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Ned Wayburn on Professional Stage Makeup

Some Century-Old Tips are still Useful Today

Ned Wayburn was the most famous American choreographer and show producer in the early 20th century.
Below find an extract of his advice on stage makeup for female dancers "who wish to appear in a youthful part."

It is impossible to go on the stage today without makeup. The lights that render superbly beautiful the person with proper makeup cause bare flesh to lose its natural tints, cast shadows and create hollows where they do not exist and are not wanted, and destroy the pleasing picture. A beauty unadorned by facial makeup, or a beauty not properly made-up, will be far outclassed in apparent beauty on the stage by the plainer person who has mastered the art.

The makeup box

Your makeup box is your most valuable stage possession. Stock it with the best materials. Adapt your makeup to your coloring: blonde, brunette and red-heads have very different color requirements.

Art steel box with handle and lock and keyPaint your name on it.  
Cold creamA less-hard-more-oily type is preferred. A cold cream base makes makeup removal much easier. 
Tin of Face powder.  
Glass jar moist rouge  
Large stick flesh-colored foundation grease paint  
Stick grease paint, lining color.For lining the eyes. 
Stick grease paint, carmine.  
Eyebrow mascara  
Cosmetique, BlackFor beading the eyelashes. 
Dry rouge  
Powder padGood quality and large size, so it cannot fall in the powder box. 
Black Crayon PencilFor putting shadows under the eyes. 
Dark Blue PencilFor shading around the eyes. 
Orange Wood StickFor applying beading to the eyelashes. 
Rabbit's FootAlso called Rouge Paw. 
Baby brush with handleFor blending. 
Paper Felt LinersTo outline lips and place red dots in corners of eyes. 
Cosmetic StoveTo heat cosmetique. 
Mirror6x8 in wood frame with metal support.Never keep this in your makeup box. 
Liquid WhiteApplied as a wash to exposed flesh not otherwise made up. 
Cheesecloth strips 3-4" wide or skull cap.To keep hair out of the makeup. 


  1. Apply makeup at a table with materials spread out before you.
  2. Elevate your mirror so that you do not have to lean over.
  3. Always make up in incandescent light, never in daylight. Have a good light on either side of your mirror.
  4. Wear a washable kimono to protect your clothing or, better yet, wear it over your undergarments and put on the costume later.
  5. Tie a strip of cheesecloth around the forehead, back of the ears, and behind the neck; or use skull cap. Tuck in all straying locks.

Applying Make up

First stage: cold cream.

  1. Apply cold cream all over the face from the hairline to the upper part of the throat, but not on the neck. Rub it in thoroughly to fill all the pores of the skin. Cover the space around the eyes. Rub in on the eyelashes (not into the eyes!).
  2. Rub face with cheesecloth until all superfluous cold cream is removed. Your skin should look well oiled, but not have a sticky, pasty or greasy surface.

Second stage: foundation.

  1. Rub the foundation grease paint stick several times on each cheek, once across the chin, once or twice on the forehead and once down the nose.
  2. With the ends of the fingers, pat this into place (rather than rub it) until it is thoroughly worked in to all the surface you have covered with the cold cream.
  3. Don't forget the underside of the chin.
  4. Do NOT apply it to the ears or behind them.
  5. Every pore must be filled with grease paint, but do not apply it too thick, which would give the face an unnatural look. Have it uniform all over, blend until face has an even tone. Too thin is better than too thick.

Third stage: under-rouge.

  1. Make a few dots with the carmine grease paint stick on each cheek and on the end of the chin. Use but a little.
  2. Blend it by patting with first and second fingers, rather than by rubbing.
  3. Begin well up against the nose, go under and around the eyes and towards the temples.
  4. Work down below the ear and off the jaw in case there is a hollow in the lower part of the cheek.
  5. The color should extend down on the cheek, over on the temple and well up to the eye, patted and blended until no one can see where the red fades into the foundation.
  6. Blend the chin the same way, to leave no line between foundation color and under rouge.
  7. If your chin is pointed, blend in front, not below, or it will draw the chin down.
  8. Put on a lighter makeup for a small intimate theatre and a heavier one for the large auditorium.
  9. Be aware that under strong blue and green lights the under-rouge in the makeup will come to the surface, which is undesirable, so go to your dressing room and powder your makeup down if you are going to be under a strong blue or any green lights.

The fourth step: Enlarging and beautifying the eyes, the MOST important detail.

  1. It is essential that the two eyes match in every detail.
  2. Using a stick of grease paint, draw a line across the upper eyelid between the eyebrow and the eyelashes as close as possible to the lashes. Use blue if blue-eyed, purple if red-haired.
  3. With fingers blend this line into a shadow, making it dark close to the upper lashes. Do not get the shadow up to the eyebrows, but cover all the upper eyelid and a little beyond the eye at the outer corner.
  4. With blue or black pencil, draw a line directly under the eyelashes, and with the fingers blend this into a shadow. Carried too far down this will suggest illness, so be careful. The shadows thus placed above and below the eyes serve to outline them to the spectators, otherwise they would practically disappear owing to the strong footlights.
  5. Use the side and not the point of the pencil, and never use a pencil sharpener, it leaves too sharp a point. Keep your pencil free from grease. Wipe it often.

