Theatre Wig-Stylist and Make-up Artist

Job Description (What the job involves)

Working as a Theatre Wig Stylist/Make-up Artist you are responsible for the actors'/performers' appearance. This includes making sure that they have the correct wig and make-up before they appear in front of the audience and during each performance. Always remember that the performances are live, so you must be prepared at all times. In the run up to the performance going live, a Wig Stylist/Make-up Artist has to interpret the director’s designs, ensuring that they are both creative and technically accurate, following the brief to a high standard.

You will attend several meetings with the directors, actors and crew members, in order to determine what is required from you. Numerous rehearsals will take place, which is an excellent platform for you to create your ideas/designs and fit them into the show, making alterations where necessary before it goes live. Each theatre show you do will be different, one can be a straight forward wig/make-up design, for example: ‘My Fair Lady’ and the next one could be an extreme special effects make-up design, for example: ‘Wicked’ or ‘The Lion King’.

Your work can be so diverse, which keeps your job exiting and interesting at all times, allowing you to be creative. Although you are primarily a Wig and Make-up Artist you must work with all areas of the theatre/crew members and understand how lighting/colours are used and how this will effect your total look. For example, if the colours are really strong then you will need to adapt your make-up not to make the actor look unsuitable for the performance.

Hours and Working Environment

A Theatre Wig and Make-up Stylist’s working day is definitely not a normal 9-5 job. If you are working on an evening production then your day will start in the afternoon. You will go in and get everything cleaned and prepared ready for the actor/actress to come into the wig/make-up room. Here you will get them ready for the performance, which will start around 7pm. You will be on hand either by the side of the stage or in the wig/make-up room for touch ups or changes that are required for the show. It is very busy and fast paced so be prepared to work hard, bringing enthusiasm and creativity to each performance. You will then leave the theatre around 11pm, after you have removed the wigs and make-up from the actors and cleaned them ready for the next day.

If you are preparing for a show then your working day could be anything from 9am to 6pm or 1pm to 10pm where you will be completing your designs, having meetings and doing all your preparations and rehearsals.

You will work in a wig/make-up room which is full of wigs, products and photos of all the shows that have taken place over the years. If you are starting out as an Artist then it is a very inspirational place to work gaining knowledge from previous Artists. The room will have big mirrors surrounded by lights, allowing you to create your designs to a high standard.

Upsides and Downsides

The job is very creative and varied; you could be doing anything from wig styling and basic make-up, to body-painting and special effects. You get to meet lots of different people which can lead to foreign travel opportunities.

However, the job can be unstable and many artists spend their working life as freelancers. You can be called upon to come at the last moment, so many people don't get regular holidays. The job can also be very stressful with budgeting and time constraints. Unless you have a full-time job with a pension, you must manage your fees and your accounts. Insurance is very important as a freelance artist.

Skills and Personal Qualities

You will definitely have to be an outgoing individual who can communicate successfully with a variety of characters/ages/abilities, as you never know who you will be working with. You must be enthusiastic about your trade and enjoy working with people.

Entry Requirements

You will need to complete a training course in Theatrical Make-up and Wig Designs in order to gain the skills and knowledge to work within the industry. You can do this at a variety of colleges around the country; it will either be a Diploma or NVQ Level 2 and Level 3. You can then go onto University to do a BA (Hons) degree in Specialist Make-up and Wig Designs or you can go straight into a theatre and gain hands on experience.

Either way you will always need to do lots of work experience; in this industry it’s not ‘what you know, it’s who you know’, so getting yourself out there and gaining lots of experience will definitely be beneficial to your future career. It is recommended to do either Hairdressing and/or Beauty Therapy first, as the more skills you have the more opportunities you will get within the industry. If a show is running for a long time then you will have to maintain the actor’s appearance from tinting eyebrows/eyelashes to trimming their hair (if not wearing a wig).

Opportunities and Progression

A Theatre Wig/Make-up Artist will start off as an assistant, but will always have the opportunity to become a senior member of the team and then head of department. You can be running your own shows, creating your own designs and developing your contacts in the industry. You will have the opportunity to travel with a variety of shows around the country and even abroad. With the right attitude, dedication and determination you can go a long way and develop a successful career.

Industry Outlook

You will always need to update your skills and knowledge; the industry is always changing and improving, even in theatres. New make-up products are constantly being developed, so keeping up to date with all the latest technologies and products is very important. Always attend the trade shows, for example IMATS in London. Always hand out your business cards to gain new contacts and always be flexible to commit to any job offers. A theatre show can last from 1 week to months, or even years, touring around the world.

Kirsty Brown


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Potential Salary and Benefits

Starting out you can be working for free, just to gain experience. If successful in gaining paid employment you can expect to be on anything from minimum wage upwards, as you build up your career. A ‘management salary’ in London can range from £48 - £50k. If you are working freelance then you will set your own fees from £100 a day to £500 a day; again this depends on your skills and location.

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