At the opening night reception for Ghost Light, actor Bill Geisslinger and I encountered two things: tiny cups of wine and audience disbelief. It went a little something like this:
Kyle from Marketing: Congrats!
Me (sipping tiny wine cup): Thanks Kyle, it’s so nice to finally be open!
Kyle: So I have to know, in real life, Bill Geisslinger has very light gray hair, but as the prison guard it's black…
Me: (Sip second tiny cup of wine in preparation for the following:)
Well Kyle, and other curious Berkeley Rep patrons, I am so glad I am here to demystify the quizzical hair situation of my good friend Billy G. (That is the rap name I bequeathed him, but don’t tell, he doesn’t know yet.)
The situation began many months ago in quaint Ashland, Oregon during the first production of Ghost Light. Super-hero stage carpenter Julia went to Ashland for a few days to watch the show and take copious notes on all things technical. Julia always takes the best notes; I have a feeling she aced all tests in all grade levels because of her note-taking skills.
Upon her return, Julia gifted our department with a how-to video for Billy G.’s hair situation, and it goes a little somethin’ like this:
Nightly, as stage manager extraordinaire Michael S. calls over the intercom “half hour,” Billy G. and I rendezvous in the wig room for his nightly makeover and gossip session about fellow actor friends.
We begin with Roux color mousse. Believe me, you’ve never heard of the stuff (but you can find it online), and I can’t figure out why it's the most brilliant yet underused product for temporary color and styling. Basically it's your typical mousse, but comes in myriad natural hair colors. For Billy G. we combine a black and a dark brown.
The frothy goop is meticulously applied, first with a toothbrush at his hair line, and then with a paddle brush down the back of his head, and combed through. The mousse can be tricky stuff, one minute lightly resting on top of the hairs, the next sinking into the scalp to create unsightly blotches I am forced to remove with baby wipes.
The magical Roux does not adhere to his sideburns, so for those we turn to a combination of Ben Nye Aqua stage makeup in brown and black. When applied again with a toothbrush, the key is even coverage and blending into the hair at his temples. The last thing you want is a pair blotching sideburns that don’t match your hair!
For the look of the prison guard, all of his hair is combed back, shellacked with hair spray, and with 15 minutes to "places" he is almost ready to go.
I said "almost!" Hold your horses!
As the eyes are the windows into the soul, the key to the prison guard character is his set of beautifully asymmetrical, bushy, hand-painted eyebrows. Oh yes. You heard right. Hand painted.
Times like these I am so glad that while other children played hot lava on the playground or went to the zoo, I sat at home and painted. Or watched my mother draw on her eyebrows every morning. Either way, this challenge was accepted, and rocked.
If you dare to paint on your own bushy eyebrows at home, here are a few pointers:
A slanted brush is key; I bought mine at Utrecht.
Using the back of your hand as a pallet, after every three strokes or so pass brush over your hand to insure it is as flat as possible.
Make sure your makeup is diluted enough that your eyebrows aren’t to thick, but not so thin they run. (Unless you are making a student film about people’s faces melting.)
The goal is to create individual hairs that “grow” in multiple directions, giving the eyebrow a sense of depth and volume.
So, in a 20-minute nutshell, that is how Billy G. goes from man on the street to slimy prison guard eight shows a week.
As for Bill’s opening night encounter:
Bill fills one tiny cup with a second tiny cup of wine. A patron approaches.
Patron: So were you in the show?
Bill (sipping tiny cup of wine): Yep.
Patron: Oh yeah? Who did you play?
Bill: The prison guard.
Patron: Yeah, right.
That, my friends was the highest complement of the evening.
Take that, patrons! School by Amy B. and Billy G.’s hair charades!
I will now proceed to do my Katy Perry “I totally rocked it” dance. Excuse me.
Are you a director or an actor?