Choosing or designing stage costumes can be challenging, but if you master the basic principles, you’ll have the actors in your production looking like pros in no time at all. Firstly, it’s important that the costumes fit in with the era in which the production is set. Make sure that you remain consistent with this and that everyone in the show wears costumes from the same time period.
Something else to bear in mind is that the costumes need to be a little “over the top” in terms of color, embellishment, and overall impact. Remember that once the lights are up, the audience sitting at the very back of the theatre needs to be able to see all the detail. This is a time that you can really go overboard with embellishments like ruffles, lace, rhinestone and sequins. These items catch the light and create a special magic all of their own, bringing the production to life. Harsh stage lights often cause colors to fade out, so go ahead and pick brighter, deeper colors than you normally would. Remember not to use all black or all white in a costume. Black tends to disappear onstage, whereas white is glaring and catches the eyes or changes color under the lights anyway.
It’s vital that costumes can be removed quickly. Make sure costumes fasten with Velcro and snap closures not buttons and zippers. Shoes should not have laces or buckled straps. Rather choose ones with elastic so that the performer can just pull them on and off.
In the same way that the costumes must fit the era, so too must the hairstyles. Hair and makeup design often go together in a production.
As with costumes, hairstyles and colors can and should be exaggerated and slightly over the top. So, if the character is supposed to be a redhead, for instance, then go bright red or orange rather than soft auburn. Remember that wigs, false beards, mustaches and sideburns can be used. Hair color can be used to great advantage for a stage production. Witches’ hair can be deep black, mermaids can be given blue or green seaweed-type locks, while barmaids can be stereotypical redheads.
Makeup is a vital part of the whole costume and can be used to great effect if applied well. Start by working with the director to try to catch their vision for the different characters. Once you have an idea, do a little research and find pictures from the era in which the production is set. Find pictures of the make up for different cultures too if necessary.
Now that you’ve done your research, the fun can begin. Work with the different actors, finding out about any skin problems, makeup preferences or allergies they may have. Start by prepping the skin well first. This is essential if the makeup is going to stay on properly for the duration of the show. Use plenty of matte foundation, remembering to apply it to the neck too or the actor will look like they’re wearing a mask. Set it all with a translucent face powder to keep down the shine which shows up so easily under the lights.
For the eyes, liquid liner will create more definition and will not smudge as easily as a pencil. Brown, gold or silver eyeshadows show up well. Use false lashes if possible so that the eyes will be visible right from the back rows. Remember to define the brows as they tend to disappear under the lights.
Apply plenty of blush to the cheeks. You can go ahead and use more than you normally would. The color fades out onstage and you won’t look like a clown.
The lipsticks should be matte, long-lasting ones to ensure that they don’t budge. For ladies, use pinks or reds. Gentlemen may need brownish or deep red shades.
Depending on the type of production, the makeup artist may need to create effects like bruises, wrinkles and so on. While this is a specialized field, many of these are quite simple to create. For example, to create bruises, layer powder eyeshadow in shades of black, purple, yellow and blue. Smudge and blend until the right effect is achieved. Wrinkles can be created with a layer of wood glue. Once dried, apply makeup over the top, making sure it gets into the creases.