Pin Curls and Pig-tails
A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Wigs of The Sleeping Beauty
March 21, 2022
Charlie Seminerio. Photo by Dylan Tedaldi.
The National Ballet of Canada’s Hair and Make-up Supervisor, Charlie Seminerio has been helping the dancers – and their characters – look their best for 28 years. Here he talks about the wigs of The Sleeping Beauty, part of Nicholas Georgiadas' lavish design that echoes Louis the Sun King and his opulent 17th-century court.
How many wigs are there in The Sleeping Beauty?
There are close to 150 wigs and hairpieces in the production. I’d say that two-thirds of them are synthetic and the other third are made of human hair. Some of the wigs for the supernumeraries and the multi-panel wigs are from the original 1972 production – they’ve been patched and repaired so many times but that’s more cost-effective than commissioning new custom-made wigs. A number of wigs, including most of the men’s wigs, were updated in 2006 when the production was refurbished.
Which would you say is the largest and/or heaviest wig?
The King has two 2 different wigs, each with many panels. In the third act, with his panel wig and a humongous headdress of feathers, that’s the largest combination. Catalabutte’s wig would be the heaviest – it is synthetic which tends to be heavier than human hair and his panel wig has six panels in total, so those two extra panels (compared to four for the Sarabande men) add even more weight.
Sophie Letendre as Queen and Jonathan Renna as King in The Sleeping Beauty. Photo by Teresa Wood.
How do you prepare the wigs leading up to performances?
The synthetic wigs don’t always need to be re-set because they will hold a curl, whereas the human hair does not. To re-set a wig, I shampoo the hair and put it in rollers or pin-curls, or sometimes mould it with comb and fingers. I have a wig oven which is like a hair dryer in a cabinet but hotter. There are two shelves in it so it can hold up to six wig blocks at a time. For the multi-panel wigs, like the Sarabande men or the King, I need a special wig block that is the proper height. There are four panels so setting that is like setting four normal wigs. It will take a whole morning to shampoo and set one of these wigs and I need to remove the shelf in the wig oven so it’ll fit. It will take two hours to dry in the oven or two days if I leave it out to dry naturally.
How much preparation time does each wig require?
Some wigs take six hours and some take one, so I’d say it’s an average of two to three hours per wig. It’s an ongoing process, that’s for sure, and I try to break it up. For example, I work on The Nutcracker throughout the year as well, doing a little bit at a time.
Rebekah Rimsay puts on make-up to prepare for her performance of Carabosse in The Sleeping Beauty. Photo by Bruce Zinger.
What is the process at the theatre prior to each performance?
There are six assistants who work with me and we are all assigned a specific track on the schedule we post. My track, for example, starts with Aurora's crown, then Queen, Catalabutte, Prince and King prior to curtain. The first quick change is upstage behind the drops for the men going into the Waltz. At second intermission, I change Aurora’s crown and the wigs and headpieces for the Queen and King.
For story ballets, we usually start an hour and a half, sometimes two hours, prior to curtain. Each dancer gets ten to fifteen minutes. First, the dancer’s hair needs to be put into pin curls (which some dancers will do themselves and it helps speed up the process), we put a wig cap over their hair and secure it to the pin curls. It’s a foundation to secure the wig when we put it on. With all the turning and spinning, we need to make sure the wigs are secure!
Artists of the Ballet in The Sleeping Beauty. Photo by Karolina Kuras.
How tricky is that?
In this production, there is often a headdress or a hat to consider as well. For the Hunt ladies, we use a large hair pin that pierces the hat, then the wig, then out the other side of each. I find the trickiest piece to attach is the Prince’s queue (the esquire pigtail tied with a ribbon) because the men usually have short hair and their heads get slick with sweat. I put the men’s hair in tiny little pigtails at the back and with a curved needle and thread I sew the hairpiece in through the pigtails. The men wince at it but it ensures the hairpiece stays on!
What happens after a show and a full performance run?
Everything is disinfected with a spray after each show and before we pack it away when the run is finished. We won’t shampoo and re-set until the next re-mount. However, if something needs work during a run, I have my wig oven at the theatre with me for quick drying.
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