Our incredible Hair Designer, Cindy Ludwig, has worked for 28 years doing wigs for regional theatre and opera. She was kind enough to sit down with me and talk about all things hairy!
Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma: Can you explain to me what your company does?
Cindy Ludwig: I work for Elsen Associates, who has a stock of about 2,000 wigs, most of which are human hair. The way it works is a company will call, Elsen will give them a contract and then they send a designer and the hair to match whatever the production requires. Wigs are made by our company manager, Doug; he puts all the lace fronts on them and builds them from scratch if required. Some wigs are just fronted, the base of the wig is purchased and then the lace is added by Doug, if there’s a special requirement they’ll build it from scratch – called ventilating – almost like hooking a rug. It’s a very very tiny needle, working with individual hairs so it creates a natural hairline and natural look.
LTO: Why is it usually better to wig instead of use an actor’s real hair?
CL: Wigging is a lot easier than trying to do someone’s hair every night. To get consistency out of someone’s hair, even with a hot roller set, your own personal hair will react differently every day, and it’s going to wear out and get damanged. A wig is a lot more predictable, you can set it ahead of time, you have a lot more control over it. Like when theatres do shows outside, you have to contend with humidity and temperature.
LTO: How do you wash and style wigs? Are they like regular hair?
CL: I use regular shampoo and conditioner to wash them, and hairspray I buy at Sally’s – two things that matter most to me are the smell of the hairpray and the hold. For styling, synthetic hair depends on the quality of the synthetic; you can buy really cheap wigs, but you can’t style them much, whereas a high-end synthetic, you can steam the curl into it, just don’t use heat or it will damage the hair. Steaming sets the curl better. Synthetic are better sometimes because you don’t have to reset them every night.
LTO: Have we used any synthetic wigs this summer?
CL: Yes, Julie Johnson’s wigs in LES MISÉRABLES (Madame Thenardier) both – the color was almost unreal and we did some wild stuff to make them stick up. One of the girl’s wigs for the wedding finale in SPAMALOT was synthetic, but most are human hair. Ursula’s wig in DISNEY’S THE LITTLE MERMAID was yak – taken from the belly of the yak, shaved, not killing the animal, of course. Yak hair is coarse, so you can do a lot more sculpting, so once you set it it will stay there, but you can still wash it and change the style.
LTO: How do you decide what wigs to use for which shows?
CL: Jeffrey Meek has a lot to do with what is requested and the look of the show as the costume designer. He will contact Doug, my company manager, with a list of requests. Those specifics of color and length and if we need facial hair, but for the style he leaves it up to me. A lot of the styling is dictated by the setting and period of the show. 1900 Sweden is very different from SPAMALOT. But not only wigging, but using actor’s real hair as well – some of the men in A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC got hair cuts last week. We had to discuss the needs and style of each character, age, period, etc.
LTO: That’s awesome! So, really, it’s a lot of communication and discussion to make sure everything looks the way you want it to, correct?
CL: Jeffrey and I communicate a lot. We always have questions for each other. It’s critical to have a unified look, period look through costume and hairdo. And the director has a lot of say. It’s so much more than just wigs… those are all things you have to consider, it depends, and you have all those different variables you have to keep in mind and talk to individual actors as well.
LTO: How does the facial hair work? How does it stick strongly, but not hurt the actor when it comes off if they do a character change?
CL: Sometimes we use Spirit Gum but in these shows because people usually play multiple characters, we use Top Stick, which is double-sided toupee tape. It really depends on the need of the performer and the requirements of the show as to what you’re going to use to help keep facial hair on.
LTO: How is it decided who wears what wig?
CL: I do wig fittings with each actor. The performers come in one by one and try on a myriad of wigs to figure out what will work. After the years I can look at a wig and see whether it’ll fit somebody, see whether the hair line will work or not, which helps narrow down the choices before trying them on.
LTO: Are men or women harder to wig?
CL: Women are easier. Men have a tendency to have a stronger hairline or shorter forehead, which make it more difficult to fit wigs. Women have fairly clean hairlines and don’t have the sideburn issue to deal with.
LTO: When an actor has great hair, is it okay for them to use their own hair?
CL: Adrienne who played Eponine in LES MISÉRABLES used her own hair. Jeffrey and I talked about it, and it worked with the period and character, so why not? Monte, who played Lancelot (and many other characters) in SPAMALOT, was not wigged because he was almost always in headgear. The only time we saw his hair was in the “Lancelot” number, which was kind of modern, so it worked for him to have his normal haircut.
Wow! Isn’t all of that incredible?! Thanks SO much for talking with me, Cindy. It’s insane how every single, tiny detail that goes into every show was thought out and planned beforehand by phenomenal professionals.