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Whether you're playing a character, singing in a cabaret, or high-kicking in Vegas, every performer knows you can't hit that stage sans makeup. But a gal just starting out in the biz may not want to invest in theatrical makeup -- especially if she owns a ton of regular makeup to begin with. Knowing why stage makeup exists, what it's used for and when you can swap it for the everyday version will make your stage transformation that much better.
Stage Makeup History
Donning makeup for the stage is a practice that has been around for hundreds of years. Earlier versions of stage makeup were crude and made from items like powders or chalk. But with the onset of the industrial age, performers were expected to look more polished. By the time the late 1800s rolled around, lipsticks, greasepaint and makeup sticks had replaced former methods. In the early 1900s, pancake makeup came into vogue. This water-based makeup, which is still around today, gives a performer a heavy, matte coverage. While in the past, stage makeup was somewhat toxic to the skin, modern stage makeup is totally safe.
Why Makeup is Necessary
For actors, stage makeup can help transform them into wild imaginative characters. Simply put, you can't play the elderly queen or a ferocious cat without looking the part. While a costume is the audience's main clue to your character, makeup will help seal the deal. For singers and dancers, makeup may not be used to transform, but instead to highlight and enhance certain features in a dramatic fashion. This is especially true if they are performing in a large theater. The more dramatic the makeup, the further back it can be read from the stage.
Stage vs. Regular
Unlike stage makeup, regular makeup is meant to cover blemishes and make skin look flawless from close-up. As a result, regular makeup is much more lightweight than its theatrical counterpart. Stage makeup has a heavier texture and a richer pigment. "It is possible to substitute one for the other depending on where you are performing," says Antonia Ford-Roberts, a New York-based costume designer. "Actors performing in small theaters who are playing realistic characters don't need to wear heavy stage makeup. They can get away with wearing whatever they wear during the day. Besides, day makeup is much better for your skin." In larger theaters, regular makeup can be used as long as it's applied with a heavy hand, the correct technique and can be seen from the audience.
Before you choose your makeup, there are a few important factors to consider. Stage lights are hot. You want to use a base that isn't going to melt off your face if you start to sweat. On this same note, using oil-free products and a great powder is also going to help combat losing your makeup in the middle of a great performance. Stage lights also have a tendency to wash you out. This means that whatever you choose to use on your eyes and lips needs to really be seen, without over doing it. If you're not sure what exact makeup you'll need to bring in, don't stress. Ford-Roberts assures that most costume designers will tell you what you need in your make-up kit.