Working in the Theatre: Wigs

[Music] Wigs are worn I would say in practically every
production on Broadway at the moment. There isn’t one person who uses their own
hair except maybe some of the men. A wig designer is a person, either sex, doesn’t
matter what age, they create a style, a look, that is a designer and so when I’m approached
to design a production, I have to know what sort of person they are, whether they are
poor people who have no way of going to a beauty parlor or having their hair done, so
you design for the character. He creates a look with his skill and his comb
and his brush. I work very close with costume designers because
they also have a great part into the look of the show and that’s how I really became
as well known as I am right now. This is the room where the magic happens. Once it is all finished you then dress it
in the style that you discussed in the very beginning with the costume designer or the
director, and then you fit the actors with it and then provided everything has gone well,
they are ready to wear it in production that it’s being made for. I never get to see myself in this, it’s
always a quick change But what I want to say about this is of course
is this particular style is using your own hair over the edge of this, so that it has
a more natural look, that’s what we do. What happens is the wig is put on a block
and it’s pinned so that it doesn’t fall off the block and then water is, then it gets
soaked into water and shampooed, and then that is left to dry slightly and then it’s
reset, just like hair, well this is hair anyway so that is how it’s washed – it’s gently
brushed through with shampoo. And she has this on all of her milliseconds. Probably three minutes until. Three minutes, that’s all. If an actor came in with a costume designer
and they started to talk about various aspects of the play and what character this actor
is going to be, it helped me a lot because I’ve been an actor myself and was able to
speak and have an opinion of course about what would be the right thing to do in respect
to a wig, or a hairpiece, or a beard or a mustache, to transform them into what the
script or the play was. Perfect, you see, I can sell you the Noah’s Ark. And then of course the director comes in after that and says and I want this, I want this,
I don’t like this and I don’t like that. And so it’s a team, the whole team goes on. Ok thank you, and we’ll talk about; well
no I’ll see you on Saturday. I get hired on the first day of rehearsal
and that’s when all the actors are at one place at one time the rehearsal studios. So that’s when the work begins, like taking
those cap shapes, plastic cap shapes, measurements, color, and talking about the look and style. A costume designer can hire me, a director can hire me, and a producer certainly can hire me cause he’s the one who’s going to be paying the pennies. I have a certain demands, that I always say
when I’m too old and too famous so I can ask this, which I do. I get a design fee on the production I do
and if they’re generous I get a royalty per week, that’s the business side of it. [Music] I personally brought a different type of wig
to this country, a delicacy of the temples and the sides of the wig made an enormous difference. And so the wigmakers that were making wigs
here put far too much hair in a wig, which is always a giveaway so I started to create a much finer type of wig to be worn in movies and theatre. One of the things that I specialize in is
that when the hair is threaded into the foundation I shade the color with a different color and
we call that a root color, that’s when the base of the hair is slightly darker than the
tips of the hair. And that has influenced a lot of wigmakers
here in this country, they’ve started to do that. [Music] I took a cap shade of the actors and then
that is transposed onto a wooden head block and then you start to make the foundation
which is made of a netting, to the contour of that shape on that block and then the hair
is threaded through it. We’re making a new wig for Lucia, so we’re
building Lucia a second wig for her character Rosina in A Bronx Tale. We’ve made the foundation which is made
out of a, this is a lace fabric, so what I’m going to do is just pin it down because I’m
going to get it ready for ventilating. So we’re going to put hair in all these
little tiny holes you see. We usually put in a thread and that tells
us where to start the front from, it’s really a lost art there’s not a lot of people that
really do the proper you know English way of making wigs. Usually the English wigmakers will lay it
across so you got them going either way so it’s a bit more natural but a lot of other
people will lay it the other way around so it’s just straight, you know just up and
down and I don’t feel like that is quite as natural because it’s just lines of hair. And did you just want to place that, let me
see what it is. Yeah that’s what our finished hairline,
that’s what you want it too look like because it’s nice and natural. This is what we call a drawing mat, so I’ve
already put hair in here and then this holds it down so you can just take out a few hairs
at a time, and then this area here is the root that’s, we call it a turnaround so
you would turn it around and then you’ve got it like this, and this is going to be your little loop. So this is a knotting hook, there’s a teeny
tiny little hook in here that we’re going to pull the hair through the lace and make like a little knot. So it’s kind of like rug hooking but on a really small scale. And then what you do is you just go through,
when you’re on the front here you grab one hair pull it through then just do a little knot. And you’re following these lines that are here. You really want only one hair in the front. What you must realize now is there’s mic
packs that are now worn in the hairs. And that’s changed the whole purpose; it
has to be a wig because it has to cover up that mic pack, it can’t use that mic pack
with their own hair, there’s no way. Also they have to dance, turn upside down
with this on their heads, but those dances, especially Broadway dances prefer it in their
