The importance of hair styling in theatre

The importance of hair styling in theatre

What would you create if you had the chance to test your skills in hairdressing on the world of theatre? This was the task for NMIT students and tutors from the Certificate in Hairdressing (Salon support) and the Certificate in Advanced Professional Hairdressing.

The brief for Prince of Mabon

Take 35 actors and transform them into druids, sorcerers, darklords, village folk, a King, a goddess, a hero and his true love. Make their hair (and makeup) fit a world set in Celtic Wales 2000 years in the past.

Main challenges

We needed to create authentic representations that fit with the time period, the status of the character and their role. Adapting looks and styles to work in with changes of character such as human to non human form, female to male and vice versa proved most challenging but was also satisfying.

While makeup application doesn't play a large role on the Level 4 programme in hairdressing, it complements and enhances the work we do with hair in theatre. The show’s director Saramea Waterman entrusted us with the entire hair and makeup look and it was great to be able to work with both.

The hair

Traditional Celtic braids and ginger tones completed the look for Royal subjects. Wigs and hairpieces were also used for added effect, adding height, texture and movement. Whereas emphasis was placed on wild, untamed styles for the lower class village folk and the sorcerer. 


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Braids and ginger tones dazzle in the light. Image credit: Kimberley Johns


The makeup

Designs included tribal tattoos on the village children, detailed eye work on the goddess, and vivid colours for the warriors. Emphasis was on adding drama with highlights and shading. 


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Tribal tattoos and war paint complete the look of the warriors. Image credit: Kimberley Johns


The director's response

“The hair and makeup had a lot to live up to and the NMIT students and tutors rose to the challenge and delivered. The final look completed the characters, suited the time period, were interesting to watch and withheld under the very bright lights.

“Having the right look helped the actors get into their character and role, and many commented on how nice it was to receive individual star treatment.

“The NMIT hairdressing crew became a valued part of the team and we are all grateful for their commitment, reliability, support and overall creativity” Saramea Waterman - Director.

Skills needed to succeed as a hair stylist for theatre

Creating hair and makeup in theatre presents both visible and invisible challenges. The visible is of course how the actor looks when on stage but the invisible is just as important.

Working on the set of Prince of Mabon was successful due to

  • Professionalism - Your attitude, engagement, passion and commitment to the work is paramount. We proved this to the show's director, Saramea, time and again to which she was grateful.
  • Creativity - For Prince of Mabon the world was very fluid. With little reference material to work from we needed to come up with original ideas, use lateral thinking and adapt when needed.
  • Time management - You have minimal time to get ready for a scene or show so efficiency matters. We rose to the occasion, working within a tight timeframe to achieve outstanding results.
  • Health and safety - With so many props, costumes, hair styling tools and makeup apparatuses involved, the potential for an accident is high. We asked ourselves: Is the workspace tidy? What are the obstacles blocking actors from entering and leaving backstage in time for their next scene? And more.

If you like the idea of creating amazing hair styles for the stage, hair competitions or special events take a look at the hairdressing courses on offer at NMIT

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