NEW YORK - At New York theaters up and down Broadway, in dramas and comedies and musicals, chances are a lot of the actors are wearing wigs. But when the 68th Annual Tony Awards were presented in a ceremony at Radio City Music Hall Sunday night, the artists who create those wigs were not on the list of honorees.
But they are an essential part of theater craft.
The problem with being a good wig designer, according to Jason P. Hayes, wig designer for Harvey Fierstein’s Tony-nominated play, "Casa Valentina," is "if you do your job properly, no one knows that any of your work is on the stage!"
"I don’t think people realize that half of the people they’re looking at are wearing a wig," Hayes said. "And that’s where a lot of that labor and that love and that work goes unnoticed, because if you do it properly, no one knows … that you were ever in the building."
Wigs make the difference
Wigs play a central role in "Casa Valentina." The drama is based on a real resort in New York's Catskills area that in the 1960s catered to heterosexual men who enjoyed dressing as women.
Reed Birney, who was nominated for a Tony as Charlotte, said the detailed wig Hayes created helps him as an actor.
"It really is a crucial aspect of the performance, this wig, especially for me," Birney said. "Your self-image suddenly changes. I can’t see myself, but I see myself in the mirror and I know I’ve got this honey-colored hair and a big swoop and, uh, it really does affect the way you move through space."
Tony-nominated actress Sarah Greene said the wig she wears in "The Cripple of Inishmaan" completes her character: Helen, a volatile teenager on a remote Irish island in the 1930s.
Initially, the brunette actress resisted it.
"When they came with the red wig, I was like, 'Oh no! I want my own hair.' And yet, the minute I put it on, it was just like, 'Oh no - the bold Helen is here!' "
Substance as important as style
The wigs' styling is important, but so is the stuff they’re made of, said Charles LaPointe, who made the hairpieces for the Tony-winning musical, "A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder."
LaPointe used real human hair, which he and a staff of 23 painstakingly wove into the elaborate Edwardian wigs used in the show.
"We have distributors all over the place," he explained. "We get some from London; that’s like fine Caucasian hair, and then we get Indian hair from Bali and then we get Asian hair from the dime store around the corner."
Perhaps the most outrageous wigs on Broadway right now sit atop Tony winner Neil Patrick Harris’ head in the gender-bending and Tony award-winning revival of "Hedwig and the Angry Inch."
Mike Potter designed all eight of Hedwig’s hairpieces and said Harris wouldn’t be Hedwig without wigs.
"They’re really a huge integral part of the character," Potter said. "I mean, 'wig' is in her name!"
The actor showed off those locks on the Tony Awards broadcast.