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Your Theatre Makeup Cheat Sheet

Whether you’re planning a Halloween look early or need to do makeup for a dance concert, play or musical, it’s important to go bold–after all, how else will you stand out from the crowd? It’s a well-known fact that stage lights have an innate (and very frustrating) ability to wash out your skin tone and features, making you appear as if you have teeny eyes and no lips. That’s what everyone wants, right? Yeah, think again.

So, the key, like in the theatre itself, is to dramatise. Instead of accentuating one part of the face like you would for a regular makeup look, you’re gonna need to focus on practically everything–lips, eyes, cheeks, we’re talking about the whole nine yards.

Your Theatre Makeup Cheat Sheet

If you’re a theatre newbie or have been entrusted with someone else’s on-stage look, don’t stress–here’s a step-by-step guide to creating a basic yet full face, from start to finish. We’ve also chosen our three faves that range from el cheapo (yet very high quality!) through to higher-end, so no matter your price point, you’ll have options.

1. Primer

There’s no point putting on heaps of ‘slap’, as they call it in the theatre, if you’re not creating a base for it to stick to and stay throughout your performance! Use a primer with a bit of grip to help foundation, contour and more stay in place and look dimensional and HD. If you’ve got redness in the face that you want to correct, grab a green primer to help neutralise those areas.

Top picks: 

$: The Ordinary High Adherence Silicone Primer ($8.80)
$$elf Cosmetics Face Primer in Neutralizing Green ($16)
$$$Kryolan High Definition Makeup Primer ($56)

2. Foundation

Foundation is a very necessary step if you’re going to be on stage, as it’ll help even out skin tone and create a uniform base, which we can then add dimension to later. Pick a colour closest to your skin tone, matching to your neck. A foundation stick is always a handy tool to have in your theatre-makeup kit, as it’s high coverage, easily applied and blended out in a matter of seconds. Here’s a handy hint–if you’re going to be doing bulk makeup, grab a pack full of cheap makeup sponges for application. Then, have two or three handy brushes that you can spot clean in between jobs that can be used to blend out any rough areas.

Top picks:

$Mehron Celebre-Pro-HD Cream Foundation ($22)
$$: Kryolan TV Paint Stick Foundation ($45)
$$$Napoleon Perdis Foundation Stick ($69)

3. Contour + Highlight

Okay, you’re probably thinking that I’m a tad crazy, but trust a highly seasoned, former child performer–contour! When we apply a blanket of foundation to our faces, we’re essentially creating a beautiful, uniform canvas, but all of your facial definition will be sucked out and replaced with one neutral colour. This isn’t how our faces are naturally, so mimicking shade and light using makeup becomes pretty important. Carve out cheekbones with a brown shade, and dab a brighter colour on facial high points to bring the face back to life. We love cream contour for extra emphasis and lasting power.

Top picks: 

$elf Cosmetics Cream Contour Palette ($16)
$$: The Balm The Manizer Sisters Palette ($29.95)
$$$Garbo & Kelly Millennial Girl Cream Contour Kit ($70)

4. Blush + Bronzer

Now’s the time to rosy up those cheeks, because after all, you’ll look like a ghost if you don’t. Seriously, though–if I haven’t said it enough times, theatre lights seriously wash you out! Pop a little colour on your apples to brighten up the whole face. Then, if you’ve used a neutral or cool-coloured contour, brush a little warm bronzer onto the temples and into the hollows of the cheeks for that sunkissed glow.

Top picks: 

$: elf Cosmetics Blush With a Brush ($6.01)
$$: Ofra Cosmetics Pressed Blush ($19)
$$$: Gorgeous Cosmetics Endless Summer Bronzer ($39)

5. Brows

Brows are a crucial part of any look, especially nowadays when a brow trend seems to pop out of the Instagram woodwork every second day. Make sure to define yours so that they stand out, like the rest of your makeup needs to–after all, what good is a face with no brows? That’s the result you’ll get if you don’t use a brow pencil, powder or pomade to sculpt them out for a bit of definition. Depending on the look you’re going for, you may want to thicken them up or use a darker-than-usual colour to help them pop.

