Jess McClure creates unique characters for ‘The Birds’ feather by feather
Two days before the theatrical premiere of “The Birds,” The Colonnade sat down with the makeup designer of the production, senior theater major Jess McClure. She expounded on the types of makeup and materials used on the actors, the makeup designing process and what it was like to work with one of the more colorful pallets the Georgia College Department of Theatre has ever seen. Working hand-in-hand with junior theater major and “The Birds” costume designer Matt Riley, McClure was excited to finally try her hand at theatrical makeup design – something she has always wanted to do since high school.
Q: How did you become the makeup artist for “The Birds?”
A: Before I even came to school, I wanted to be a makeup artist. When I got out of high school, I told my parents that I was just going to start an internship at a salon, but my dad said ‘absolutely not. You need a degree. You like theater, so go for that.’ Once it came to my senior year, I wanted to be a makeup artist for my capstone. So here I am.
Q: Will you be backstage during the production helping with hair and makeup?
A: I will be before the show starts. I have one person, Logan Lorenz, who is my biggest project – the most difficult task. Since he has a wig and very intricate makeup, I spend the most time on him before the show. For the quick changes during the show, however, I am not allowed to be backstage. I have to be in the audience so I can see if what I’m trying to get across is a success.
Q: Did you have to choose people to apply makeup during the show?
A: I hand picked one person since I knew her personally and have worked for her. We have two girls who are actually in the show who are also providing their services with makeup application.
Q: Have you and your team had a chance to practice the makeup application?
A: Sunday through Tuesday are the only times we get. Sunday is the day we let everything go to crap and then refine the process through the week.
Q: Do the actors apply any of the makeup themselves?
A: They apply the pre-makeup, get themselves as far as they can, then go to a makeup artist to finish up. Normally in the theatrical world, the actors are expected to do their own makeup. The makeup artist is there purely to create the idea, give them step by step instructions, hand them the makeup and say, ‘If you need help, let me know.’ This gets very difficult because when it is your own work, you want to do everything, but when you have a 25-person cast, you really cannot do that.
Q: Did you have a specific idea of what you wanted the makeup to look like?
A: When I started out on the makeup, the only thing I had read was the first draft of the adapted play. The costume designer and I have been pretty close throughout the process, and we decided we wanted a very graffiti, urban-esque feel – lots of braids, dreads and bright flashes of color. We just figured out a cluster of ideas and then worked with those.
Q: Since you and the costume designer worked close together throughout the whole process, did you guys ever come to any disagreements or was it easy to work with him?
A: Matt Riley and I have been friends since freshman year of college. We have always designed pretty much the same way, so this process was really easy because we both love making everything beautiful. That was honestly a bit of a challenge for some of our rougher-looking characters. We were like, ‘Why can’t we just make everything pretty?’ I think the only thing we’ve had an issue with is trying to remind ourselves that we cannot have all the tiny details that we want. We have to be able to say, ‘Okay, this is what you can see from stage,’ or ‘This has to happen because we don’t have a lot of time.’
Q: How much time do you estimate is allotted between scenes for makeup and costume changes?
A: I know for a fact that the scene change where Ross Daniel and Amy Carpenter go from human to bird is around three to four minutes. They keep a majority of makeup like, the big, fake eyelashes and eye makeup. The only thing we add is speckled highlights along the cheeks lips. Ross gets feather clips added to his hair and they also have to change into their outfits.
Q: Which bird do you feel has the most elaborate design?
A: I would say it’s a fight between Hoopoe, which is played by Logan Lorenz, and The Bird of Paradise, which is played by Evan Wells. The Bird of Paradise has a pretty elaborate makeup design on his neck and a bunch of feathers coming off his eyes so that adds to the difficulty.
Q: What makeup and materials do you use for the characters?
A: We used to have an airbrush, but luckily we can still apply the makeup that came with it with paintbrushes or fingertips. We have a cream makeup set that adds a really nice sheen that catches the stage lights very well. We use powders for eye shadows and any kind of eyeliner. There are actual feathers going on actors’ faces. We use spirit gum, a type of liquid adhesive, and it only comes off with spirit gum remover. It doesn’t pull any hair off either. For instance, our swan has a feather coming off her eyebrow, and our first concern was, ‘Is her eyebrow going to come off?’ She is also a French model, and the last thing I needed was ripping off a French model’s eyebrow.
Q: Was there a specific color pallet you had in mind for the makeup or was it case-by-case for each bird character?
A: We had to do it case-by-case. It gets really complicated when it comes to color blocking. We realize things like one half of the stage being really blue, while the other half is really dark. We had to lighten up this actor, darken this prop and rearrange positioning. We knew that we wanted to use all of our graffiti, urban-esque mix of bright colors, but we had to be careful.
Q: How much money do you think was used specifically on the makeup?
A: Probably around $500 including the airbrush machine, and that’s not including costumes. So this is the biggest budget that we’ve had for makeup, given that this is the biggest cast utilizing the most intricate makeup designs I’ve seen since I’ve been here.