At this specific cultural moment, ultra-inspiring and relentlessly original productions are dominating the theater scene and pop culture as a whole. It’s a great time to be a theater aficionado — or just a person who appreciates it when geeky, creative artistry wins out. (That would be all of us.)
Even if you haven’t seen the hip-hop-inspired, touring Broadway musical Hamilton, about the life of former U.S. treasury secretary Alexander Hamilton, you’re probably at least a little familiar — or totally obsessed — with the soundtrack and creator-star Lin-Manuel Miranda. Similarly, super fans of the eerie, interactive, 1930s noir-style play Sleep No More, playing in New York City and Shanghai, have been known to see the show literally more than 100 times, as each night’s experience is unique.
At groundbreaking productions like these, you know there’s got to be some serious makeup magic happening backstage. I was lucky enough to nab interviews with the cosmetics pros — make that cosmetics geniuses — from both trendsetting shows about how they perfect the makeup for these arduous and impressive performances.
Because, honestly, if staying power is your main concern with your makeup routine, the people to ask are theater people.
Makeup tips from the cast of Hamilton
In Hamilton’s case, the makeup has to complement the modern storytelling style and remain on while actors spit rhymes, belt songs, and bust out hip-hop, jazz, and jitterbug moves, all under bright stage lighting. Plus, the makeup needs to be able to transform quickly and easily behind the scenes when actors perform different characters. (Fun fact: Hamilton’s actors actually do their own makeup.)
How to make lipstick absolutely make-out-proof for a kissing scene
There’s arguably no better example of how crucial it is to smudge-proof a bold red lip than a hot-and-heavy kiss with Hamilton himself.
The budge-proof lipstick routine that actress Joanna Jones does herself before the curtain rises on Act Two — when she plays Maria Reynolds, the woman with whom Hamilton has an affair — deserves its own round of applause:
Step one: Jones removes her Act One lipstick with a makeup wipe and uses a pressed powder to get back to neutral. (Broadway superstar she is, Jones plays the dual role of the youngest Schuyler sister, Peggy, and Reynolds.)
Step two: She puts on a dab of Burt’s Bees Lip Balm to hold some moisture in before applying a lip primer.
Step three: She leaves the primer on for two to five minutes, the longer the better. Then, she draws red liner and applies the highly pigmented Kat Von D Everlasting Liquid Lipstick in Outlaw.
“I let that dry, and then if it feels like I’m still in danger, I’ll add a lip cement drying liquid on top of that,” Jones explains. If her routine sounds overly specific and intricate, there’s a good reason: She learned the repercussions of taking shortcuts in this lip routine the hard way.
After our make-out scene, Hamilton had red all over his face — I
could hardly get through the rest of the song without laughing.
“One time, I must have gone out of order with this process or not allowed it to dry properly," Jones recalls. "And after the make-out scene with Hamilton, he had red all over his face, and I could hardly get through the rest of the song without laughing, because he looked like someone punched him in the mouth."
Naturally, the experience left her feeling considerably more prudent about her lipstick. Jones admits, "Ever since then, I take extra precaution and plant little kisses on my arm backstage before that scene to make sure it’s not coming off.”
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To try your own stay-put, standout look without the steps, go with M.A.C. matte lipsticks. “They really pop onstage, and you can build them throughout the day,” Jones says. “They also last long, which is important for those two-show days when you don’t have the time to redo your whole face in between shows.”
Other of Jones's stage-proof favorites: The Morphe Powdered Contour Kit and any and all of the Tartelette Eye Shadow Palettes by Tarte. “The palettes have been a game-changer for me, eye shadow–wise,” Jones raves. “The pigments are just incredible and last all day; I always get compliments when I'm wearing it.”
A touch-up kit is crucial, but not complicated
During offstage breaks, Jones relies on a makeup pouch she put together herself to stay fresh during a performance: a compact with pressed powder, which she builds throughout the shows as needed; a BeautyBlender to dab away moisture; a finishing spray or powder; a lipstick; and a jasmine essential oil roll-on to dab on her wrists and neck throughout the show “to stay smelling fresh and feminine, but still subtle.”
For a real-life romantic look with a 19th-century Hamilton vibe, keep it simple
Giving your evening look a post–American Revolution feel is less weird than it sounds, promise. Think simplicity rather than Marie Antoinette–portrait aesthetic — not that there’s anything wrong with four-foot wigs — and don’t go too heavy on the eye shadow or contouring.
“If I were going to do a 1800s-inspired look to go out, I would focus on making the eyes as romantic as possible,” Jones says. "In the show, I wear a strip lash because it’s quick and easy and doesn’t appear too much under the lights; if I were going out, I would use individual lashes to create my own romantic length and texture, and I would sweep a thin liner over the top of that.”
Now, beauty secrets from Sleep No More
During Sleep No More, the chilling Macbeth-inspired play based in New York City, actors' performance involve considerable movement. There's dancing, monologuing, emoting, and flat-out running through a multi-room, multi-floor labyrinth of art deco–era curiosities — from a creepy taxidermist’s office to an insane asylum to a gravel-strewn graveyard to the show’s shocking conclusion — sometimes tugging masked audience members along with them into secret rooms. Plus, due to the massive scale and interactive nature of the show, the actors repeat their roles in Westworld-like loops, so for them, one performance is more like three. Needless to say, sweat-proofing is a must.
Theater people have the best advice on sweat-proofing makeup
Who among us hasn’t pirouetted all night (literally or figuratively) and felt their foundation start to slide off? There’s a theater fix for that.
