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Aboard the Priscilla bus with our Wigs Mistress  
In the final part of our interview with Sandra O'Brien, we talk chicken fillets, boys in knickers and... more wigs.
Cast members from Priscilla Queen of the Desert

What’s the most memorable thing that has happened to you since working on Priscilla?
Oh my god… I’m trying to think actually. There’s been so many funny scenarios I don’t think I could actually pinpoint one, and the ones I could pinpoint I wouldn’t want to repeat! Have there been any real disasters? Well no-one’s ever gone on with the wrong costume or the wrong wig… no I think we’ve actually been pretty good, we’ve been pretty on it I think. There’s nothing that actually stands out in my mind. There’s a few things I think would be quite funny to do! Wouldn’t it be really funny when Jason does that grand entrance, to put on a German tourist wig with the two little knots? Don’t worry though, I wouldn’t do it! But because they’re supposed to be all glam and there he has two buns on the side of his head… I think I’d just do that for Jason, because he’s so funny, I’m sure he’d see the funny side to it…

What other departments do you work most closely with?
Probably Costume because sometimes I help with Tony’s costume – if you see a zip that needs doing up, you’re not just going to stand around and not zip it up. So wigs and costumes kind of go hand in hand. On some shows you work closely with the sound department but we don’t really deal with mics on Priscilla.  Sometimes on shows you actually pin a mic into a wig but I don’t have anything to do with that here.

Have you made any longstanding friends on this show?
Yeah, there’s a couple of really nice Irish boys, and John Phoenix and Tristan… everybody like I said is lovely but you do have your favourites, I don’t care what anyone says! And it’s just because you relate to them on whatever level but I’ve definitely met people that I will keep in touch with. Some shows you do, some shows you don’t…

What do you like most about your job?
I like the interaction with people. And I like being in charge!  I’m quite placid and easygoing and I think I’m quite good as a head of department because everyone relates to me and I relate to them and if there’s any problems it’s aired out straight away. I also like the fact that it’s not an office job, you can more or less wear what you want, there’s not set times to come in… it’s so laidback.  You see one of the boys walking down the corridor in their knickers and bra and where would you see that?!!  They’re putting their “chicken fillets” (padding) into their bras and saying, ‘Could this wig be any curlier today Sandra?’ Theatre’s fantastic, very family orientated and quite different from TV and Film.  I really really enjoy it. It’s sociable – we socialise at work.  Everyone seems to congregate in this room.  It’s not a large space and sometimes there could be 15 people crammed in here.  So I’ve started this three knock business, if people want to come in they have to knock three times. If I don’t hear three knocks you’re not coming in!

What’s your least favourite part of the job?
I’m not really sure there is one. I think there’s some days a few months down the line when you’re at your plot in the exact same place at the exact same time putting the exact same pins in… sometimes those little things but it’s neither here nor there to be honest with you, everyone gets days like that. I actually can’t say there is anything I don’t like.

Do you find the hours difficult?
Everything’s shut when you leave! I don’t always do theatre, sometimes I do a bit of TV and a bit of film so you get a break, you don’t go from theatre to theatre to theatre. I am a bit nocturnal so I don’t mind working nights. It doesn’t really bother me to be honest. Maybe Sundays would, but everything else would be OK.

What advice would you have for somebody who wants to pursue this kind of career?

Definitely to have some creative background.  And hairdressing is definitely a plus. Many people think all they need is training in makeup but makeup is such a small part in theatre. It’s predominately, as you can see, hair. Makeup’s good for TV and film but for theatre it’s very good if you’ve got both.  I would recommend a barbering course, hairdressing and then start off from there by maybe putting your CVs into theatre. Because if you’ve no experience in theatre but you have hairdressing, people will be more tempted to take you on than if you had just makeup.

Are trends changing with makeup?
No, I think in theatre people have always done their own makeup, unless it’s something specific like for instance on Wicked with the greening – that would have been done by somebody, or Madame Morrible. It really depends. But a lot of actors and actresses are very good with their own makeup so they can do it themselves. So nine times out of ten, unless you’re completely remedial with a brush, it would be done for you if it was a big makeup thing, but otherwise you’d have to be taught and then you’d have to do it yourself. I think it’s always been more like that in theatre. Except for things like the Phantom, he’s not going to be there sticking bits and pieces on himself! So if it’s needed there will be someone allocated.

See Sandra and her team’s work in action by booking tickets to the show here.

Posted on: 27th November 2009

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