the hair.
What does it mean to ventilate a wig?
The wig is made by hand and each hair is individually knotted with a small hook. Take about 12 inches of human hair and keep it in the same order. Place the hair through the loop of hair with a ventilating needle and weave it through the nylon lace. Tie a knot with the ventilating needle.
How long does it take to make a wig?
It can take 40 hours to make a single tie full wig for both men and women.
What tools do you use to style a wig?
The same as a hair salon - scissors, combs, brushes, hair dryer, curling iron, and styling products.
Are all wigs made from the same materials?
No. For main characters, we usually use human hair. Synthetic wigs are used a lot for chorus and background. Yak hair was used for the animal characters' wigs in
The Lion King and
Cats because the hair is coarse.
How do you maintain a wig?
After the show when the wig is removed from the actor, there is spirit gum on the lace which needs to be removed gently with acetone. Put the wig back on the canvas head which is the exact measurements of the actor's head. Dampen and pin the hug snug ribbon or twill tape over the edge of the lace to put it back in shape so it lays flat.
How do you anchor a wig on an actor's head?
First, pin curl the actor's real hair with bobby pins. This is called the wig prep. ig prep. Place a wig cap, which is like a nylon sock, over the wig prep. Anchor the wig cap with French pins into the wig prep. The microphone goes over the wig cap and is anchored into the wig prep. Next, place the wig over the wig cap and fasten it with French pins. Use spirit gum to adhere the lace around the perimeter of the face.
How do you store a wig to archive it?
Store each wig in an individual labeled box or bag with the character's name.
What is the life expectancy of a wig?
If properly maintained, a wig can last forever.
Share one secret about wigs.
To clean a synthetic wig, drape it through a vat of water and a little bit of Downy. It will return to its shape tangle free.
How do you get compensated?
Jobs pay per hour. Stage and television pay differently.
How can you get hired?
The union website posts jobs and you can send an email with an attached resume to production companies and theatres. You can also seek employment via referrals and word of mouth.
Where is the best place to contact you?
Send me a text at 917-400-7354.
Interested in wig making? Click here
to link to DePaul University Continuing and Professional Education. They offer a Wigs and Hair Chicago course.