Introduction: How to Apply Stage Makeup

About: Professional MUA, educator, and Benefit Beauty Artist working in Sacramento & the Bay Area. I specialize in film, print, editorial, glamour, & special FX. FB: In…

Stage makeup is a necessity anytime will perform on a stage—musicals, operas, ballets, etc and is MUCH heavier than any other style of makeup, except perhaps drag.  This is because it must be able to be clearly seen all the up in the nosebleed seats, under crazy bright lights that wash out everything but the brightest of pigments.  Stage makeup is kind of the opposite of beauty makeup in that the object is to create harsh lines and contours and overdrawn shapes, as opposed to keeping everything soft and blended.  In this tutorial I’ll show you how to create a basic stage beauty makeup.  Of course, you will have to consider the character that you are designing makeup for and make changes accordingly.

Step 1: Foundation

Start by evening out the complexion by correcting any blemishes, dark circles, etc.  Then apply a full-coverage foundation (preferably cream but there are many great full-coverage liquid foundations out there) in 2 SHADES DARKER than the natural skintone.

Step 2: Highlight & Contour

To highlight and contour your face, I recommend using either white cream makeup or a very light concealer for the highlight and a dark brown cream for your skin no matter what your skintone.  (If your skintone is a very dark brown or black—darker than the standard stage contour cream—you can skip the contouring and just use highlighting to accentuate your face.) Shade the areas of your face that recede: an arrowhead shape under your cheekbones; triangles on either side of your forehead; and a sweep extending from your ears towards your chin on your jawbone.  You can also contour the sides of your nose.  Don’t bother to blend your contour too much—if it looks natural from across the room you’re doin’ it wrong.  Small details won’t be seen from far away. 
Highlight the areas that naturally stand out—the cheeks, the center of the browbone between your eyebrows, the top of your nose, and your chin.  You can also highlight around the lips and eyes to really make them pop. 
After you’ve applied your highlight and contour creams powder heavily with a translucent powder.  Stage makeup is very susceptible to the ravages of hot lights, costume changes, and constant movement.  Powder will seal and protect your hard work!

Step 3: Blush

For blush, apply a heavy streak of red, fuchsia, or orange (any other colors will be washed out in the lights) from the apples of the cheeks sweeping up to the temples.  Pretend you’re a little kid playing with your mom’s makeup—go heavy!

Step 4: Eyes and Eyebrows

Any eyeshadow you apply should be swept upward—anything underneath the eye will read as shadow and will look incongruent from the audience.  Outline and fill in eyebrows with dark brown or black eyebrow pencil and set with a similarly dark brow powder.  Highlight the brow bone just beneath the eyebrow with a white or light-colored reflective eyeshadow. Line the inner rims of your eyes with a matte white pencil.  Apply a thick dark black eyeliner around the entire eye around the white line—you can drag the white pencil down past the inner rims on the bottom of the eye and place the black liner below that to make the eyes appear larger.  Apply mascara.  Heavy false eyelashes, top and bottom (though you can draw some false lashes in on the bottom with eyeliner, a la Twiggy), are recommended—remember that you want to be able to see everything from those cheap seats.

Step 5: Lips

Always overdraw the lips! Start with a lipliner in either red, fuchsia, or orange (remember, any other colors will wash out in the light) around the outside of the natural lipline.  Fill in the lip, blend with a lip brush, then apply lipstick in the same color.  A dot of white or light reflective eyeshadow or lip gloss can be applied with a fingertip in the center of the lips to give it dimension.  If you are concerned with lipstick smearing or melting, try this trick: peel a tissue in half (there are usually 2 layers, unless you are using some kind of fancy pants tissues, but for this purpose the cheap ones work best).  Hold up the half tissue to the lips and dust translucent powder over the lips THROUGH the tissue.  This will set the lips; however, they will now have a matte finish.

Step 6: Powder

Powder the ENTIRE FACE, NECK, CHEST AND EARS before finishing any stage makeup.  If you forget this step your makeup WILL MELT and disintegrate! The chest, neck, and ears are necessary for uniformity of color and negation of shine. 

Boom! You probably look like a little kid who’s gotten into your mom’s makeup.  If not, you’re doin’ it wrong.  Check out the second image-- my photographer wasn't really able to get far enough away for you to get that "cheap theater seat" effect, so I still look pretty scary, but see how all of my features are clearly defined even from across the room? You could double or triple that distance and still be able to read my emotions.  Now go out there and break a leg!