We caught up with Wig and Hair Designers Rob Greene and J. Jared Janas on their process and inspiration behind some of their designs for While I Yet Live.
We got some great pictures of you measuring cast members for their wigs. What is that process like?
The process of measuring an actor’s head for a wig involves only a few simple items; a heavy duty clear plastic bag, heavy clear tape, a Sharpie and a measuring tape.
After the actor’s hair has been prepped as it would be for the actual performance, the plastic bag is placed on the head and held down by the actor. The clear tape is then used to tape the bag so that it forms to the actor’s head. The actor’s hairline is then traced onto the bag, and finally multiple measurements are taken. Once the bag is removed from the actor’s head, it is in the shape of the head, and combined with the measurements, the mold can been used to stuff out a block (a canvas head) so that it is the exact shape and size of the performer’s head. A wig can now be built or fit for that specific person on that block.
Tell us a little bit about how you went about designing the wigs for this show?
To begin designing this show, first we read the script. This is one of the few scripts we’ve read that has so many specific wig notes in the actual script – not just in the line notes, but in the actual dialog as well. In some sense, [Playwright] Billy Porter made our jobs a little easier by being so specific.
After reading the script, we next met with [Costume Designer] Emilio Sosa to discuss his vision of the show. He provided us with some research for certain wigs – wigs that weren’t specifically mentioned in the script.
Next we met with both [Director] Sheryl Kaller and Billy Porter to get their ideas for the wigs, based on the staging they had been rehearsing with the actors, and the images already formed in their minds. This was a meeting where information was given, and then ideas just started to fly. We had our phones out doing Google-image searches whenever someone threw out a name for reference. We started explaining why a character might not be wearing something based on what they’re doing in the show. It was a really fun and fast-paced meeting.
Lastly, we met with some of the individual actors to discuss their ideas and needs for the show. Not only did we want to talk about the style of the hair they were envisioning for their character, but also we wanted to know about anything about wigs that they didn’t particularly like. For example, some actors don’t like using adhesives to keep the wigs on. That’s an important factor for us to consider when designing the wigs.
This play takes place over the course of 14 years. How do the wigs help to tell that story?
Wigs can be used to help set a timeline by making the style, cut and color conform to looks that were specific to a period in time. Over a period of 14 years, styles would have changed, which can be easily reflected in the wigs. The passage of time can also be shown in a particular character that may have kept the same style for many years by adding a bit of grey to the temples or having a short style in one act get longer in the next act.
This show presented us with a few challenges for showing the passage of time. First, the character Tonya isn’t actually showing the same passage of time as everyone else. She remains the same throughout the entire show. So we had to figure out a way to have her look change without actual giving her wigs to change her look.
Second, there are three acts in this show, each one 7 years later than the previous act. Only, there is no intermission between acts 1 and 2, and everyone stays on stage for the transition. So we had to figure out a way to make changes to hairstyles to show a passage of 7 years that the actors themselves could do on stage, with no mirror around to assist them.
What is your favorite wig in this show?
Our two favorite wigs are Sharon’s wig that shows a woman in the midst of losing her hair due to cancer, and Epatha’s first wig which, in Act 1, shows her a bit younger and with a slight change of style reveals more grey, aging her instantly for Act 2. We feel we handled both challenges well.