Did you know the art form of hair, wig, and makeup design goes back centuries, perhaps even further than ancient Egypt? Join designer Cherelle D. Guyton for an inside scoop on her hair, wig, and makeup vision for Lydia and the Troll, on stage until Jun. 11.
“One thing it won’t be is boring, 'cause MY HAIR surely isn’t”
- Cherelle D. Guyton
1. How did you first become interested in wigs, hair, and make-up design?
I’ve been interested in hair, wigs, and makeup since I was a little girl. I particularly loved watching my mama, grandmothers, and aunts get ready for special events. To be allowed to stay around for this sacred transformative process, I’d make myself useful by completing tasks to help them get ready. Zipping a dress, finding several pairs of shoes to pick from, fluffing hair, painting their nails, selecting appropriate jewelry, brooches, and scarves, pending the occasion, and most importantly, honestly yet tactfully answering questions about the attractiveness of their makeup and chosen hairstyle. At a young age, without realizing it, I was taught the art of how to present yourself.
Fast forward to college: like most theater folks at one time, I was acting. I did act, and I did well. Yet I didn’t feel as free with acting. Acting requires a special discipline and sacrifice that, at that time, I didn’t want to always adhere to. It didn’t help that I was acutely aware of the disparate treatment that Black actors received in the undergraduate and graduate programs, so that really turned me off. After witnessing the inequitable treatment that the Black students in the programs endured, I knew I wouldn’t be successful nor productive in the actor program, so I shifted to something else in the theater department that I knew I loved deeply. This passion comes from a deeper place, one in which I was supported at home and in the costume shop by my costume and wig professors, Valerie Pruett and Lisa Martin-Stuart.
This quick realization landed me in the costume, hair, wig, and makeup program…. sorta. I used to be a little scared of the sewing machine. I couldn’t quite control it. I have big powerful feet and small, delicate hands, so I focused more heavily on the hair, wigs, and makeup. Once I found my wind, I flew like an eagle.
2. What was your creative process in approaching Lydia and the Troll through a wig, hair, and makeup lens?
Well, I can’t tell you all of my secrets… but I can tell you that I focused on the script, along with the overall vision of the playwright, director, and costume designer. I recognized and accepted the talent’s current aesthetic, and I created my vision based on all of this information. Everything isn’t for everyone, so I have to customize accordingly in all aspects of design.
Most importantly when designing, I watch, listen, and learn. Designing well involves a highly collaborative and communicative process. I know what I know—and I know I don’t know it all—so every process is different, and I’m learning something new every time I design. When I stop learning is when I’m done designing.
3. How has the evolution of hair in the Black community continued to inform your design as an artist?
The evolution of hair in the Black community continues to inform my design by having “no ceilings.” Black hair is and has always been innovative, ever-changing, revolutionary, bold, beautiful, informative, highly transformative, and to most, sacred. So, I move forward in my designs “without ceilings” in mind.
Some days my hair stands as high and as wide as an Angel Oak, other days by evening she’s transformed and hangs straight and low, billowing in the wind as a weeping willow. Either way, she makes a statement.
4. In your opinion, what is a common misconception audiences have about wigs, hair, and makeup design?
Audiences don’t always recognize that someone had to design and create the characters’ hair and makeup aesthetic, and that educated, trained, talented, and skilled technicians and specialists must maintain these designs every show.
It is customary for a hair/wig and makeup designer to actually create the wigs “designed by” the costume designer. In my case, for the past several years I’ve collaborated with the director and costume designer yet I create my own designs. As a professional designer who’s worked at some of the largest regional theaters in the country, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to design my own hair, wig, and makeup designs in collaboration with the designer.
I completed a BA in Theater with a concentration in costume, hair/wig, and makeup design, an MBA, and an MFA certification for Period Hair, Wig, and Makeup Design. I read and analyze the script, complete in-depth research, and compile historical/contemporary facts and images. Sometimes I might even sketch my designs a little bit. I don’t draw well so I communicate through multiple mediums at a high level.
Another thing most audience members don’t realize or understand is that designing a character’s aesthetic is highly informative of how they as an audience member perceive the character. It’s integral to the storytelling process. I love to watch my actors shift and change with their hair, wigs, makeup, nails, scars, moles, etc. It’s highly psychological and very important to the process.
5. What advice would you give folks who are interested in wig design?
My advice to folks interested in wig design would be to know why and how you can help to enhance the art. Be willing, open, and ready to work hard, all hours of the day and night. You need to have integrity, an openness to listen and learn, humility, and a moral and collective sense of humanity and kindness.
It’s not just doing hair—it’s an art form, an esteemed craft, a process that involves a creative journey, and sometimes it’s a wild ride. It’s sacred to some and frivolous to others (they don’t tend to have the best minds nor hair, so just ignore those people) Nonetheless, it is integral to the storytelling. I believe hair/wig and makeup design is done best when it represents the authentic nature of the artist and character simultaneously.
See these electric hair/wig and makeup designs on stage at the world premiere of Lydia and the Troll, on stage now playing through June 11, 2023 at Seattle Rep.