First, for maximum staying power, treat your face as though you’re building a house and start with a great skin-care routine, as performers in Sleep No More do. “If your skin is happy and healthy, it will hold on to your makeup better,” advises Juli Abene, one-half of identical twins Juli and Alex Abene, resident costume designers at the McKittrick Hotel, home of Sleep No More.
Vintage makeup from the art deco era was all about simplicity. Women
in the 1930s sported a timeless, classic makeup look.
Start by washing your face with a gentle cleanser and exfoliating if necessary. Spray your face with rose water, and apply eye cream, serum, and moisturizer, then apply primers to ensure that your foundation lasts. Juli’s recent favorites include Nyx's #NoFilter Blurring Primer and Urban Decay's fan-favorite Eyeshadow Primer Potion.
Post-makeup, her knockout punch for keeping it locked in all night is Cinema Secrets Super Sealer Mattifying Setting Spray. Add it to your routine when you know you’ll be breaking a serious sweat later on.
Bonus tip from Alex for folks who love to pose: “If you plan to be photographed on a night out, be sure to avoid foundations and powders with SPF in them, as the light-reflecting properties in the sunscreen bounce back when a flash is used. Your face will appear several shades lighter than the rest of your body.” (Editor note: But you should be wearing SPF during the daytime, every day.)
Five backstage makeup mainstays that'll change your life
For theater-quality, transformative contouring, remember these two words: Ben Nye. The brand’s pro-level products are legendary, especially for creating, emphasizing, or downplaying facial features, as used in Sleep No More.
Next, grab a waterproof foundation. Juli swears by M.A.C.'s Pro Longwear Nourishing Waterproof Foundation, the drugstore-favorite Total Control Drop Foundation by Nyx, and the newly (and deeply) beloved Fenty Beauty Soft Matte Pro Filt’r Longwear Foundation.
For theater-quality, transformative contouring, remember these two
words: Ben Nye.
As for undereye concealers, the Double Duty Shape Tape Contour Concealer by Tarte is hard to beat, Juli says, especially when applied on top of Benefit's Stay Don't Stray Eyeshadow Primer.
Glossier's Cloud Paint is a winner for elegant, long-lasting color (an assessment we agree with). “The creamy formula blends out beautifully and stays on even when it gets wet,” Juli says. “Tap a little bit of powder blush on top of that to set it.”
It sounds surprisingly light, but Laura Mercier Translucent Setting Powder is stellar for setting your makeup while still looking natural, Juli says. “Heavy powder tends to separate and look cake-y when you start sweating.”
Sleep No More has the historically referential vintage-vamp look down pat
If you’re dying to bust out your best Greta Garbo face, theater pros can get you there: “Vintage makeup from the art deco era was all about simplicity, and other than their thinly plucked eyebrows, women in the 1930s sported a timeless, classic makeup look,” explains Alex. “Skin was kept matte with the lightest flush of apricot, berry or rose-toned blush. Put on your favorite foundation and tap a cream rouge on the apples of your cheeks with your fingers or a stippling brush. I set that with a powder blush applied lightly with a fluffy brush.”
Once you have the foundation and blush down, go full-out noir babe by experimenting with highly pigmented colors, even in daylight hours.
“Eye shadow was kept natural during the day, sometimes filling in the crease with a slightly darker neutral tone,” Alex says. “Eyes were lined with a brown liner on the top and bottom lids, or a subtle black cat-eye. You can dress that look up with a striking red lip and tons of mascara.”
Continue to fall deep down the vintage rabbit hole by investing in products by Besamé Cosmetics, which re-creates old-school makeup using vintage methods and makes lipsticks, powders, blush, and cake mascara for the most authentic look, Alex suggests.
Whether you’re going prestige or discount, deeply pigmented shades are
key when you’re getting creative for nighttime.
It’s more than fine to skew inexpensive and still get an on-point, elegant result. Drugstore products, in particular, are perfect for a noir look and can pump up your vampy staying power via waterproof eyeliner and mascara.
“Essence I Love Extreme Volume Waterproof Mascara is great and is only $5, and its waterproof Essence Lash Princess is perfect for achieving 1930s eyelashes,” Juli says.
“Wet n Wild's H20 Proof Liquid Eyeliner is the most waterproof liquid liner I've ever used. I've gone swimming in it.” (If that sounds appealing to you, you can pick up that last recommendation for just $4 right now.)
When the sun goes down, that’s when the real fun begins. For a more dramatic 1930s evening look, amp up the drama with rich color, and bear in mind that long, individual lashes were in vogue back then. “Fill in your lid with a dark, smoky shadow in deeper tones, like eggplant, navy, or emerald green,” Alex suggests. “Highlight the center of your eye and under your brow bone with a shimmery shadow to replicate that film noir starlet look.”
Whether you’re going prestige or discount, deeply pigmented shades are key when you’re getting creative for nighttime. “I've been into a lot of indie makeup brands lately,” says Alex. “Sugarpill has so many incredible products. Their eye shadows are so, so pigmented. The Lunatick Cosmetics Labs Pro Contour kits are full of amazing, long-wear shades that can be used on your face as well as your eyes. Nyx is my favorite drugstore brand; they create excellent, on-trend products at very affordable prices.”
Makeup is simply an artist's medium — don't be afraid to get messy.
The dramatic finishing touch: For those classic dark movie-siren lips, you can wear anything from a bright red with a blue undertone (M.A.C.'s Ruby Woo lipstick is a vintage go-to) to a deeper purple or brown-hued rouge to match your eye shadow.
Now that you’ve got the palette and stage directions, it's time to crank the Hamilton soundtrack, pull out a rad vintage dress or tux, hang a Sleep No More mask on the wall (for added ambiance), and start your creative process. As Alex advises, “Makeup is simply an artist's medium — don't be afraid to get messy.”
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