Wigs

The first wig I ever made from scratch was for myself for Halloween. It was a Cher wig that I made by poking holes in my mother’s rubber swim cap and tying long pieces of black yarn in the holes. I wasn’t even ten years old.

The last wigs I built were completed only a few weeks ago. I made two wigs for A Doctor in Spite of Himself at work (Intiman Theatre). One wig was a completely hand tied man’s comb over wig … no hair on top. The other wig was a very thinly tied piece made of white hair for an old man character.

Wigs have always been a big part of my life. There are no less than four chapters in my book that mention wigs before I even finish high school or choose wigs as a profession.

To me every wig has a story: a vignette. Wigs are not natural. Their presence always adds to a situation. They are a substitute. Even when realistic, they are not real. I am sure that is why I have always been drawn to them.

Last spring, I was responsible for wigging four actresses in Intiman’s production of Paradise Lost. The play was set in the 1930’s. Intiman has a stock of a couple of hundred wigs from past shows, most of which I have made myself. All the wigs have been unstyled and cleaned and are ready to be reused. I have done many shows set in the 1930’s; there was no reason to make new wigs for the play.

I called each actress in for wigs fittings and thoughtfully chose a wig suitable for the character they were playing. Each wig already had a history. One simple brown wig alone had already been used on other actors in such plays Servant of Two Masters, Abe Lincoln in Illinois, and Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure. It had even spent some time styled as Jesus Christ in a short project for a friend.

It is no wonder I was attracted to wigs from an early age. I was damaged. I felt false. I grew up in a world of make believe. I lived outside my body to deal with painful situations. Hair was a tool used to pretend to be someone else; to hide my feelings. Hair became strangely and dangerously valuable to me both in my pretend world and in my reality.

I might not be the subject or the wearer of the wigs I make professionally, but there is a little piece of me in each wig that passes through my hands. Just like the years when I was growing up, each of my wigs has value, or serves as currency: actors are paid to wear my wigs; theatergoers pay money to see my wigs; and I am paid to make them. I feel like I have come full circle from that boy in the swim cap Cher wig.

I will be challenged this winter. I will revisit some of my real life past as I do the wigs for the adaptation of my book for the stage. Open Circle Theater’s premiere of The Cut will feature numerous wigs by me … and about me. It is a project that I am proud to embrace.

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