Our Buzz Extra writer, Alicia Hansen had the exciting opportunity to interview Kinky Boots’ Touring Makeup Supervisor/Hair Stylist Sarah Wolfe. As part of our Broadway Buzz program, Alicia will take you behind the scenes of each KeyBank Broadway Series show and interview a member of the show’s cast, crew or creative team.
Kinky Boots arrives in Cleveland a part of the 2014-2015 KeyBank Broadway Series this month. As it turns out, moving this production from stop to stop on its tour around the United States takes quite the amount of manpower – and even more skill to then provide a first rate production to entertain audiences. Kinky Boots’ Touring Makeup Supervisor/Hair Stylist Sarah Wolfe (of makeupandmayhem.com) took time to chat with our Broadway Buzz blogger Alicia Hansen to share how she consistently works her craft in an environment of constant change.
Tell us how you started in the theater and how discovered your talent in makeup and hair design.
My parents were heavily involved in theater from the time they met. They started a community theater in Placerville, a small town in California, where I grew up. I spent a lot of time on stage performing or at rehearsals. I found out later that I did like the behind-the-scenes work a lot. When I was 15, I had a dance injury that changed everything. My dance teacher encouraged me to start thinking about designing makeup for the recitals we would produce. That was just the beginning.
During school, I was always into painting, but I fell behind in math and other subjects. I tried to go to college for psychology and journalism, but I was instead always doing all these creative things. I found out about a makeup school in Los Angeles called Make-up Designory. It offered everything: beauty and character special effects, hair styling, behind-the-scenes work and more. At the age of 18, I moved and joined that program, jumping both feet in. Upon graduating, I took every freelancing job I could. I was working on everything. I freelanced for five years and sometimes it was a struggle. I knew that’s what I wanted to do, and I’m glad it’s been my life thus far.
After a few years of freelancing, I started working at Sacramento Music Circus. I had actually done a summer internship there when I was 15. I have now been working there for the past six summer seasons. Because of that, wig styling is now a special niche that I have in the makeup and theater world. It is where I learned how to do really fast wig changes, and learned how to work with big name actors. It provided so much of that experience in that specific area of my craft.
With so much to keep track of as you move from town to town, how do you stay organized as you tour Kinky Boots around the country?
I oversee all makeup for the entire show: there are six drag queens called the Angels, all the ensemble women and all the ensemble men. There’s a big binder I call “The Bible,” and it keeps all the plots for all the cast members organized. It has each of their foundation colors, their eyes, their lips – every single detail. Additionally I have this big box that I also keep super organized. It comes around to every city with me, with everything I need.
Even though every city is totally different, I have all these systems that I set up exactly the same in every city. For example, the factory workers have fake tattoos, which I apply on those actors every performance. A company prints the custom tattoos with the ink and send them out to me as I need them. To do so, I have a tattoo station where those actors get their custom tattoos applied. They know where to go!
Can you provide a glimpse into what a run of a single performance is like for someone in your position?
I have an hour-and-a-half call before each curtain, every single show. I arrive for what we call “Continuity Hour” where we get organized and touch up wigs. Then at an hour before, I go up to Lola’s room where it takes about a half hour to do her first full drag look. Now I have it down to a routine, and we have a good time with it: we turn on music, we chat if the actor wants. From there, I apply a few more wigs to other actors. At five ‘til curtain, I apply Lola’s lips, which is a five-step process – it’s meticulous. We then put Lola’s wig on next, then the show starts. I run the show with cues, following Lola the entire time. She has five different looks, so I’m constantly changing hair and makeup in between. If Lola’s not on stage, he’s in my chair! At the end of the show, I collect wigs, and we clean and lock everything up. That’s all about three hours... so picture doing that twice on a Saturday and twice on a Sunday!
One could imagine all the effort it takes to move a production from one city to another. Can you share how that takes place for the Kinky Boots tour?
