The life of a West End theatre Wig Assistant, by Erica Procopis

The life of a West End theatre Wig Assistant, by Erica Procopis

Working in the theatre can be a really successful career for hair and make-up artists. The steady hours, salaried pay, routine and consistent work make for a nice change from the usual make-up world.  Many people think that Wig Assistants and Make-up artists are the same role in theatre, when in fact they are very different roles. With the exception of The Lion King, The Phantom of the Opera and a few others, most actors in the West End do their own makeup as a way of helping them get into character, but the wigs and hair are left to us – the wig assistants, or what we affectionately call ourselves, ‘wiggies’.  My name is Erica, and I currently work on the Book of Mormon.  


It is important to know this when you are job searching for what to put on your CV, are you looking for a job as a ‘hair and makeup artist’ in fashion, film and television, or are do you want a job as a ‘wig assistant’ in the world of theatre? 


Hours and routine


Most West End productions run six days a week, two of those days have a matinee totally eight shows per week. A typical two-show day in the West End starts well before the show begins. The wigs’ team arrives at least a couple of hours before the show starts to do the daily maintenance for the wigs to make sure they are looking their very best for the show. This includes blocking wigs, setting and styling hair, tonging facial hair – anything that’s needed to help with the smooth running of the show.


Then, 30 minutes before the show starts a voice over the tannoy calls for ‘beginners’, it’s a call out to cast and crew to start getting ready. Gather your wigs and pins as its time to make your rounds and help the performers get ready for the show! Pin curl or braid the hair, bandage, stocking cap, wig and pin, again and again until; voila, all the wigs are on!


Timing is everything 


All of this is happening behind the scenes while the audience is being ushered to their seats. Finally, everything is set, the actors are ready, wigs and costumes are on, set pieces are in place, the curtains open, and the show begins! It’s a lot quicker than most people realise with everything being timed down to a tee. 


Throughout the show there are many wig-changes to be done. We stand by in the wings to change the performer’s wig when they come off stage, and do the quick changes, these are where you have a matter of seconds to take a wig off and put the next one on before the actor must be back on stage to make their cue. Adrenaline levels are high for a short few moments, as there is no room for error. 


A very rewarding career


The show goes by pretty quickly, all in all it’s about 2 hours with a 15 minute interval in between. On a two-show day you there is a break in between shows, and then you’re back to do it all over again for the evening performance. Theatre is an exciting field of the entertainment industry to work in; the buzz and energy that accompanies doing a live show is incredible, working with creative people, and the excitement of being a part of the West End. The hours are consistent, work is guaranteed and the skills learnt in theatre will put you in good stead for the world of films. This role can suit someone who is passionate about wigs and hair, but does not like the long hours and broken routine of a film make-up artist. The added benefit of PAYE salary is a nice added extra!

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