Our guide to theatrical makeup
Kristina K

Our guide to theatrical makeup

First published date December 03 2013 Amended date April 17 2015

Love makeup? Crazy about musicals like The Lion King and ballet performances like the Nutcracker? Why not combine your love for both and venture into theatrical makeup? You’ll be transforming an actor into a tiger one day and creating the most vile-looking witch the next. Be responsible for the visually striking makeup to complement the costumes, masks, and setting of theatre productions. This job is exciting and poses loads of challenges, so if you’re up for it, enrol on our wide range of theatrical makeup courses.


All the world’s a stage

Whilst everyone wears a mask to play a role, in theatre, makeup on the characters is even more important as it breathes life into the play. Those extra dark shadows could make the phantom scarier and more mysterious, and the thick layers of mascara could emphasise the fear in Christine Daaé’s eyes. Without the right techniques, the story wouldn’t be told as successfully, so theatrical makeup is just as important as the lighting, costumes and set. Take on this huge responsibility as a makeup artist and choose from our wide range of theatrical makeup courses.


Is that a wolf, a zombie or Jack the Ripper?

If you’ve done some hair and makeup courses, then moving onto theatrical and special effects makeup may be just the right progression for you. You’ll learn about the various aspects of theatrical special effects and hair through lessons on camouflage makeup, media makeup, style and fit pastiche, apply prosthetic pieces and bald caps, fashion and photograph makeup, maintain health and safety, and provide hair extension services. Courses are practical and sometimes students are encouraged to take part in competitions and offer services during events.


It’s not just makeup

Whilst some may think of makeup as a frivolous matter, it really isn’t, particularly when it’s used in theatres. How does one decide on what types of makeup to use; water based, creams, greasepaints? There are so many factors to consider – say you need to change an actor’s makeup quickly from one scene to another in a matter of seconds, putting on water-based makeup may be more suitable as it is easily removed. Powder makeup can be considered, but if the play involves a fair amount of dancing, then it’s probably best avoided as it could cause dancers to slip if it gets on the floor or their feet. Learn all about makeup’s different uses so that you can carry out your work more effectively to facilitate quick changes, better health and safety, and hygiene.


What will you learn?

With theatre lighting usually set at a 45 degree angle to the stage and the use of colour gels used over lights, actors could end up looking bleached. This may result in them looking drained off any colour. To fix that, you’ll be taught on what makeup colours to use with theatre lighting –for instance, white makeup will result in blue tones so creams should be used instead, and yellow makeup gives a washed out effect which can be replaced with warm tones like red, orange and pink.  Check out our part time and weekend courses if you’d like to learn all of these on a flexible schedule.



Basic tips for using theatrical cosmetics

·         Foundation makeup is typically at least a shade darker than the natural skin tone as stage lights can make the face look washed out.

·         Blend face makeup into the jaw line for the best effect.

·         Use a shade darker than the foundation to add contours to the face, and a shade lighter than the foundation on areas you want to highlight.

·         Use warm tones of blush or rouge.

·         Always use powder to set the makeup.

·         Use eyeliner, eye shadow and mascara to make the eyes stand out. Light eyeliner and mascara may be needed for men whilst false lashes and heavier eye makeup may be needed for women.


Japanese Kabuki

In theatre traditions of Asia such as the Chinese opera, Kathakali theatre of India and Japanese Kabuki, the actor is the show. The stories are well known myths and historical epics, and the audience is there to see the performer’s mastery of stylised movements, costumes and most importantly their makeup.


The actors become living special effects to present the story, and extravagant masking and makeup is integral to complete the transformation of the actor. The Kumadori makeup tradition in Japanese Kabuki Theatre is the most sophisticated face painting design in the world.


The face and neck are first covered with oil and then with a thick covering of white cream called oshiroi. The white base obliterates the actor’s features, in particular the lips and eyebrows. Eyebrows are painted on somewhat higher than actual eyebrows and the eyes are subtly lined in black for men and red for women. Lip rouge and black are used to produce a downward curve to the mouths of the men. The female mouth is also red and made smaller, with a slightly thicker lower lip – the ideal feminine beauty. 

Similar Subjects