Top picks: 

$: elf Cosmetics Gel & Powder Eyebrow Kit ($9)
$$: Garbo & Kelly Brow Perfection Pencil ($38)
$$$: Poni Cosmetics Brow Kit ($69)

6. Eyeshadow

Now comes the part where you get to exercise your creative side and reflect your character, theme or costume with your eye makeup! We’ve all had a foray into the blue eyeshadow trend for a amateur production or school disco (#throwback), so maybe now’s the time to bring it back? Theatre makeup is all about colour and packing on the product, so don’t waste your time creating a flawless cut crease–instead, pick two or three basic colours and layer them, with the darkest on the outer corner and lightest on the inner part of the lid.

Top picks:

$: Mehron E.Y.E Powder ($15.40)
$$: Curtis Collection Mineral Velvet Shadow ($27.50)
$$$: Gorgeous Cosmetics 8-Pan Eyeshadow Palette – Neon ($58.99)

7. Mascara

Make sure lashes look thick and fluttery so they’re visible on-stage, even to those sitting right in the back row! It’s your choice whether or not to use falsies–if you’re a main dancer or playing a lead role, you may want to consider this to help you stand out as a major character. Mascara is a must, though. Go for something very voluminous, as lash separation isn’t particularly important–it’s likely no one will be close enough to notice slightly clumpy lashes.

Top picks: 

$: L.A. Girl Super Mega Mascara ($13)
$$: Poni Cosmetics The White Knight Mascara ($30)
$$$: Mirenesse Secret Weapon 24 Hour Mascara ($39.95)

8. Lipstick

Perfect that pout with a matte lipstick that’ll top of your entire look. Red is definitely a theatre staple–it’s timeless, goes with most costumes and definitely stands out! Be sure to stay away from nudes and really neutral colours, as anything too close in shade to your foundation will blend in with the rest of your face. If the theatrical occasion you’re getting dolled up for is a little less traditional, you could always opt for a purple, orange or pink lippie. Go wild!

Top picks:

$elf Cosmetics Matte Lip Colour Pencil ($9)
$$: The Balm Girls Lipstick – Mia Moore ($19.95)
$$$: Bite Beauty Matte Creme Lip Crayon ($36.95)

9. Finishing

When you’re on the stage, especially for high-energy productions like musicals and dance concerts, sweat is an evil you just have to put up with. Stage lights are often burning hot, plus the adrenaline’s pumping–you’d be superhuman if you didn’t perspire a little! That’s why it’s so important to set your makeup, so it stays in place while you’re on-stage for what can be hours at a time. You’ve got the option of powders, sprays and gels, all of which have their pros and cons. Powder is great to just buff on with a brush, so if you’re doing makeup on lots of people, this could be the way to go. Sprays have the same benefits, whereas gels need to be applied to the face individually–but often help set makeup a lot more effectively.

Top picks: 

$Mehron TouchUp Matte Finishing Gel ($15.40)
$$: Kryolan Ultra Setting Spray ($30)
$$$: Mirenesse Studio Magic Face BB Pore Powder ($49.50)

There you have it–9 steps that’ll help you get yourself, or your clients, gorgeous for their on-stage debut. Whether it’s for a musical, play, dance concert or something else entirely, you can manipulate each part of the look to suit the occasion and, of course, your costume! Let us know–what are your favourite products and brands for creating stunning, long-lasting theatre makeup looks? Plus, don’t forget to check out the Theatrical & Halloween section of our MUA Shop for more amazing brands and products!

Feature image credit: Marie Claire



Charlotte

Charlotte

Writer and expert

I'm a journalism grad and avid makeup fan with an unhealthy addiction to buying nude lipsticks, no matter how similar they all may seem. I love chatting to anyone who will listen about my new favourite products, skincare dos and don'ts and practically any other beauty-related topic under the sun. That doesn't mean I'm frivolous with my recommendations, though--you can count on me to give you the nitty gritty on all your wishlist products. In my spare time, you'll find me binge-watching old episodes of Gilmore Girls or at brunch with a large iced coffee in my hand.