Wicked’s Green Girl, The Lion King’s Scar, Beetlejuice Beetlejuice Beetlejuice. Each of these shows and their respective characters call for complex and colorful make-up. But even if your face doesn’t need to go from human to Jellicle cat, every production on Broadway—and every performer in that production—requires make-up design.
A designer uses make-up to communicate character and create the world of the show—just as a costume designer does with clothing. There are certain products every performer should have—whether working in a show or attending auditions—as well as best practices every designer should follow.
Here, make-up designers like Michael Ward (The Lion King), Anne Ford-Coates (Frozen), J. Jarad Janas (Jagged Little Pill), Joe Dulude II (Wicked, Beetlejuice), Sarah Cimino (Moulin Rouge!), Millagros Medina-Cerdeira (Mean Girls), and make-up supervisor Geo Brian Hennings (Tina) share their best advice, favorite products, and more to help you maintain a healthy complexion and achieve professional results with make-up.
To make your show look stylish and professional: “Try not to have too many ideas and styles. Let your characters live in the design world you create. The characters’ make-up should look unified.” —Michael Ward, hair and make-up design for The Lion King
To ensure consistency: “Always look at your work from the front, middle, and back of the auditorium. Everyone pays for a ticket and it's our job to make sure that our work helps the performer to communicate with the entire audience—not just the people in the expensive seats! Look for how the make-up helps and hinders the clarity of the face and adjust accordingly.” —Michael Ward
To avoid overdoing it: “Proper dressing room light is a huge help to everyone. Clean white light makes it easy to apply make-up; old, yellow dressing room lighting leads to poorly applied makeup. If your dressing rooms are poorly lit, invest in long-lasting LED bulbs.” —Anne Ford-Coates, make-up designer for Frozen
To achieve superior design: “Understand the actor, their needs, and their face. Character comes second to the actor.” —J. Jared Janas, make-up designer for Jagged Little Pill
Know your story: “Know the script, the music, the period, the production concept, the cast and the dramaturgy. You can’t create a world and tell a story and until you know all these things. Without this knowledge, you’re just decorating.” —Anne Ford-Coates
Collaborate: “Step one in the make-up design is talking with the costume designer to find out all you need to know about the show—concept, specialty makeup, theme, look, etc.” —Joe Dulude II, make-up designer for Beetlejuice and Wicked
Practice: “YouTube is a great resource for discovering new techniques and products, but watching other people do make-up will only take you so far. You have to practice as much as you can—on as many different faces and skin tones as you can—to really develop a confident hand and solid technique.” —Sarah Cimino, make-up designer for Moulin Rouge!
Tips and Tricks for Designers
To fix quick: “False lashes, which can be purchased at any drugstore or beauty supply and amplifies any character’s look with ease.” —Millagros Medina-Cerdeira, make-up designer for Mean Girls
To make your makeup go farther: “After applying blush to the cheeks, run your blush brush over your entire eyelid. No need to add extra blush to the brush to do this. Just connect your eyes to your cheeks. The transformation is pretty amazing.” —J. Jared Janas
To avoid looking sweaty: “Shimmery makeup can make you look very sweaty on stage or on camera. I can’t wait for this trend to stop.” —J. Jared Janas
To age: “If you don't have the budget or recourses for prosthetics, highlighting and contouring is a great technique that allows you to change the face and to trick the eye into seeing a performer’s features differently from how they naturally appear.” —Sarah Cimino
To achieve special effects: “Simple blood and gore effects can be done quite well on a budget. Quick latex-based special effects, like the old trick of building scars and scrapes with tissue, look fantastically real with a little practice and are super cheap! You can also make your own stage blood with pantry staples that are cheap and deliver buckets of gore. There are plenty of recipes and tutorials online. But please always be sure to work safely. Talk to your actors about food and/or latex allergies. And, of course, stain test any homemade blood before you dump it on the costumes!” —Anne Ford-Coates
Tips and Tricks for Performers
To look glam fast: “If you want to look your best for an audition but don’t have a lot of time: Do a light layer of foundation and powder. Be generous with your mascara. (Sometimes a good application of mascara can make it look like you have a full eye make-up on.) Add a little color to the cheeks with either blush or bronzer. Put on a neutral lipstick that gives your lips just a hint of color. Lip stains are perfect for this. For guys, a good foundation and powder is all you need.” —Joe Dulude II
To keep your skin healthy: “Dehydrated skin doesn’t take or hold make-up well. Actors need plenty of drinking water during rehearsals and performances to keep their skin hydrated. Also, don’t try to save money by sharing make-up. Always keep make-up and brushes sanitary.” —Anne Ford-Coates
x2: “When showering, don’t let the water from the shower hit your face directly. This is especially important for actors on tours. The water is different in different cities. Sometimes it can contain minerals that could cause break outs. Apply your face wash, then take a damp face cloth, wring it out and wipe the cleanser away with that.” —Joe Dulude II
To save money: “Each performer should have an eyeliner that can serve as both an eyeliner and an eyebrow pencil. You must be able to see eyebrows, and an eyeliner helps wake up the face.” —J. Jared Janas
“Every performer should have a basic kit of brushes which includes: powder, fan/contour, flat brush for eyelid, a pencil or small tapered brush for the crease, two angled brushes—one for the eyebrow and one for eyeliner—and a blush brush (not too large).” —Joe Dulude II
“Every performer should have a concealer that really matches their skin. Darkness around the eyes makes it hard to see expression and can add a decade from a distance.” —Anne Ford-Coates
“A natural sponge and/or a stipple sponge is a must-have for dabbing (or marking with dots) make-up color to enhance shading and especially highlight. It’s a technique that can really help and it’s fast. It works with almost every type of makeup. You only need a tiny bit!” —Michael Ward
“The single most important item for any individual performer is a basic cream highlight and contour kit. The face tends to go flat under the lights. Having this enables a performer to define, enhance, and sculpt their face. It allows them to manipulate their facial structure and age as needed for the character, and can be used on other body parts.” —Millagros Medina-Cerdeira
“Some great skincare lines that are good and won’t empty your wallet are Kiehl’s and Mario Badescu. If you want something a little bit more expensive but all natural and will last you a long time, check out B3 Balm.” —Joe Dulude II
“Use a primer before applying makeup and a fixer for after your makeup is done. Skindinavia has both of these. They also make an amazing makeup remover spray that, when sprayed on and wiped off with a make-up wipe, will remove your make-up quickly.” —Joe Dulude II
“Get a good eyeshadow palette containing four colors. For lighter skin tones: a light highlight, a medium brown, a dark brown, and a black. If you have darker skin, get a highlight (usually in a peach or mango color), two shades of brown (go for warmer shades rather than cooler ones—those will tend to turn ashy), and a black. If you have these, you will be able to do almost any make-up plot given to you.” —Joe Dulude II
“Burt’s Bees Tinted Lip Shimmer and Nars Orgasm Blush. These two items can change your face in seconds and work on almost any skin tone.” —J. Jared Janas
“I cannot live without my Beautyblender. This is a fast and efficient way to make sure your foundation is blended, and you don’t go through so much of it each time.” —Geo Brian Hennings, hair and make-up supervisor at Tina