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I Want Your Job: Wigs Mistress Part 3  
Ceri Adams gives us an insight into how to become a Wigs Mistress in the theatre industry.
Joseph Wigs

In the third, and final, part of our interview with Ceri, she talks us through her career as Wigs Mistress.

So how did you come to choose this as a career?
I did fashion and costume design before I did this. Then I decided I wanted to do down the makeup and hair route and trained at a college and I worked in a theatre at the same time. I went to college in Birmingham so I worked in the Hippodrome, which is their main theatre, and with the shows that came in I just got to know the makeup and the hair people, and it was a kind of work experience. Then Chitty Chitty Bang Bang came in and I ended up working a few days a week for them, and then when I finished my course and qualified, one of the girls knew that somebody was leaving on Rat Pack, and that was my first job – and then it’s just gone from there.

How long have you worked in the West End?
I’ve lived in London on and off for years now but only recently came to work here. The Rat Pack was the European touring version, that was my first job and I went on to do other shows after that really.

How many years have you been working in this industry?
4 or 5 now.

How long did you work on the recent production of Joseph?

I started Joseph in August 2008 [and worked until the show finished in May 2009]. Before I was doing The Wedding Singer on tour.

What are you doing now?
I’m doing Shall We Dance at Sadler’s Wells, it’s 9 weeks [from 23rd July 2009]. Pip Jordan (Swing) is doing it as well, so it will be nice to work with her again.

How do you go about applying for jobs in this field?
I would love to say that it’s through being really good and qualified, but it’s also about who you know, like many jobs in the industry. I got this job through a friend passing my CV on to a girl who used to be here. I have applied for jobs before but most of the jobs that I do I’ve done from recommendations from somebody else. For Shall We Dance, a friend of mine is the designer on it and he’s now asked me to come and do this. So you kind of build up a contacts list, if you like.

So in terms of advice, what would you say to anyone who wants to pursue this as a career?
Get as much work experience as you can! You just have to be prepared to do it for nothing. Which is obviously always difficult but somebody needs to give you that work experience for you to be able to do get jobs and contacts. But just be prepared to do it for nothing, that’s what a lot of people expect. Obviously you do need a qualification too, you need to be trained.

What qualification do you need?
I’ve got a BTEC vocational diploma in hair and makeup. But there’s not a lot of makeup work anymore in theatre, most actors are taught to do it themselves at college, so you don’t generally do much.  This is the first job I’ve done that has more makeup involved, normally its just bare minimum… so if it’s a makeup job you’re after, it’s film or TV or fashion that you should be steering towards.

Once you are in the industry, how do you work your way up?
It depends – my first job was Wigs Mistress, but that’s just because I was lucky. You normally start at the bottom and work your way up. You gain a lot of respect for the industry if you do that because you see every aspect of it. You generally work your way up from being work experience to assistant to deputy and then mistress.

Do most West End shows use wigs?
Yes, a lot of the time it is wigs, purely because it’s easier to maintain a wig than it is to maintain someone’s hair… you can make a wig to the style that you want whereas you can’t necessarily style somebody’s hair to get the same result. And obviously you can do a lot of the work without the actor having to be there! But you do use people’s hair if you can – if it’s a modern style, you can style somebody’s hair and make it look fun, but most shows generally do use wigs.

Are you allowed any creative input of your own?
Well, Joseph is so specific because it’s been going for years, so we don’t have as much creative input as you might on a new show because people expect it be as they remember it. Like the Baker and Butler, they haven’t changed since the Palladium show.  Jenna (who played the Narrator in the recent production)’s hairpiece is quite creative – I had quite a lot of time with that, because that’s not really got a specific look.

On other shows, do you usually get a bit more creative input?
Sometimes, with The Wedding Singer – that was a brand new show so I had an awful lot more input in that because it had never been done before.

Is working on Joseph different because it’s such a long-standing show?
Yeah, I think so – and also because it’s a biblical story, so everyone knows so much about it. Tom (who played Benjamin) comes in here and starts telling us things about why he should be looking like this and why he should be looking like that… I think because of that, it is a little bit different to any other kind of show that I’ve done. Not that it’s particularly biblical having a Pharoah looking like Elvis! But I do love it.

What’s it like to work with the rest of the cast and crew on the show? Have you made any longstanding friends?
Yeah – all the other girls who are here are absolutely lovely, and the people next door [in wardrobe]… Jamie, our swing, she was Lee Mead’s dresser originally, and she was training at the same time to do makeup, and we had a girl leave here so she came and joined us and she’s been absolutely amazing.

Do you work with any other departments, like the Wardrobe Department?

We have quite a lot to do with Wardrobe, but only because we want to!  We don’t tend to have a major amount of crossover – because the wigs are something in their own right, like a costume – so our paths don’t really cross. The only time they do cross is with the headdresses and the hats. The boy’s hats – they are a wardrobe thing, but we keep hold of them to prepare the prayer curls. If poppers fall out or anything like that then Wardrobe fix them but that’s it. But everyone in there is so lovely, and our rooms are so close, that we end up having our doors open and chatting through the corridor anyway. So it’s quite a tight-knit group.

How many people are there in Wardrobe?
They’ve got three in their department, and then they’ve got ten or eleven dressers I think.

So when you’re downstairs working during the show, how does it work between wigs and wardrobe?
Well, all of my changes tend to happen on stage right. The cast split between stage right and stage left because they go off on different sides, so you have eleven people on each side and then the dressers are split between people, they tend to have two or three people each I think. And then for us – there’s two on stage left and me on stage right, and the deputy does both sides – for Go Go Go Joseph she changes the boys on the one side and then runs around and does the Baker and the Butler with me on stage right. So you don’t really work with the dressers as such, but they are on hand if you need help and vice versa.

So… what is your favourite thing about your job?
I think the creativeness of it, and seeing and hearing people say things like, “oh, I didn’t realise that was a wig,” because being able to make something looks like it belongs to that person – to me, that’s a real big thing. And seeing them onstage and being part of something that thousands of people are watching is quite a big thing, I would say! Gareth (Gates, who played Joseph)’s is the most amazing, because they go, “oh my god, does he wear a wig?” and you’re like – yep. He wears a wig the whole way through, until the end when he takes it off and goes up on the cherry picker.

What’s the worst thing about the job?
Sweatiness! Handling sweaty prayer curls – you can see the ones which look wet still – that’s sweat. Handling those every day with the boys, when we take their wigs off and they’re pouring with sweat – that’s quite disgusting!

What do you do with them in that state?
We put them away… we have to put them on the blocks, and that’s when you get it all over your hands, which is why I’ve got my protective hand spray – I carry it all the time! Some are worse than others…

Posted on: 29th June 2009

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