Stage makeup is as much a science as it is an art, requiring precision, practice, and a considerable amount of trial and error. It's also something any good performer needs to learn, as it's not only a way to enhance your looks or charisma onstage, but a valuable way to help you build or solidify your characters.
Even for those experienced with regular makeup application, stage makeup can be challenging, as the best stage makeup application should look exaggerated close up, but natural from afar. Finding the right balance can be a tricky thing, so following is a look at the most common stage makeup mistakes to avoid.
1. Improper or Missing Foundation
Stage makeup is heavier than its everyday counterpart, and stage foundation can feel especially unnatural at first. You wouldn't be the first performer to sneakily skip it in favor of over the counter substitutes.
However, foundation is exactly what the name implies, the blank canvas the rest of your makeup (and character) needs. To protect your skin, start with a barrier spray like those from Mehron. Then apply your base and use it skilfully, blending the cream well below the jawline and down the neck.
If you spend your money on one item in your stage makeup kit, spend it here. A good cream foundation from a reputable brand like Ben Nye, Kryolan or Mehron will give you the starting point you need for building your character upon your face.
2. Let 'Em See You Sweat
The lights of the stage are brutal, and it's a common mistake to forget to account for that fact in your makeup routine. Those who don't can actually find themselves turning off the audiences, who tend to dislike performers streaming with sweat.
Luckily, the right makeup application can help you minimize shine. For more strenuous performances, choose waterproof elements, which stand up better under the light and heat of performance. Cream foundation, rouges and eyecolors also last longer than powder.
Use a fixing spray followed by a dusting of fine powder to set your look and create a matte finish while further protecting against shine. It's also a good idea to keep blotting papers and a powder puff handy for touch-ups offstage as well.
3. Concentrate on Looking Good Up Close
It's a common mistake with stage makeup to go too light in your application. But stage makeup is not life -- you're meant to use it to emphasize your features to be seen from afar, not up close. The goal here is not to look fabulous in your dressing room mirror, but to look terrific from several audience rows away, all the way to the back of the theatre.
This means that your initial makeup session should end with an exaggerated, overdone appearance. Stage makeup that is too light can make your features fade out, removing all character and individuality.
Finding just the right level of intensity can be a process of trial and error. Get a friend or fellow performer to gauge your efforts as well, so that you achieve just the right balance.
4. Go Crazy with Color in Order to be Seen
With that said, however? Don't go too far in the opposite direction. Be careful of contrasts -- white base, or harsh, too-dark colors that can read as black offstage. You want to avoid the dreaded 'clown-color' effect. Stage makeup colors don't 'read' from the audience as they do in life, and you've got to match your color choices with your character. Depending on the role, your best bet is to pick colors that will read as 'natural' onstage.
You can still use reds, for instance, just mute them. For foundations, avoid pinks or stark whites -- cream colors or foundations with a slightly yellow tinge actually tend to look better and more natural from the audience, whereas pinks can actually appear even ruddier from afar.
5. Don't Worry About the Details
Many novice performers can find themselves concentrating only on an overall look and feel for makeup, ignoring the final details that can really finish a look.
So take the time for the little things that can bring out the definition of your features from the stage. Line your eyebrows, for instance, as they frame your face. Use highlight as well as shadow. Also, don't just use a flat 'wash' of base, but add in cream contouring in darker shades to artfully change your features, and add or remove pounds or years.
If you're a male performer, don't skip the mascara... or the liner. Go with browns, not blacks, to add more subtle definition. From the audience, you'll enhance one of the most important and expressive parts of your face -- your eyes.