Stage Makeup and Hair

 Because of my many years as a performer, I knew that it was going to be necessary for the kids to wear makeup on stage in performance. The reason is that the strong stage lighting causes the face to look sickly and lacking expression unless you have on makeup to counterbalance the effect.

When we first began, I was using make-up the same way an adult actor would — foundation, rouge, lipstick, mascara, eye shadow, eyebrow and eye liner. The kids hated it, especially the boys, and the parents complained, saying it was too much, harmful to the skin, etc. Plus, if you had a large cast and were doing several shows, it was very time-consuming, and it was difficult to find adults skillful enough to apply stage makeup properly.

Over the years I brought it down to a few basics, such as:


Both boys and girls need blush applied to the apple of the cheeks and blended carefully to avoid a “clown” appearance. Stand 20 feet away. If you can’t see it, you need more. If it looks good from 3 feet away, it’s not enough. Stage lights will totally negate a “normal” (we call it “street makeup”) amount of blush. 

Cream blush stays on better than powder. The best color is a brownish red, which looks natural on the majority of complexions. Avoid bright red. Pinks are usually not bright enough. To apply blush, use a small foam wedge, a separate one for each actor.

Queen makeup


If an actor has very pale skin or has blemishes, you can use a somewhat darker powder or a non-allergenic foundation to cover blemishes or darken the complexion a little. Don’t put a light-colored powder or foundation on kids with dark skin. It will make them look like Geishas.


Use this only on kids who have very pale eyebrows and apply it very lightly. If it is noticeable from 10 feet away, wipe some off. Heavy artificial eyebrows will look “evil."


Lipstick: All girls should wear lipstick. You will need to find a beige-y pink color, slightly darker than naturally pink lips, that can be bought locally or online and tell your girls they need to purchase that brand and apply it right before the show begins. (They will need a reminder.) You will need a few moms to help some girls with their lipstick. Sometimes we bought lipstick online in sets of six or 10, then sold them, at cost, to the girls. WetnWild sells some good shades in sets at a very low cost. If a girl needs non-allergenic lipstick, then show the mom the shade she needs and tell her to find something in that shade. This goes for blush as well.

There are some characters for whom a different color lipstick would be appropriate. If you want that character to wear bright red lipstick, you will need to buy it for them or tell them what color to buy.

Note: Girls should never share lipstick, eye makeup, combs, or brushes.

Mascara: All girls should be encouraged to wear mascara. They should have their own tube, and, if possible, have their moms apply it before the show. If they are allergic or very opposed to mascara for some reason, we don’t press it.

Eye Shadow and Eye Liner: For girls in lead roles, you might use eye liner or eye shadow if the role seems to call for it. For instance, in “Aladdin” we gave the girls extended eyeliner such as you see in Egyptian drawings. In “Vaudeville," we gave the dancers a lot of blue or green eyeshadow to make them look more “showy” or brazen.


If you need a character to look older, either middle aged or senior citizen, it will be necessary to apply aging makeup. You don’t have to buy a special kit for this, but they are for sale at most places that sell Halloween or other types of costumes or online.

Assuming you don’t have a kit, you will still need a few items — brown crème eyeshadow, dark brown eye pencil, and light cover crème.

First, apply the light cover crème under the eyes and across the cheek bones. Then, using the brown crème eyeshadow, draw a line under the eyes to create a baggy eye look, and also in the hollows of the cheeks to create a “sunken” cheek. Use the eye pencil to draw lines from the side of the nose down to the chin. Also draw wrinkles on the forehead and at the edges of the eyes. Now carefully blend, using your finger or a foam wedge and q-tip. The more you leave on, the older the person will look.

Be aware that aging make-up looks TERRIBLE when you are close up. You need to stand 20 or 30 feet away and look at it. If the person doesn’t look old from 20 or 30 feet away, you need to use more makeup.
Witch makeup


The most important thing regarding hair is to tell the parents that they must consult the director before cutting their son or daughter’s hair. A cautionary tale: We had a boy with a Beatle-style haircut cast as the young future King Arthur. But just before the show, he got a buzz cut. We had to go out and buy a wig for him to wear. Usually a little trim will not affect how a kid looks in a role, but don’t count on the kid or the parents thinking about that on their own.

If you have a girl with short hair whom you would like to cast in a role that would be better for long hair, consider using a “fall." They sell inexpensive falls made with artificial hair in lots of colors. We used to buy them at Sally’s. Put the girl's hair in a ponytail, pin the fall to the rubber band and wrap her hair and some of the fall around it and pin it. You can then braid the fall if you want.

Another method is to glue the fall to a headband and cover their own hair that way.


We use a lot of wigs. They are inexpensive, can be bought online or at a Halloween or theatrical costume shop. If you have one actor who is going to play two different roles, a wig is the best way to disguise them. It’s best not to share wigs, and be sure to air them out well between shows. If you have a head lice scare in the school, be aware that lice cannot live on a wig (or in a hat) for more than a couple of days. They need living flesh to survive. 


When you are making someone look old, you will need to use a grey wig or grey hair coloring. The spray hair coloring doesn’t cover most colors of hair adequately. We use Ben Nye Liquid Hair Color, silver grey, which can be bought online. You apply it with a small brush. It’s very drippy — have the actor hold a towel to their face. It has two advantages — when it dries, it looks very authentic, and it washes out fairly easily. For a middle age character, just apply the grey to the front edges, with maybe a streak or two on the top and sides. For a really old person, you will need to color it all over. But first consider a wig or a hat that covers up most of the head. It is tedious to put color all over the hair.