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Wigs Mistress: A journey to the heart of fabulous!  
Priscilla's very own Wigs Mistress Sandra O'Brien shares some of the secrets of the trade.
Priscilla Queen of the Desert

In the first of a three-part interview, Sandra O’Brien, Wigs Mistress for a show that uses a lot of wigs – that is, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert: The Musical – talked us through what goes into the many wigs (and, of course, the makeup) that make the show’s journey to the heart of fabulous really, well, fabulous..

How much creative input do you have into the wigs?
Sometimes we’ve got quite a free scope, but it really depends.  At the start of the run we were given a ‘bible’ from Australia (the original production of Priscilla), which contains pictures of what they did in Australia. Sometimes we put our little signature to it, a bit of a twist to it and if the producers like it, it stays in.  If they don’t we get a note on it!  They may not be sure exactly what they want and sometimes they will say things like ‘right, we like it but it needs to be bigger…’. So in some of the things we’ve done we’ve had a bit of free scope.

When you say ‘we’ you mean….
Me and the team, there’s five of us in here together.

And you’re head of wigs, but you encourage your team to have input as well?
Yes, definitely.

Why are there six diva wigs when there are only three divas in the show?
Everyone has their own wigs, including the understudies and swings.

Are the understudies/swings wigs and costumes identical to the original?
No, some of the costumes are slightly different. Some of the wigs might be slightly different colour-wise, but it depends on the face shape though as to what will suit each person, for example, some people may look better with straighter hair.  So you kind of have to adjust it to whatever suits the character as well.

So do the cast come in this room to get their wigs put on, or do you have to fly around the building?
Tony is the only one who gets his done in his room.  At the half-hour call we stagger it so some come at the half, some at the quarter, then they get their wigs on – we have thrown a little timetable together for them to come in.

Do you do the makeup as well?
Actually we’re quite lucky with that on this show.  At the beginning of the show the cast were taught their own make up and from then on anyone who can do their own make up does.   Tony (Sheldon) is fantastic because he did his in the Australian production, so he’s brilliant at doing his own makeup. There is not enough of us on the team to be doing both hair and make up.  Most of the work is predominantly wigs.

Can you tell us about the make up masks?
The designer Cassie Hanlon came up with that idea for the Australian production, and then she came over here and hand painted all the masks and they look fabulous! Nobody can really tell.

Are they cast to the individual faces?
Yes, they all have their face cast and that’s why you get that look that it looks like makeup because there’s no gaps, it’s made to completely fit to their face.

Does it get hot?
I think it does for a certain amount, but there’s so many changes, they’re in and out of things so many times that they’re not in the one mask for the whole show – and with the wig, they’re not in the one wig for the whole show so their head and face probably gets to breath for a while!

Is the idea of the mask so they can change makeup quite quickly?
Yes, so the makeup’s colour-coordinated to the costume. Every scene – if there’s a mask in that scene, it suits what the costume is.

Talk us through what your role entails on a day-to-day basis?

Typically I come in quite early and work out which wigs need to be washed.  I set the wigs, in they go to the oven and bake for a while, then I dress them out.  If it’s a good day you’ll get a bit of a lunch break!  Then at the half (half an hour before the show commences) I go into Tony’s room, get him into his Bernadette wig.  Once that’s finished I come back up here, help get the other wigs on, and then my show starts at Beginners, then I’m standing in the wings  getting Jason’s wig ready for his first change.

So it’s a long day…
Yeah it is a long day, but like today – it’s gone so fast. I’m getting a ‘bible’ ready at the moment and I want to finish it in the next couple of days… it’s good to have for any future productions of the show because it shows all the wigs, how they’re set, how they’re dressed, each character…

How often do the wigs get washed?
You wash them when the wig needs to be washed. It’s not like we over-spray wigs here. It depends really, it could just be worn just a couple of days but then it doesn’t move the way you want it to move, so you’ll wash it again. But we are careful that nothing’s over-washed.

Are they mostly hair or nylon?
I’d say 90% of the wigs are real hair. There’s a couple of acrylic, but most of them are real so you would treat it as you would your own hair and shampoo and condition it.

Posted on: 19th November 2009

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