head because they don’t have to have cords running down their bodies you know for quick changes. The actress doesn’t really see it generally
until it’s totally like this and then it’s put on and if you wanted some slight adjustment
you would do that you see, or either I would do it or the hairdresser would do it. This is the sixties where the hair is very
bouffant and big and so of course it doesn’t matter it being poking out or being large
but if it’s a much smaller styled head of hair it has to be placed in a different place
not here, it get’s placed at the bottom of the nape. The mic cord comes down and there’s a little
head on sound and also you have a nail like this don’t you, she wears the mic like this. But aesthetically you would prefer it here
because people don’t see the arm of it. Where Paul put it and how it fits under the
wig it’s very comfortable. When you pin the mic pack into the head, my
scalp gets very sensitive, so what we do at the theater is we’ve had put Velcro on the
cloth and I velcro it to my wig cap and I just put one pin in, because having an uncomfortable
pin during the show can really bother you because it literally feels like someone is
digging into your brain. It’s distracting, it’s painful and you
don’t want to have to go to the wig department to have them take everything off to adjust
a pin, so you try to be very careful when you’re pinning. When I first had the wig designed Paul and
I discussed you know who Rosina was, who I was, and what my hair coloring is which is
thankfully very similar to hers and together we talked about what kind of woman she was:
she’s very strong, playful, intelligent and well kept. When I put on the wig it really brings Rosina
to life, her hair, her costume it just lets them know who she is a little bit. I have friends that don’t wear wigs in shows
and I think it’s very difficult on the actress because then she’s responsible for trying
to create that look every night. I am very grateful I get wigs and I’m very
grateful that two of my wigs have come from Paul, I think you’ve hit, I think you’ve
done a great job. [Music] Ancient people, wig making was exactly the
same but today of course in a much more refined way because they used to tie their hair in
their wigs with great huge hooks, which it had probably 26 hairs to one knot. And as you saw with Giovanna Calabretta you
saw the single hairs going into those holes. When I went to Egypt, they actually had wigs
from you know like two thousand years ago but you know the ones you see in all the tombs
there basically hard fronts and they would put a little it’s like a beeswax perfume
on top of them so a little piece up here and as the night went on it would melt and sort
of go down into the wig so it would be very perfumey. The nuns used to convert when they took their
vows and their hair was shorn and cutoff and sold to wigmakers. But then Italy, decided, which was the country
where most people took their vows and it was a huge industry, and then the war came – so
all that changed. And also nuns did not, no longer cut their
hair, so the source dried out. We went to Russia, which was a huge black
market for hair. Hair merchants especially in that country
would go into the villages and the people would line up once a month and young girls
would have their hair cut off and were paid a minimum sum of money and then it went on
the black markets to be sold to the various wig companies throughout Europe. But now of course it’s a very different
story, it’s not a black-market anymore, but a lot of Russian hair is sold from Russia. Yak hair is very difficult to get now because
of course it all came from Afghanistan. As a small child my mother was a remarkable
woman in the fact that she liked to wear very heavy makeup. And I was fascinated at the age of six watching
her makeup and she was an avid movie fan and she had many film books. I did my military service for two years at
the age of sixteen, and when I came out of that I decided I wanted to be an actor. So I went to a drama school and trained and
then after a few months I decided that acting wasn’t what I really wanted to do at all. I wanted to do something more creative. And then I trained in a very, very wonderful
company called Recreations, which was a great learning experience. They asked me about the fact that I trained
as an actor and that what the position required someone who had knowledge of wigs, which of
course I did not really know much about wigs, but I said I knew everything about wigs just
to get the job and then I trained as a theatrical wig-maker and also I had to go to hairdressing
school at the same time. In those heady days as a very young apprentice
I was allowed to put curlers in Vivien Leigh’s hair and various luminaries at that time in
the theater, in movies. I even made a wig for an actress called Mae
West, who was quite a character I can tell you. I became the number one person in that company for
many many years. I loved portraiture and people’s faces and
I sketched. And then I realized of course when wigs were
then put on people, they totally transform into what they were and I found that really
fascinating, I really did. I was asked to wigs for a film called Carnal
Knowledge, by the director Mike Nichols and of course I was in England at Recreations,
but he asked for me in particular and I came to do that film, it had Jack Nicholson and
Ann-Margaret, and Candice Bergen and Art Garfunkel and so I realized that I perhaps could start
my own company and I would have liked to start it here in New York, which I did. It was an enormous change to me because I
found America very loud and very noise, very hot and very cold. American actors really are rather wonderful,
in many ways more considerate than the English actors who take it for granted so often that
things that are made like wigs and beards and what have you, it’s there god given
right, American actors are so fascinated by the whole thing and think oh my god look at
that look at this. I came in 1972 and I was only 42 I think I
was then and now I’m in my eighties you know and I’m still doing it and I still
get great satisfaction out of it.


Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *