Creative Producer Fiona Lindsay considers the transformative power of hair in theatre.
Last week I had the enormous privilege of interviewing a Hollywood legend, Mr. Burt Reynolds.
Burt has sustained (he might say survived) a career in the entertainment business for almost 60 years. At one point he was the top grossing leading man in Tinsel Town for five years on the trot – a record not broken by the likes of Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt.
It was such a treat to spend time talking with him, hearing him describe his passion for the craft and reflect upon his early days treading the boards of Broadway. A few weeks ago I wrote about the circuitous routes into show business and Burt is a wonderful example of this.
If it wasn’t for a bad sports injury and an even worse road accident, he might have ended up playing for the NFL. Citing his favourite actor as Spencer Tracy, he’s been best friends with Clint Eastwood since they were both signed up as young bucks of the Hollywood studio system.
The more we chatted, the brighter Burt’s eyes burned as he jogged down memory lane. I say jogged, as there’s an infectious energy about him and throughout his career he has given 110% to his work. He has (quite literally) thrown himself about the place and is very proud to be an honorary member of the American Stuntman Association, having performed all his own stunts – no body double for him.
Burt has always had a predominately female legion of fans. With a keen interest in outward appearance and physical prowess, his hair and moustache have been as much a topic of discussion as his love life. During our chat I avoided addressing either, but he happily joked about his hair and the various toupées, wigs and hair transplants he’s worn over the years.
Hair can help to transform how a performer looks and feels. As part of the design process vital decisions are taken regarding the look of the character’s coiffure. It’s not just about the length and colour – a high level of attention is also paid to details such as texture, thickness, and styling. The hair needs to look and feel a natural part of the character it belongs to.
There’s a precise art to making and dressing wigs for theatre and film and the wig team works very closely with the designer to create the overall look. The beginning of the process involves looking at the actor’s own hair to determine the best way of working with it. The next stage is getting the head measurements in order to create a lace skullcap, which is the foundation for the wig and full of thousands of tiny holes into which the hair is knotted. Nowadays, with all the hair used being real, an extremely realistic result can be achieved. I have to say that Burt’s full head of hair was a stunning silver and he looked very distinguished indeed.
Today we publish the transcript of my interview with Corinne Young about her hair work on the recent West End production of Ghosts. She describes her daily preparation for the evening performance and the dressing and re-dressing of Lesley Manville’s hairpiece. Corinne exemplifies the patience and attention to detail required to do hair work. I’d recommend her most highly to a certain Mr. B Reynolds.