Dressed as a native Indian man; weirdest show I have ever done. The makeup artist had done a stellar job and if you did not look closely enough, you would have mistook me for an Indian. I am a cultural African dance choreographer, performer and teacher. All my stage characters are typically in my comfort zone however, this changed with this particular show. The difficulty of taking an Indian man’s character in a show is maintaining a good balance between movement in the choreography (based on Folk Indian dance) and my personal background as an African dance artist. I was constantly caught between cultures and had to work really hard in order to avoid compromising the storyline. What struck me the most was how the makeup artist changed the shape of my face through highlighting and shading. From then on, I gained a deeper appreciation of makeup and makeup artists.
Inspired by the show I did as an Indian man, my routine to creating a piece is as follows - right after developing the concept note, but before creating the choreography, I pay close attention to the characters that will complement the story. Crucial to bringing out any character to life on stage is the makeup. Modern technology, such as television, has failed to eclipse the earliest form of entertainment and audiences world over still throng auditoriums to watch a good act. This is so because the chemistry between a live audience and live performers creates this excitement element, which drives everyone to experience unparalleled pleasure. The puzzle to ensuring the unique performance or experience is incomplete if the makeup is done incorrectly.
What makes our performance team, Tamba Africa Ensemble, unique is the attention to detail we pay when it comes to makeup – it separates us from all other dance companies. We are blessed to have lighting experts in our midst who co-ordinate with makeup artists because makeup can lose its effectiveness when the lighting is incorrect. It’s important to understand that light strongly controls makeup, something neglected at ritual ceremonies where appearance only matters on costumes when they perform cultural African dance styles. In modern day performances however, makeup plays an important role as it is part of the story and applying too little makeup for example, may just wash off your face, conversely too much of it may just make the character too animated and unrealistic.
If you are fortunate to have a professional makeup artist, you don’t need to worry about the type of makeup. However, for those who have to do their own makeup for shows, use oil based makeup as it lasts longer. The last thing you want is water based makeup, although easy to wash off, which is great for quick costume changes, it has a high risk of bleeding whilst you are on stage. As if performing the usually intense and vigorous movements of African dance styles in front of a live audience is not difficult enough, water based makeup may lead to embarrassment. Powder based is another option and has the advantage of of washing off easily after the show. Nevertheless, the major drawback is that it flakes off the skin easily, and if you are not careful, it may cause you to fall once it clings on the floor or your feet.
For any of your upcoming shows, you have to evaluate the pros and cons of each of the three options above, taking into account things like quick costume changes, and your ability to comply with long scenes, all of which may be affected by the makeup type you choose. I recommend hiring a professional makeup artist should any of your characters require special effects (Star Wars type) and 3D work. There is no substitute for the expert skills of a makeup artist if you want to nail the desired features like wrinkles and key emotion elements such as the eyes or lips. I sure hope you are comfortable with wax because that is a main component of 3D work and special effects like enhancing the nose.
Ultimately, it's a performer's responsibility to study and understand your own face as it is not always possible to have a professional makeup artist at your disposal for shows. Save up and purchase a makeup toolkit consisting of some brushes, foundations and lip stains. Zimbabwe is blessed with its own brand that is suitable for African skin types produced by Vault Cosmetics, and if you are outside of Zimbabwe, visit their website and place your order – best purchase ever.
Similar to your steps and costume, it is very important to double check the performance of the makeup application during dress rehearsal. Stand against the lighting and ask a cast member to sit in the audience and move from row to row so that you can be sure everyone in the audience sees the same beauty.
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