A Short Guide To Theatrical Makeup

By Amanda Bean

There are few places as exciting as backstage just before and during a theater performance. The sense of anticipation, the running around to get everything just right, the peeking through the curtains to see how big the audience is and the smell of the greasepaint all contribute to the magic of show business. That greasepaint is actually much more important than one might think. The use of theatrical makeup can enhance the performance but it can also completely ruin it if it's not applied correctly.

Take a stroll through the dressing rooms as the performers prepare and you'll likely see them sitting at heir mirrors, applying thick layers of eyeliner, mascara and other cosmetics. The reason for this is that, like in everyday application, those cosmetics enhance a person's features. It's even more important in the harsh lighting of the stage because the performer's facial expressions are crucial to how convincing their portrayal will be and those expressions can be difficult to see if the audience is seated far away.

Of course the application of color can help create a more convincing character too. If you're 25 but playing the part of someone who's 80, nobody's going to believe the performance if you don't seem to have any wrinkles at all. The same goes for a character who is supposedly dying but sports a rosy, glowing complexion. Cosmetics create infinite possibilities. They can help you be anything from a cat to a clown.

The cosmetics that are used on stage is usually much more long lasting than those for normal, everyday use. It's important that they should be resistant to water since performers sweat quite a lot on stage, both from the exertion physically and from the heat coming from the stage lights. The cosmetics also have to be heat resistant so as not to melt underneath the glare of the lights.

Sweating causes the skin to shine, so performers counteract this with the use of several layers of powder. Most of their makeup seems overly thick in normal light, in fact. This is because heavier application is needed to make the cosmetics show up on stage.

The way that the colors show up is also affected by the colors of the lights used. Green light, for instance, will make reddish colors look grey while yellows and blues will take on a greener tone. Red light will have the opposite effect, making warm colors stand out more and cool colors look grey. The best lighting for makeup tends to have pink tones.

Theater schools usually teach their students about all aspects of show business, including the application of makeup. This means that good performers usually know how to apply their stage faces themselves. However, some theater companies and individual artists also employ the services of an expert, especially for opening night.

Theatrical makeup is available from stores that sell theater supplies or can be ordered online. Even if you don't plan on going on stage soon, it's a good investment to make because you can use the cosmetics for many other purposes. They're great for face painting at children's parties, for instance, or to enhance your Halloween costume.

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