Fifth Stage: Fixing the makeup.

  1. Press the powder first on the chin. It is feminine instinct to start on the nose, but let your start in this case begin with the jaw or the chin.
  2. Do not rub it in. Pat it on thick until the underlying paint is fully covered up. The powder absorbs the grease.
  3. From the chin work upward, reaching the nose after the pad has lost some of its original load, and the nose will not stare out so white on your face as it would if you began there first.
  4. Raise the eye and powder underneath; look down and powder the space beneath eyebrow and eyelid.

Sixth Stage: Smoothing and blending.

  1. Use the baby brush for this; there is nothing else so good. It is surprising in its results, and one of the most important tools in the makeup box.
  2. Do not press the brush too hard on the face; dust the surplus powder off carefully with a light touch, to leave no streaks or patches anywhere.
  3. If your face has a greasy look, you have not used sufficient powder.

Seventh stage: Highlighting.

  1. Take some of your dry rouge on the rabbit's foot and dust a very little on your cheeks.
  2. Do not press it down, just tickle about the edges of the rouge to be sure it blends perfectly with the foundation.
  3. If there is too much white about the nose, dust it lightly with the rabbit's foot. You can turn the paw around and blend with the end that is free of paint.
  4. Never show a white ear to the audience. If ears come into style again, as they will, the lobe and rim should be made a healthy pink, but not a strong red, with the rabbit's foot.

Eighth stage: Darkening the eyelashes and eyebrows.

  1. Use black mascara; light blondes use dark brown.
  2. The lower lashes are better left without the treatment, since they are then almost certain to smear the face, and the shadow you have already placed there takes care of the lower lashes.
  3. A very little eyebrow mascara must be brushed lightly onto the eyebrows, following the curve of the upper eyelid. Fix the eyebrows carefully about three-quarters the size of the mouth, using black or brown according to whether your type is dark or light.
  1. Beading your eyelashes: unless you are a professional actress and your part requires having the eyes very much in evidence, we advise against your undertaking it. It is not a necessary stage in the makeup practice.
  2. Heat a small amount of cosmetique in a little pan over a cosmetic stove.
  3. Take some of this molten cosmetique on the flat end of your orange wood stick and apply it with a quick deft stroke to the upper lashes, paining each one separately and without clotting so that a little bead hangs to the tip of each upper lash.
  4. Use care not to drop any of the black on your makeup.
  5. The effect of this beading is to bring out the eyes in wonderful manner under the strongest of spot lights.

Ninth stage: Red dots in the corners of the eyes.

  1. Dip the paper felt liner in the moist lip rouge and with it make a tiny red dot in the extreme inner corner of each eye, but on the lid (not in the eye) to space the eyes and make them look to be the distance of one eye apart.
  2. Keep these dots well away form the nose, or they will tend to make you cross eyed from the front.

Tenth stage: Rouging the lips.

  1. If lips are left their natural color the footlights bleach them white and colorless.
  2. Using moist lip rouge, shape the upper lip into a cupid's bow and round out the lower lip.
  3. Dip the little finger into the rouge and press it tightly against the lips being careful not to smear it.
  4. Open the mouth and draw the upper lip tight against the teeth.
  5. When necessary the upper lip can be shortened in appearance by blending and putting the cupid's bow a little higher.
  6. Do not put color on the lips beyond the angle of your nose, or it will make your mouth appear very large.
  7. A blonde should not apply the rouge full strength as it is too dark for her.
  8. The lips should not be heavily painted and the line around the edges should be soft and smooth.

Eleventh stage: Finish

  1. Finish with a little powder, dusting the face very gently using a swans's down puff.
  2. Put a very little powder on the lines about the eyes, but not enough to dull them.
  3. To complete any makeup, apply liquid white with a soft sponge to the neck, chest, arms and other exposed flesh that is not already made up. If the legs are not covered with stockings or tights, they too must have an application of liquid white else the lights will bleach the exposed flesh, making it appear bloodless and giving one a gruesome corpse-like color. Do not use powder on the arms: it will come off on everything it touches.

Now look in your mirror with critical Eyes

Your handiwork should have resulted in a velvety, soft yet rich complexion that will stand the lights of the modern theatre.

What you have just put on is known as a grease-paint makeup. There is also a cream makeup but it is less desirable for the modern professional stage; it fails to give the right effect for a show with powerful lights.

There is also a dry makeup with powder, known in theatrical parlance as a "lazy" makeup, suitable only for a dumb chorus girl who has no interest in her work, who comes in late and does not care whether she appears to advantage or not.

Removing Makeup

  1. Remove beads of cosmetic from the lashes.
  2. Remove the little red spot in the inner corner of the eye. Work this towards the nose with cold cream.
  3. Take plenty of cold cream on the fingers of both hands and massage the face thoroughly to soften the makeup.
  4. Wipe it off with cheesecloth or an old towel that can be thrown away.
  5. Wash the face with warm water and soap, dry thoroughly, apply a bit of powder, and you are ready to dress.
  6. Unless very careful in removing makeup, your face will feel raw and chafed when you go out in the wind. Take your time and plenty of cold cream, and dry and powder your face before exposing it to outdoor weather.
Maura Enright, Proprietor
©2012 by Maura Enright
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