Folger Theatre’s Amadeus steeps its audience in the luxury and glamour of 18th-century Vienna. This extravagant feast for the eyes features a number of elaborate and colorful wigs worn by the company, created by wig designer Dori Beau Seigneur. Read below as Seigneur takes us through the process of fashioning the fabulous hair currently being sported on the Folger stage.
Amadeus is certainly a show I could not say “no” to! The period of Mozart was a time in history where fashion was at its height; the costumes and hair are almost a whole character themselves and certainly tell a lot about the people of the story. The way a person wears their hair is such a reflection of them. As a wig and hair designer it is my job to understand each character enough to make that choice for them. There are discussions prior to rehearsals with both the director and costume designer to begin to understand who these people are. Then when the actors arrive there are more discussions as to what they expect from their character. Sometimes designs can change after knowing what choices an actor is making.
This show was different in the fact that the period and historical references helped us form that picture early. We researched paintings of the actual people, and I examined art that reflected everyday happenings and political cartoons of the time to get a sense of what this world was. After the discussions and research, I dove into the technical aspects of the job.
First, my assistant and I measured and did wig wraps of all the actors’ heads. For this process we literally put a plastic bag on the actor’s head and taped out the exact shape of their head and traced the hairline of the actor on to that. Then it was brought back to my studio where we put the plastic wrap on canvas blocks and stuffed them to the size and shape of each actor. I then went through my stock and assigned wigs to each actor according to character and fit.
In this period everyone wore wigs, so this certainly affected how I did things. We were able to use what are called hard front wigs. You can purchase these at wig stores, and they are made of fabric or elastic. But for some people we wanted wigs that looked like they are their own hair, so we use lace front wigs. These wigs have lace fronts that are dyed to match skin tone and have hair individually tied into the lace that follows the hairline of the actor. This makes it appear as the hair is growing from their own skin. There was a third type used in the show where lace fronts were turned under to create a hard edge, and this was likely the way the wigs of the period were created. Can you figure out which are which when watching the show? If you think anything is an actor’s own hair, it is probably lace front since most everyone is wigged.
Styling such extravagant styles requires a lot more than your normal show. I added a lot of extra hair to some wigs by sewing in what are called tracks or weft. This hair has been sewn into rows commercially and take less time to sew in than tying individual hairs into a wig. I also used rats (loose hair teased to create an object that the hair can be wrapped around) to create volume and cages to allow hats to perch on heads and not smash styles. Again, while the rats and cages I created are made from modern materials, the same ideas were used in the wigs of the period. Women were known to wear full bird cages with birds inside their wigs, and the hair from brushes was not discarded but used to create rats.
Once the styles were created and wigs fitted, it was time for tech. Here we discovered that sometimes wigs can be too heavy for the action on stage, and I needed to modify them. This happened for the first Constanze wig, which was so big that it slid back too far on [Lilli Hokama’s] head and began to deconstruct on stage, so the version you see on stage is a scaled down version. She also wears many hats that need to be secured quickly during changes. Due to the metal cage that is in one of her wigs, we were able to use magnets to keep hats in place.
Now that the run has begun, someone comes in for about three hours a day to maintain the styles of the show. Each wig has been photographed and put into a book so that styles stay consistent through the run. This is the time I step away and leave the wigs in the capable hands of my crew.
I hope you all enjoy the show and my wigs. I greatly enjoyed creating them!
Thanks to Dori for sharing her secrets with us! Folger Theatre’s Amadeus continues performances until December 22. For tickets and more information, visit us online or call the Folger Box Office at 202.544.7077.