Behind the Scenes: Stage Makeup

Stage makeup

From Broadway plays and high-concept concerts to gritty, avant garde street performances, makeup plays an integral role in capturing drama and intent. For professional makeup artists, creating a stage-ready theatrical look means accounting for stage lighting, character traits, water resistance, and much more.   

A Brief History of Theater Makeup

From the earliest known beginnings of theater, the face has been at the core of expression and character identity. Ancient Greeks used masks to indicate feelings and intents, which conveniently allowed a single actor to switch between several characters. In Asia, however, theatrical performers tended to use makeup to enhance their natural features and expressions. Japanese Geisha are an example of entertainers who used dramatic makeup even off stage.

Throughout history, makeup has remained a powerful tool for capturing an audience’s attention. Shakespeare’s works are known for having been performed entirely by a cast of men, and feminine stage makeup helped identify female characters. Makeup highlighting recognizable features has also been used to represent important figures in religious and cultural performances.

When stage lighting was introduced, performers realized they needed to overcome the washout effect of the lights by accentuating their faces and features. When film came around, people once again had to figure out how to make actors look their best. Even today, makeup artists still have to prepare performers under various conditions.

Whether it’s a dusting of mattifying powder for a TV host or a flashy look for a powerful music performance, good stage makeup is a key part of any production.

Behind the Face: Creating Character

During a performance, audience members can’t always see the performers close up. Things like opera glasses may help a little, but it can still be difficult to make out actors’ expressions from a distance. Makeup can help solve this problem by giving certain types of characters recognizable features. Historically, this was a major element of Japanese kabuki theater.

Take a look at a couple of character types and how MUAs can use makeup to represent them on stage.

The Hero

A look that draws out the most positive, likable aspects of the character. Hero makeup tends to be about beautifying and making the character look approachable and relatable.

Strong, masculine heroes are a quintessential archetype. Strong contour can sharpen the jawline and intensify bone structure, and body makeup might be used to enhance the appearance of musculature.

The Villain

A look that draws out the negative, disturbing aspects of a character. Darker cream makeup, contour and eyeshadow may be used to create dark circles, sallow cheeks, or other shadowy sorts of features. Liquid latex and prosthetics may be applied to create scars or add monstrous features.

The Artist

Artists are often represented as eclectic, oddball types with unique style and quirky features. Giving a character a makeup look that falls outside current trends, for example, can show they’re offbeat. Bright shadows and intense lipstick can also suggest a love for playing with color.

Tips and Tricks of the Stage Trade

Theater makeup

Whether you’re doing your own makeup for a show or preparing a music artist for a concert, using stage makeup is different from everyday application. Here are a few helpful theater makeup tips you can use for the best on-stage impact.

  • Stage lighting often has a colder tone. Apply more warm and red undertone makeup to block off this light and maintain a youthful appearance on faces.
  • Stage lighting also has a flattening effect. A strong contour can help redefine the face and replace lost depth.
  • Apply highlights and shimmer to bring certain features forward and use lighting to your advantage.
  • Exfoliation is a must for thicker, creamier products. Dry, uneven skin can cause patchiness and make it harder for makeup to adhere.
  • Set makeup thoroughly and make sure you use waterproof products as needed. You don’t want the makeup to sweat off during the big musical number.
  • If you can, test the makeup in rehearsals to see how it looks and how well it wears.
  • Scale the intensity of the stage makeup to the venue. The smaller and more intimate it is, the less work the makeup has to do.

Removing Stage Makeup

Some types of theater makeup can be removed fairly easily with ordinary makeup removers, while others may require special products and techniques. Here are some helpful tips for removing different kinds of stage makeup properly and fully.

  • Remove makeup as soon as you’re able; it’s not ideal to leave heavy theatrical products sitting on your skin longer than necessary. No matter how tired you are, don’t sleep with it on.
  • Instead of a regular face cleanser or soap, use an oil-based makeup remover on creamy stage makeup. Apply it in gentle circles around the eyes and face to dissolve the product, then cleanse it away.
  • To make quick work of heavy coverage, like Scott, use a micellar cleansing wipe for the first pass. Follow up with an appropriate remover and cleanser.
  • Be sure to moisturize well after removal to help skin recover after wear.

Ready to own the stage with your new behind-the-scenes theater makeup knowledge? Find everything you need for show-ready makeup at Scott Barnes today!