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What a Drag: More from Priscilla’s Wigs Mistress  
Wigs Mistress Sandra O'Brien on how she ended up on board the Priscilla bus...
Cast members from Priscilla Queen of the Desert

How did you get involved in this line of work?
I started off as a beautician and hairdresser back in Mullingar, back home in Ireland.  I worked with a photographer while I was doing a lot of makeup and beauty therapy and I quite liked that edgy side to it, so I did a lot of fashion shoots.  I actually wanted to do more special effects so it’s quite funny that I ended up working predominantly with wigs.

Have you studied or trained in wig making?
I went to college as a mature student when I was about 24, 25 and that involved wig-making. I remember at the time thinking “wigs??  I don’t want to be a designer for wigs…’ I just wanted to do special effects!  But you had to study everything – special effects, art and design, wig making, dressing – that you need for our industry.

It just went from there, after I finished studying I just started getting work in theatre, once you get a foot in the door, people get to know you and it just snowballed from there really.

So how did you get involved in Priscilla?
I’d just finished on Gone With the Wind and I got a phonecall to come out and do two days in this workshop for the Priscilla auditions. I remember thinking it sounded like fun.  There were two of us and we took all our make up along and had all these boys to transform!  We had to transform them in literally minutes, there was some car crash makeup let me tell you! I was thinking, ‘Oh! Don’t tell anyone I’ve just done that!’ everything was so quick…

Had you done drag makeup before?
I had dabbled in bits of it when I’d done photoshoots, but not to the extent where we were on a production line shouting ‘next!’ ‘next!’ ‘next!’ Drag make up is so different – it takes time to even block out an eyebrow and we didn’t have time for blocking out eyebrows, we barely had enough time for getting makeup on – it was very very funny. I remember my feet at the end of the first day, laughing, ‘ I’ve never done so many drags in my life!’  At the end of the day we were sitting outside, zombified, thinking oh God we have to do it all again tomorrow – but it was fun, and we came back the following day. I knew a couple of the guys which was even funnier because it was a far cry from drag what they were used to as well. It was nice to see the transformation – it was such a fun two days. And then they needed someone to head the department, so I was asked and I just thought, well why not…

What other shows have you worked on in the past?

Gone With the Wind, Wicked, Secret Garden, Rat Pack tour, On an Eagle’s Wing, Far Pavilion, Grease Das Musical in Germany… I’ve been abroad a lot travelling as well.

Had you seen Priscilla in Australia?
No I hadn’t actually, my first time experiencing it was here. It’s a fantastic show, people love it – it’s just so upbeat, nobody dies in it, which is always good! People go out with a feather boa and a smile on their face!

Have you worked on Priscilla since it opened?

Yes, it’s been a lot of fun. I like it, I’ve only ever opened shows, I’ve never just gone into an existing show – because I love the setup. I love working with the creative team, I get a buzz from all that side of things. Taking over on an existing show doesn’t appeal to me in the slightest because you’re walking in and being told what needs to be where and so on.  The only way I’ll work on a show is setting it up.  If I could even just set up the show and then walk away, that would be quite cool as well. I like setting up and I just love the creative side and watching it grow, starting off with just dead straight hair out of a bag to the setting to the dressing, and then onto the character – and then the transformation begins.

Do you tend to stay with something for a set amount of time, and then decide to move on?

Yes.  I like to stay for my contract and then you know you have done all you can do.  Then something else comes along that appeals to you.  Personally, I like to keep my creative juices flowing, I don’t like to become complacent and stay in a show for years and years.  But some people prefer that, they like a steady job, they know they’ve got money coming in and in this day and age that says a lot. But whereas for me, I’m a bit of a free spirit – you could literally pick me up and say, start that out, and throw me onto it, and I thrive on stuff like that.

How does working on Priscilla differ from any other shows that you’ve worked on?
It differs quite a bit actually because you’re dealing with men in frocks and high heels…! Everyone’s so easygoing, it’s a really lovely cast, very chilled out. It probably differs in that you’re dealing with men in drag as opposed to women as they are. It’s very laidback, and the music is so fantastic and feelgood.  I suppose other shows I’ve worked on, although they were really good shows, if you’re dealing with death or something quite sad is about to happen, or the music is quite sad, there’s a different backstage feeling.  Whereas on Priscilla it’s always upbeat so you’re always laughing and joking and the music is very high as well… and the audiences want to enjoy themselves. A lot of hen nights, a lot of party people. I’ve met people who’ve seen it twice, maybe three times. You wouldn’t get that on a lot of shows, but they come back for the music and it’s a very fun show. There’s nothing really like it at the moment.

Posted on: 23rd November 2009

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