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I Want Your Job: Wigs Mistress  
Joseph Wigs

Ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes of a large-scale musical production – the costumes, the makeup, the lighting, the wigs?

Before the recent production of Joseph ended its run at the Adelphi Theatre, Ceri Adams – the shows’ Wigs and Makeup Mistress – took us behind the scenes to see what goes on in the Wig room before, during and after a show…

What is your job title?
Wigs Mistress – and I also do makeup in this job [on the recent production of Joseph.]

How many people are there in the wigs and makeup department?
There’s four of us in total – me, our deputy Catherine, and two assistants called Becky and Jamie. Jamie is our ‘swing’ and she learns all of the different ‘plots’ – which is basically what we all do throughout the show, who you change and how you do it, a bit like a track for a performer, if you like.

There’s only three plots for this show – mine, which is mainly Gareth (Gates, who plays Joseph) and Jenna (Lee Jones, who plays the narrator), Catherine’s is mainly Dean (Collinson, who plays the Pharoah) and she also does the boys’ ensemble, and then the assistant who is in helps with everything else – basically she takes control of the ensemble and all of their changes. We’re split into two sides, so one of us does stage right, one of us does stage left. And then the swing covers each of us on our days off so she has to know everything that goes on. We each get a day off, as well as Sundays, but we can’t have matinee days off because there’s just too much to do, so we have all four of us in on a Wednesday and Saturday

What are your typical hours?
It depends how much we’ve got to do, I judge it on a daily basis how much we’ve got to wash and set as to what time we come in, it can be as early as 2pm or as late as 3pm. That’s quite late, but there’s not a major amount of things on this show wig-wise.  For a show like Priscilla Queen of the Desert for example you may well have to be in by 10am.

We finish about half an hour after the show, depending on whether we tan the boys! The boys have to be tanned to look Egyptian. We’ve got a spray tanning booth downstairs and they get tanned. Not all of them do – Derek (Andrews, who plays Asher) is allergic to it, so we can’t tan him, so he is recognisable as the palest brother! And Stuart King, one of the Swings, is also one of the palest – he can’t wear tan. So those two don’t, but the others mostly do.

What does the job involve on a day-to-day basis?
Well we start by preparing the Potiphar wigs when we get in – they’re the most complicated – although they look the simplest onstage. They’re the short black ones the boys all wear onstage during the ‘Potiphar’ number. Every day they have to be washed, blocked up, cleaned, then layer by layer gelled to the head and basically flattened so they look like swimming caps – so it takes a lot of time to get them like that. We get in about 2 or 3pm and start with those, then we work through cleaning all the wigs, getting the glue off from the night before, blocking them up (putting them on a dummy head) so that they don’t rip when we’re trying to brush them and then styling them back up into the style they were. A lot of the wigs, like the narrator’s and Jacob’s, get set as well, so we put on the rollers or pin curls and then they get put in the oven to dry and set. We end with preparing the facial hair.

Is that the famous wig oven?

Yeah, this is the wig oven (Ceri indicates a long silver cupboard, which from the outside looks a bit like a fridge). It gets mighty hot. It’s warm in the room now – when that’s on it is like an oven!

Do you have to do the same process every day with each cast member’s set of wigs?
Yeah, unless we have swings on, and then we have their wigs – like if Russell (Walker who plays the Butler) is off we have another 3 sets of that same Butler wig for each swing so we’re never sharing wigs. It’s for hygiene reasons and because they sweat so much – it’s just not hygienic to share, so they all have their own set of wigs. It’s the same for Ricky, if he goes on as Joseph, he’s got his own wig, and so has Derek, if he goes on.

And why do you have to redo them every day?
Because they get so sweaty! We don’t wash them every day because the wigs wouldn’t stand up to being washed every day, but we have to reset them and style them [every day] because otherwise they just end up looking like they’ve been dragged through a hedge! Especially  the Potiphar ones because they’ve been under a hat, and when they do a quick change into their Go Go Go Joseph wigs they rip them off, so they just get battered. We just collect them up and bring them back up here. And then we start again!

What do you do for new cast members?
They have a new set made by the wig maker, where they measure their head and use a clingfilm wrap! They take measurements as well, but they also literally do a clingfilm wrap of the head, cover it in sellotape, and then draw an outline of where the hair line needs to start, because you need to make it as natural as possible and the only way you can do that is to follow someone’s real hairline. So each wig is individual , you couldn’t just put somebody else’s wig on.

Is the wig fitting done here?
It’s done elsewhere, we have a supervisor and a wig maker and they organise everything.  The maker tends to keep any cellophane wraps that she’s done, just for future reference, so we haven’t got to do the whole process again if we lose one.

When there’s a cast change, do you have to adjust the way you work much for new people?
Well, I think with Joseph it’s more difficult because you’re trying to work out what would suit him – this is what Carol and Chrissie (the Wig Supervisor and Wig Maker) do – with Joseph it’s got to look like it belongs to the actor. If you put a blonde wig on Gareth, nobody would have believed it was him and it just wouldn’t have worked. But we’ve also got to allow for the microphone packs in the back of the Joseph wig, because when he wears a loin cloth he can’t have the wires running down his back, so he has it in his wig – that’s the only reason that they give Joseph a wig.

What are the wigs made of?
There is a mixture in this show. The 60s wigs [for Go Go Go Joseph] are all synthetic – so plastic, basically, but they do look quite good when they’re onstage. But everything else is real – we’ve got the Apache, which is real hair, and also the Jacob, Pharoah, narrator and Joseph wigs.

Are any of them matched to the cast member?

Jenna’s is matched to her hair colour. Because as the narrator she has a French pleat at the start, we attach the hairpiece and blend it in with her own hair to make it look real.

Posted on: 18th June 2009

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