Hey, hey! Destinee here, and today we are talking about equality vs. equity in the theater. Specifically, equity as it relates to actors in the wig and makeup room.

First, let’s check out the definition of equity: The quality of being fair and impartial. Now, the definition of equality: The state of being equal, especially in status, rights, and opportunities. Both words are similar, but here is an example of how they are different. Equality would mean requiring pin curls for all actors who are wigged in a show. Equity would be designing wig preps that allow all the actors to remove their preps and shortly after look presentable enough to go out looking like themselves.

Here is the problem: Pin curls may give a lovely beach-curl look for some of the actors but potentially act in opposition to the hairstyles of actors with tightly textured hair. This is the reason I am so excited about the work we have done at Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in San Francisco to create a framework of how equity works in the wig and makeup room in theatrical spaces. Here are three ways we have achieved equity for our BIPOC members of the show.

Equity in Action

Here are three ways we have achieved equity for our BIPOC members of the show.

#1 –  Design wig preps that work for the show and support how the actor likes to present themselves to the world.

It is pretty common for theaters to only allow actors to use their natural hair under a theatrical wig unless other arrangements were made to accommodate extensions. For shows with a long run time, this could limit actors who use extensions as protective styles. (A protective style is one that can be worn for long periods of time to protect the hair from excessive manipulation.)

The middle ground for this situation is to design a wig prep that can work for the needs of the show but can also be worn as a natural hair style outside of the theater. These natural styles have ranged from plaits and flat twists to cornrows and flat wraps. With a little creativity, we have found that we can change braid or twist patterns as long as we keep a similar silhouette of what the wig prep should be so as to not alter the fit of the wig.
This is huge!

#2 – Schedule natural hair maintenance to be done in house.

We do in-house hair maintenance to assure the proper treatment of our BIPOC members’ hair, especially if we have brought in a local hairstylist to do the work. No other demographic of actors in our show has to go off-site to have their hair needs catered to, and we want the same to be true for our BIPOC members. We already have a busy schedule with brush-up rehearsals and eight performances a week so scheduling a time to visit an outside salon would have to fall on the one day off.

I oversee the natural hair maintenance here at the show and its been a beautiful experience getting to know these actors on a personal level. We have been bonding through their hair-care journey; they all have different curl patterns and product requirements.

Many of them have commented that they feel seen! Now that they are able to sit down, just like every other wigged actor during their pre-show wig calls, and have their hair secured under a wig cap just as easily feels like equity. And it is!

#3 – Continuing education of our wig and makeup staff.

Yes, learning new skills can be daunting. However, theatre is a rapidly and ever-evolving industry. If our skill set is not current we can easily be left behind. For decades, many facets of our industry have not treated BIPOC members with the same regard. The movement afoot today toward equity is welcome (and long overdue!).

Specifically in the wig and makeup room, helping artists and those working with BIPOC actors continue to learn is a simple way to build equity. Answering questions about working with textured hair or applying makeup to all skin tones is a platform on which to build trust with actors of color.

Continuing education looks different for many companies, but it could include learning the appropriate names for hairstyles, understanding textured-hair maintenance needs, trying alternative wig-prep techniques and new makeup-application skills.

The more we learn the greater the benefits for all! One day I hope to see an industry in which any artist can sit in any wig-and-makeup chair and trust that their needs will be met.

Alright, that is all for today and I look forward to sharing more tips, tricks, and takeaways next time. 

Destinee Steele is a regular contributor to Dramatics.org. She is the founder and CEO of  The Beauty Menagerie.

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