After the performance on Sunday night, we pack up everything. Our show travels eight trucks to transport it all, so it takes a lot of people to move it. We load out through early Monday morning with the crewmembers working all night long. Monday, we go to the airport and get on the flight to our next stop around 8 or 10 a.m. We fly to the next city as the trucks are traveling. Usually the carpenters and the electricians go in Monday nights to start load-in at the new venue. I go in on Tuesday mornings after all the stuff is off the trucks. We meet three local hires in every city that morning. As a newly formed team, we start taking wigs out, washing them and breaking down things. Then we reset the wigs: we put them in curlers, do blow outs, as well as set up the makeup. We spend all of Tuesday working on this from 10 a.m – 5 p.m. Then, we take an hour break before running the show for our first performance in that new city.
Is there one of Lola’s looks that is your favorite? Is there one that is more challenging for you?
My biggest challenge for each show is when we go from Lola in full drag to Lola as a man. That change all happens during just one song. We just don’t wipe all the makeup off and make a big mess. I strategically take off certain things, like the eyeliner underneath her eye, half the eyebrow, I powder over the blush… really specific changes. Not only am I doing a makeup change and ripping the lashes off while he’s tying his shoes, I also take the wig off. It happens like a choreographed dance now, but when I first learned it, I would have butterflies in my stomach. In live theater, the music is not going to stop if I forgot something. There’s no running back to the dressing room. That transition just has to be seamless.
During intermission, Lola goes back into a drag look with a full eye, a contour face, a full lip, and no wig. In the second act, there’s this look call the “Hold Me” change – for “Hold Me In Your Heart,” which I think is my favorite song in the show. When I first learned it, they called it the “Whitney Look,” as in Whitney Houston. It is really pretty. He’s in this beautiful cream and yellow hombre dress. I apply a little shimmer across collarbones. I pack the lip-gloss on to give it a really nice shine. Whenever I finish that, I think “perfect.” I’m always really proud of it. When he walks out on the stage in that look, he’s by himself with just the spotlight and he steps forward singing his song, I feel that choked-up, want-to-cry feeling. It makes me happy every single night. This is what I get to do – and if it moves me, maybe the other people in the audience will be moved by it.
Out of all the productions that you worked on during your career, what makes Kinky Boots stand out for you?
There’s nobody doing anything like this. Yes, there are other shows with beautiful costumes, and scenery and lighting. But Kinky Boots has such a different message. It’s not only the family of the entire cast, but the family of the entire crew. We all have to get along and accept each other’s differences, and we do. We work together to create this huge art piece every night. I have chills just talking about it.
What’s been a highlight of your career and where do you see yourself headed next in your life?
This year, I joined the Local 706, the Make-up Artists and Hair Stylists Guild. I submitted for the Guild Awards that recognizes every area of the industry in Hollywood – from feature films, commercials, television and live theater. I ended up winning in the live theater category! Sometimes winning something and being recognized for your work makes it almost bittersweet. It makes you look back on how far you’ve come to get to where you are now. It’s been almost ten years, but I’m excited for the next ten years!
Looking forward, I want to start my own line that is strictly professional theatrical makeup that is free of synthetic ingredients. There was a specific time in between not having much work during the winter and starting another summer season, I had four months to kill. I decided to get my esthetics license. I knew I would have a lot more knowledge about skin and what I am doing and what these products are doing for people’s skin. From there, I went crazy studying ingredients and skin care. In 2008, I started really getting into wanting to change the theater makeup industry with providing theater makeup without garbage in it. I continue to be super focused on morphing the theater makeup industry in that way. It’s a huge part of what I’m doing in the future.
Kinky Boots plays in Cleveland April 7-19 at the Connor Palace at Playhouse Square. For more information, please visit the show’s page on the Playhouse Square website.
Alicia Hansen is the writer behind Poise in Parma, a healthy balance blog for Clevelanders. A graduate of Baldwin-Wallace College’s theatre program, Alicia is a yoga teacher at Evolution Yoga, an event and marketing professional and proud Northeast Ohio arts supporter. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.