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How Stage Makeup Works

Applying Stage Makeup
Rowan Atkinson of Mr. Bean fame transforms into Fagin in the musical "Oliver!"
Rowan Atkinson of Mr. Bean fame transforms into Fagin in the musical "Oliver!"
Dave M. Benett/Getty Images

There are a few tips every actor should follow before applying stage makeup. Male actors shouldn't shave immediately before applying stage makeup. Shaving can irritate the skin and applying makeup can cause further irritation. Actors should also make sure their faces are clean and dry before putting on makeup. It's easier to ensure a smooth makeup application if your skin is clean beforehand.

Sit in a well-lit room in front of a mirror and make sure your clothing and hair are out of the way before you begin. Apply foundation to a sponge. If you're using a cream-based makeup, you can rub the sponge a few times across the makeup's surface. If you're using cake makeup, you'll need to dampen your sponge before you rub it against the foundation.

Dab the sponge against your face to apply the foundation. Next, blend the foundation into your skin by rubbing gently with the sponge. Apply the makeup evenly across your face. Remember, how heavily you apply makeup depends upon the venue. In a smaller theater, the audience will be sitting close to you and a heavy makeup application could be distracting. But you'll need a heavier application if the theater is larger and the audience will be farther away.

Next, it's time to apply highlights, shading and eye shadow. Use makeup a shade or two lighter or darker than your foundation. With just a little practice, actors can use highlights and shading to give their face the appearance of a different shape. You should apply highlights along your bone structure, particularly along your cheekbones and nose. A darker color can create shading along your cheeks and nostrils. It's important to blend the spots where highlights and shading meet.

You can also use highlights and shading to add years to your face. First, you can use a fine brush to emphasize the natural lines in your face by applying shading along each line. Next, you can use a clean brush to apply highlights along the edges of the darker lines. Finally, blend the edges together gently. By emphasizing the lines of your face you can give yourself an aged, wrinkled appearance.

You don't need a wide assortment of eye shadow colors to create effective stage makeup. Using makeup a few shades lighter than your foundation can help emphasize your eyes, making them appear larger to the audience. If your character should appear to have smaller eyes, you can use a darker color. Powder-based eye shadow works well, and you should use a brush to apply the makeup evenly to your upper eyelid.