Bringing ‘Shrek’ to life

PARKERSBURG – In a live theater production, the proper use of makeup and other items- including prosthetics like fake noses and ears- can go a long way in helping an actor become his or her character.

“Shrek The Musical” – based on the popular animated movie – is in production at the Actors Guild of Parkersburg and the cast and crew have been using a variety of makeup techniques and tricks to bring the characters to life.

With the first of three weekends of performances completed, work on developing the best makeups and applications is a work in progress, with tweaks and changes planned for the next two weekends.

Hoss Ridgeway, of Williamstown, who plays the lead character of Shrek the Ogre, undergoes one of the most intensive makeups in the production. Normally bearded with medium-length hair, Ridgeway allowed his head and face to be shaved for the part of Shrek to create the proper look for the character.

“I can’t have any hair because they have to glue the (ogre) ears on,” he said, adding those ears are always the first step.

From there, a base spray is used and then he is essentially painted green from the top of his head to his upper chest, with additional makeup on his hands and arms, using sponges and a special cream-based green makeup. Different makeup is then used to create lines, shading and elements of his features so they show through the green base.

“It takes about two hours,” he said of the makeup session before each performance. “It’s a new experience for me. It’s been amazing and I’ve enjoyed every bit of it.

“The makeup really helps you become the character. You feel like that person. It’s one thing to rehearse without any makeup or any costume, but when you actually perform it really changes you and you become that person,” he said.

While the initial application of his makeup can take awhile, Ridgeway said he at least gets to stay as one character throughout the musical, while others have to go through several makeup changes, often quickly, for their character or characters.

While the cast’s large chorus features several people who change between different supporting character groups, Brianna Clegg as the female lead, Princess Fiona, has to deal with some rapid costume and makeup changes as she switches back and forth between princess and lady ogre.

“It’s very challenging, but I do have a lot of help backstage,” Clegg said. “I usually have at least four people changing me each time.”

Those changes usually involve adding parts to her costume to increase her size for the larger ogre half of her character, along with a quick application of green makeup for her new skin color. That is followed by the need to quickly scrub the green makeup off so she can return to her princess character.

Clegg has appeared in other Guild productions, but said the makeup work is the biggest challenge for her in the current one. She is experienced with making quick costume changes, but the paint and wig changes have increased the difficulty in the “Shrek” production.

While Ridgeway’s makeup must be durable and able to last through the entire performance, Clegg said she uses an acrylic paint which can be brushed on quickly and then washed off again quickly using water and a cloth.

Despite the challenges, Clegg said “it’s been a blast. We have a really great cast and a great crew and it’s been fun.

“We’re still tweaking the process along the way,” she said. “We’re still constantly making adjustments to make it better.”

In the weeks leading up to the May 2 opening night, Guild technical director Rod Oden said the cast and crew tried a variety of methods to create the characters. Initially, a specially made foam latex headpiece- or cowl – and other prosthetics had been planned to create Shrek, but did not fit Ridgeway when he was cast in the part.

Some other types of makeup were tried, but with Ridgeway’s natural appearance – minus hair and beard – and the cream-based makeup they were able to create the appearance they wanted, he said. The more natural they went with the makeup, the more it seemed to be natural.

“Hoss’s look does read so much like Shrek,” he said. “The more minimal we went, the more realistic it read as Shrek.”

Brenna Smith has been working as makeup designer for the “Shrek” production, a role she has filled in other Guild productions in the past.

She works at Lee’s Studio in Parkersburg, doing normal makeup consultations and applications. Her volunteering at the Guild falls in the category of fantasy makeup, which she said is always fun to do.

Community theater productions carry challenges not seen in other venues, she said.

“In Broadway productions, you don’t have Mama and Papa Ogre turning around and playing fairy tale creatures where they are not green. You need to be more flexible,” she said.

Smith said her only regret is that she rarely gets the chance to see her final makeup in action on stage. She will often spend the production backstage, doing touchups and makeup changes, such as helping Clegg with her Fiona transformations.