Saturday, April 12, 2008

Gimme Some Skin

I am currently working on AIDA for San Diego Opera - no, I was not cast as Radames (or Amneris) but am instead serving as body-makeup artist. What does this job entail, you ask?

Well, I must arrive at the opera two hours before curtain time and venture into the lower depths of the theatre where I (and several other makeup folk) get to spend three hours applying body makeup to various supers, dancers, and some of the chorus.

The vast majority are men ranging in looks from stunningly beautiful to elderly teamster. For about two and a half hours these assorted men wander over to the body makeup area in their opera-supplied skin-pink underwear and I ask them if they are Egyptian or Ethiopian. Depending on their answer they are made up with either Light Egyptian or Dark Egyptian body makeup.

They are escorted over to an empty spot on the plastic-covered floor and I spray them down with a water bottle. This makes the makeup flow better, quicker, and more evenly. Using small round sponges and pancake make-up of the chosen shade, I proceed to daub, wipe, pat and otherwise apply the makeup to pretty much every exposed inch of them save their heads, hands, and feet -- which are their own responsibility.

We are basically just trying to apply an even, smooth color. There is not much time for subtlety. I have worked up a few tricks and quick-and-easy frills to this crank-em-out process. I try to make sure the body makeup fades realistically into their necks and faces which are sometimes too light or too dark. I also usually apply a quick dappled sponge effect to darken the tops of their shoulders, like natural sun exposure creates. And a last little trick of mine, when doing their backs, is to start with a very dark spongeful of makeup down their back bones. This makes a little valley of makeup which can then be feathered out with the sponge. It not only avoids streaks but also adds a subtle hint of muscle definition to their backs.

Other elements of the job include hiding tattoos, doing a body makeup quick-change on eight dancing girls in about eight minutes, and then a lot of clean up afterwards: washing sponges, refilling water bottles, preparing for the next performance, etc.

It's kinda funny having a job where a man in his mid 20s comes up to you in his underwear and apologizes for not shaving his armpits better.

This Light Egyptian makeup has an interesting backstory. It was developed by Max Factor for Lena Horne who desperately wanted to play Julie in the 1951 remake of SHOWBOAT. The studio apparently worried that Horne was "too light" and Max designed Light Egyptian to darken Lena Horne's skin to an appropriate shade for the studio. Then as Ms. Horne has told it, "They went and hired my good friend Ava Gardner to play Julie and covered HER in MY Light Egyptian!"

So in a few hours I must head to the theatre for my opera chores. SOMEBODY has to do it!

Aida, Aida, I just met a girl named Aida . . . that's a different show, isn't it?



Will said...

Nice to have you back!

Interesting--opera seems to be the last of the performing arts where it's acceptable to change color via make-up to perform a character of a different race.

hungrytigerboy said...

Yes, Opera ... and STAR TREK :)

Glad to be back - things got very busy since January. Hope blogs are a bit more regular again.