Someone has snatched the wigs of our budding Keystone thespians. But wait, not quite literally!
That expression “to snatch someone’s wig” means “to be blown away or figuratively lose hair in response to amazing or shocking information.” And no one does that better than Elizabeth Printz, a premier wig artisan who visited Keystone Academy on October 16 for a series of sessions with students and members of theater-related KAPs (Keystone Activities Program).
Printz hails from the United States and has been a production member of Broadway hits such as Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (Parts 1 and 2), Hamilton, and Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, as well as the Emmy-nominated television special, The Wiz Live! She was in Beijing for Angel’s Bone, a Pulitzer Prize-winning opera by Chinese composer Du Yun featured in this year’s Beijing Music Festival.
As a professional wig designer with 15 years of experience, Printz said hair design is “usually the last thing” since production teams can style the actors’ own hair. But she told the students how she has used her craft as an avenue to learn diversity.
“I did the musical, Annie Get Your Gun, this summer. They hired an Indian [Native American] and I made sure I did my research about the simple braids that Indians wore, which symbolize they are stronger and unified when they stand together. I was able to have a conversation with the Indian staff. Not only I learned more about them, but I also gained their respect that you care about them as an individual, and their history and culture. I continue to research and have more open conversations with my actors.”
In a breakout presentation, Printz showed students the painstaking process of creating a wig, where a cluster of approximately 10 hair strands is weaved into a mesh. This process, which Printz says usually takes about 40 hours, snatched the wigs of the students!
No “Bad Hair Day”
In the entertainment industry, wigs are used not only to enhance a character design but also hide microphone packs. For Printz, wigs, and hair, in general, hold a lot of value: they can communicate history to the audience.
“As you're reading the script, you start envisioning what your characters will look like. When you meet with your director, you show your research and start having a conversation to understand what your director sees or envisions for the project. But with hair, there's a history to it. If it's a period piece, you have to follow the history unless the production wants to do something crazy. A lot of times, I bring something that the directors are not aware of.”
Printz said she has gone through situations where directors changed plans while she was creating wigs. And that reality will eventually happen to student actors. And her advice?
“Take a deep breath and remember that we are creating and making something come to life. And then assess the situation. What is being asked of? And you say, ‘In this timeline, we can achieve this.’”
These situations, albeit stressful, have helped Printz mastered her craft to the point that her creations look real that audiences do not notice actors are wearing wigs.
“It’s the one time that we don’t want the recognition or compliments. When people ask me if the actors’ hair were real, I respond, ‘What do you think?’”
In another workshop, Printz taught her attendees how to properly install a wig while using the time to talk to actors. At a glance, Printz made it look easy, but it was arduous at the very least. But Keystone ninth-grader Angel Yin was carefully watching because this was another aspect of pre-production that she had just learned during Printz’s visit.
“There is a primary school production at Keystone and I want to join that,” Yin said. “I do daily makeup and I want to make use of that skill for stage productions. Hair is also an important part of the costume because we want our actors to look good on stage.”
Yin is one of the members of the Costume and Makeup KAP, which offers services to student-led productions as needed. Drama teacher Sarah Koegler-Clarke said Yin was among the students who took on the challenge of learning new production skills such as hair design. This is one of the ways where she encourages students to see classroom activities beyond just being academic or “for the grade.”
“There are so many different skills that you learn in the arts that can be explored in other areas. You learn confidence, people skills, public speaking, and more. If we give the students more opportunity to be able to see that, it leads them to not just feeling more confident, but also can lead to a lifelong passion for not just learning but also the arts,” Clarke said.
Printz herself, for example, found her passion for wig design through music and makeup. She used to be part of a community choir, which led her to join musical productions and eventually to the realm of wig design.
“It’s interesting in the theater world when you still have what is history. I did a Broadway production of a whole black cast, and I almost wasn't hired because I'm white. It was a role reversal and was eye-opening. In my work, you want your actor to be represented correctly and comfortably. At the end of the day, if I don't portray the cast properly, it's me that's on the line.”
Clarke added that the Keystone community is in a lucky position since the school actively supports the arts.
“To recognize that that opportunity is there and to grab it and hold on to it with two hands and not just kind of pass it off as performing arts is fluff because there's so much more to it than that,” she said.