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A black and white photo of Harriet Rogers fixing a wig in the wigroom.

The magic of makeup

This June, Northern Ballet returns to Leeds Grand Theatre with their spectacular production of Beauty & the Beast. We spoke to Northern Ballet’s Wigs and Makeup Manager, Harriet Rogers, about her role and how she adds a touch of sparkle and magic to this timeless fairy-tale.

Written by Harriet Rogers and Jessica Forrest


Life as a Wigs and Makeup Manager

Could you tell us a bit about your role as a Wigs and Make-up Manager?

As Wigs & Makeup Manager for Northern Ballet I am responsible for all wigs, hair and makeup looks for every Northern Ballet production. This includes everything from large-scale touring productions and children’s ballets to any photoshoots, filming or events organised by the Company, assisted by my Deputy Wigs & Makeup Manager, Lizzie Fraser.


What’s a typical day like in the Wigs and Makeup department of Northern Ballet?

What I love about my role at Northern Ballet is that no day is ever the same. We are always working on multiple productions at a time within the department. While the main show of the season is on tour, I am at our Leeds headquarters, working on the upcoming production, months in advance of its opening.

As a department, we make everything in-house: wigs, headdresses, masks, hairpieces, accessories, jewellery – whatever the show requires. We make multiple wigs and headdresses per character to cover the rotating casts and factor in dancers’ different head sizes, hair lengths and hair textures. So, what you see on stage is a small fraction of what goes on tour for each show.

A black and white photo of Harriet Rogers fixing a wig in the wigroom.

Harriet Rogers in the wigroom at Northern Ballet. Credit Ellis Dytrych.

Some items are relatively quick to make, however, making a wig from scratch can take a few weeks to complete, and the time scales of making things like headdresses can vary depending on what’s required. For example, for Beauty & The Beast, I made all the Goblin headdresses from scratch, and even though only a few appear on stage per show, I made ten in total which took a couple of months to complete.

When we get closer to a new production going on tour, we do multiple makeup and wig trials with the dancers, so they know what to expect when they get on stage. These trials are also useful for us to check our timings and make sure we are prepared so that everything runs as smoothly as possible when at the theatre. If there are big make-up looks or wigs, these go on within a tight time frame before the show starts, as there is usually only an hour allocated for wig calls. For Beauty & the Beast, our Deputy Wigs & Makeup Manager, Lizzie, has 30 minutes to apply the Beast’s makeup and wig, promptly followed by the sisters and La Fée Magnifique (the evil fairy).

Brown headdresses for the Goblin characters on model heads.

Headdresses for the Goblins. Credit Ellis Dytrych.

A dancer on pointe with one leg out behind her and arms outstretched performing as La Fee Magnifique with a green headdress.

La Fée Magnifique in Beauty & the Beast. Credit Tristram Kenton.

Creating looks

Where do you find inspiration for the looks you create on stage?

I work closely with the set and costume designer to develop the hair and makeup looks for each production. Every design process can be different but, mostly, to start, we rely on a character breakdown, which will help me gauge not only practical things like the character’s age but any characteristics they may have, e.g. are they a comedy character, a strict parent, the villain, etc. I will then create mood-boards for the characters to get inspiration. These can be digital, but I will also cut from magazines, do research if the show is set during a particular historical period, draw up make-up design sheets – anything that helps form a fully rounded idea of who the character is.

I will then develop looks through hair, makeup, or wig trials and liaise with the designer to ensure it honors the vision that they have for the show. Once a look is confirmed, I relay the information to the dancers, who will get the opportunity to try any wigs or specific hairstyles in rehearsals so they can give us guidance on what works within the choreography and highlight any issues. It’s such a collaborative experience and it helps the dancers get into the character they are playing.

A black and white photo of Harriet Rogers fixing a wig in the wigroom.

Harriet Rogers at work. Credit Ellis Dytrych.

A dancer playing the Beast with green make-up on their knees with their arms out and mouth open.

One of Harriet's finished looks - The Beast in Beauty & the Beast. Credit Tristram Kenton.

What are your favourite products to use when you’re creating a make-up look?

Due to the nature of what the dancers are doing on stage, we often can’t use make-up you would pick up in a normal shop, so I get a lot of our products from specialist suppliers. For a make-up look like the Beast, we need to use products that will withstand sweating and transferring, and will last for over a two-hour show. Generally, for big character makeup like this, we use a product called grease paint and set it heavily with translucent powder. This works better than water-based paints as it warms with the dancer’s face and body, and doesn’t run when they sweat. Makeup still gets checked by Lizzie throughout the show and will be touched up if required, but it’s better to use something stronger initially to give it the best chance of staying on the face.

It varies from project to project though. For Merlin the design didn’t call for strong makeup looks, so I used softer products like eye-shadow pigments and body shimmers as some characters were playing Gods who needed to look otherworldly and ephemeral. For Dracula, the character Old Dracula needed to be ancient and decrepit, and his body was painted fully white complete with a bald cap. But this character also had a lot of contact with other dancers on stage, so I had to source a special SFX body paint to ensure it was transfer-proof – the same products they would use on things like the Marvel films!

Working at Northern Ballet

What is your favourite Northern Ballet production to work on?

One of my favourites is Merlin. It’s a fantastic production and a great family show with something for everyone! It has a gorgeous colour palette which was great to incorporate into the hair and make-up looks. I toured with the show for months and never got bored of it – it’s just so exciting.

Another show I love working on is Casanova. It’s full-on as the show has nearly 70 wigs involved, so it’s a lot of hard work for the Wigs team, but it is simply stunning when you see everything come together on stage.

And I can’t wait to see A Christmas Carol on stage too!

Ballet dancing in Merlin

Kevin Poeung in Merlin. Credit Emma Kauldhar.

What are you working on at the moment?

While the Company is out on tour with our current repertoire (Romeo & Juliet and Beauty & The Beast), I have been busy working away in the wig room on A Christmas Carol which will be touring in the autumn. This is a revival of an older Northern Ballet classic and needs a lot of updating to freshen it up again for the stage. I’ve been making new wigs for the Ghosts and updating their headdresses. It’s a bizarre feeling to be making head-dresses out of bits of Christmas holly before the summer!

The cast of Northern Ballet's A Christmas Carol in a large group scene where children sit along the front and dancers playing the ghosts pose behind.

Northern Ballet dancers in A Christmas Carol. Credit Bill Cooper.

Beauty & the Beast

Next month, Northern Ballet’s Beauty & the Beast comes to Leeds Grand Theatre; what should audiences look out for?

Look out for the Goblins – they appear during the castle scenes and scurry around the stage getting into all sorts of mischief! I really enjoy the sisters and their friends from the early scenes. The dancers have so much fun in these roles and their wigs are really OTT and great fun to style.

What are some of your favourite looks from the production and why?

I really like the contrasting looks between the main Fairy characters, Luminaire and Manifique. Their styles are complete opposites but equally dramatic.

I loved updating a few things for this revival. For example, I remade the Beast wigs and used products such as silicone, liquid latex, and paint to add different skin textures and make him even more creature-like.

I also made little updates like remaking new Beauty tiaras and Sprite headdresses. It’s the little details that really bring a show together.

Colourful headdresses on wig stands.

Headdresses in the wig room. Credit Ellis Dytrych.

Dancers in colourful costumes standing in the same pose in a row.

The headdresses in action, worn by the dancers in Beauty & the Beast. Credit Tristram Kenton.

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