Theatrical Hair Tips

Today’s post is in response to Madelyn’s question about doing hair for a theatrical production. I’m not familiar with the specific show requested so I don’t know what types of characters you are working with. However, I have done hair for a bunch of shows. For stage production hair design, your first priority must be durability. I can hear my authenticity-focused re-enacting readers fainting for that statement, but authenticity takes second place to the hair lasting the length of the show (or at least until intermission when you can touch it up and fix things). As the actors change costumes, fragile styles will get messed up, and even the most spectacular authentic style will look awful by the end of the first act if it isn’t really secure. When in doubt, use more pins! Depending on the actress’ hair type, gel can be great for getting hair to hold a shape and stay in place. Hairspray is useful for keeping the surface of a style smooth.

For a production, it’s important to capture the look of a an era, but you don’t have to be 100% accurate. Remember, the audience is some distance from the actors, and they won’t be able to see the hair styles that clearly. They just need to be the right general shape to help everyone believe that they are in the time period. Some thoughts would be things like “During this era . . . ”

  1. Is the style worn high on the head, the back, or near the neck?
  2. Should their be fullness at the sides? The top?
  3. Which is representative of the era– center part, side part, or no part?

One other thing to consider is if the character will wear a hat any time during the show. A beautiful up-do will look ridiculous if the actress had to perch her hat on top because her style is too big.

The following style suggestions will apply most directly to shows that are set in the 1800s– anything by Dickens, Little Women, any other Louisa May Alcott books, Anne of Green Gables, Oklahoma, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, any other “pioneer” plays, Sherlock Holmes, etc.

For little girls, braids are a great choice. I would try this one https://rapunzelsresource.wordpress.com/2009/10/20/luana-braids/ or the looped up variation here https://rapunzelsresource.wordpress.com/2009/10/20/luana-loops/. If at all possible, try not to leave any hair down because it will look messy very quickly. For little girls with very short hair that you can’t braid, a bow holding back one side and the ends curls under looks adorable. Think Lucy from the the first Narnia movie http://www.spareoom.net/gallery/?level=picture&id=219.

For women, try styles that start with at least some hair in hair ties as a base. If you do, the hair style will be much more stable because the pins will have something to grab. Your best option is going to be variations on the Civil War ball style https://rapunzelsresource.wordpress.com/2010/05/25/1860-ball-style/. You can start most of your actresses off with the first three steps and then braid one girl’s hair, twist another’s, etc. For an actress with very short hair, try the Gibson Roll https://rapunzelsresource.wordpress.com/2010/07/07/gibson-roll/, but skip the curls.

Any other tips for doing hair for a play?

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13 thoughts on “Theatrical Hair Tips

  1. Anyone see the ticker in the side bar? 200,000 hits!!! Yeah! Thanks for reading Rapunzel’s Resource and spreading the word about my blog.

  2. Love your blog. I just started reading it when someone posted a link to it on the Raising Homemakers Link-up day. I know you are very busy with a full life, but if you had time, I would love to have more frequent updates as yours is one of my favorite blogs.

    Thanks so much. 🙂

  3. Sometimes, if an actress will need a different hairstyle mid-show, it’s easier to use hair extensions for part of the style even if the actress has long enough hair to do the style. For example, when I played Cinderella, I had my hair in an up-do with a long hair extension attached with a comb at the back and then thrown over the front of my shoulder. Then, when it came time to change into the ballgown and ball hairstyle, the hairdresser would quickly unclip the hair extension and add rings of fake hair at the top of my head (these were actually “hair scrunchies” that were tied to my tiara).

    In some shows, it’s 100% necessary to use a wig. Like for Jo in Little Women, who cuts her hair toward the middle of the show, it would be impossible to cut the actress’s hair every night. 😉

    When using only one’s own natural hair, using tons of hairspray and bobbypins is really the only tip I can give. If everything is pinned down and sprayed correctly, nothing is going to go anywhere. =)

  4. Hey! I would love to see a Laura Ingalls bun from the series. It is so pretty, and I would LOVE it if you would make a tutorial for it.
    Thanks!

  5. Wow, this is the kind of blog I’ve been hoping for! I have long hair, but I’ve never been particularly enthusiastic about messing with it. But look at all the possibilities!

  6. Guys, all I wanted was a list of which posted styles are apprpriate for the period. Since your styles are dance-proof, they’re great for a 2-hour show. I just wanted to know which ones a re apprpriate for Victorian England.

  7. When on stage you want to make sure that hair is not in the actors face (like the swoop bangs that are so popular today). One of the most important things in acting is having the right facial expressions and if your hair is in your face, how are people going to see it?

  8. As a veteran if the stage, I’m going to second keeping hair out of the actor’s face. I’m not particularly fond of wearing long hair down because it will inevitably end up in someone’s mouth.
    As far as a style, I would google victorian hairstyles and look for pictures.
    Good luck!

  9. My favorite hairstyle for anything period (because somehow it is able to cross any era fairly well) is to twist the sides back, starting at the hair line and pinning them close together, and then artfully putting the rest of the hair into a bun. This works for various reasons. I have seen it work with every face shape. If you need your hair down in the second act you, just take the bun out and leave the side up, you have a down hairstyle but have the front out of your face. and you can do any variation on the bun, so if the whole cast is doing it you can have a similar hairstyle but have it different with each person. I also find that it is to be used in a lot of different time periods, from renaissance through the 1950’s (of course there are a few like the baroque period that it may not work for but give it a go and see if it does). Another plus is that it is soooo easy to do.

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