Shannon Fennell's Blog

My life, art, travel, make-up, cooking and the occasional rant!


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Les Miserables

First week of Les Miserables is now history here in Grande Prairie… FOUR standing ovations!

This is an amazing production full of stunning talent and absolutely phenomenal performances.  If you are local, and enjoy music, you do NOT want to miss seeing this show.  Tickets are still available for some performances through Grande Prairie Live Theatre.

I am the Make-Up and Hair Coordinator/Designer for the production and with my crew of nine we are doing the hair and make-up for 60 cast members.  Cast members are also helping out when necessary – and I thank them all!

With a production of this size there are many changes throughout the show – chorus members play multiple roles that require make-up, hair and costume changes.  Beards on, dirty, then beards off, clean them up, then pretty them up, put on a wig, take off a wig, etc.  We have to keep some hair and make-up crew members available right to the end, and wait to get all the wigs back before we can leave.  Once the initial rush is over some of the make-up crew leaves and others take turns staying to the end (except me, I’m always there and Marg who takes care of hair and wigs.)

Here are some photos from the show taken by the producer at dress rehearsal (not in any particular order):

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And these were taken by Beauchamp Photography:

This one is the set as viewed from the balcony – way, way up.

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Master of the House…

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And these are my shots of make-up as we’ve been working – I have charts so the crew can follow what each actor needs done, so I take photos of each time so I can choose the best looks.

This is my initial make-up for Javert – I’ve since darkened up the aging to read better on stage (the lighting is “atmospheric” and we need more contrast for it to show):

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One of the convicts from the opening number… he has to quick change to be the Factory Foreman:

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Madame Thenardier – she doesn’t like having her teeth stained, that’s what that expression is about!

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Madame Thenardier all dolled up for the Wedding.  Her moles move about, never the same place twice.

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Some “lovely” ladies (I have to admit this is loads of fun…):

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Someone made a comment that the Lovely Ladies could be zombies too.  Yeah, I can see that.

The show runs until February 21st!


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February wrap-up

Well… CATS is history.  Closing night was last Saturday.  Every single performance received a standing ovation…  many nights the audience cheered and “whoooo’d” individual numbers too.  Unfortunately I wasn’t able to watch any of the actual performances.  I was able to watch the last run through before the first dress rehearsal which is when we did the make-up, wig and costume checks.  It was excellent… but the atmosphere of a real performance with a full house is so different.  I am sad to have missed that but we were working right through intermission in the make-up room getting the second act performers ready.

This is an excerpt from Tuesday’s paper – it is from a letter to the editor:

“Grande Prairie Live Theatre’s production of Cats – which I saw Saturday, Feb. 16 – was probably one of the best musicals produced over the past 50 to 60 years in my humble opinion. I’ve been involved in theatre here over the years, and yet was in awe of the level of professionalism exhibited in all aspects from costumes and makeup (spectacular) to the ‘cat’ eyes intro (wow!), to the orchestra (splendid, just right), movements and dance (exciting and energetic – I was breathless before the first number ended), character interpretations (intriguing), lights and sound (just the best), and singing (I’m a singing teacher) was beyond excellent.”  Kaye Donovan, Grande Prairie [bold and italics are mine]

And the director sent me this:

“Shannon, you were the only one that could have pulled off this feat. Your talent and dedication drove this show. We always forgot about you ladies working down in the basement. Your hard work is so unsung , thank you so much, again.” Monty Haughian

I’ve had people come up to me at the day-job and when I am out face painting to compliment me on the make-up.  It was so much fun to do this show, tiring and hard work, but FUN!

My crew ended up totaling nine – one of whom was exclusively applying the wigs; one who only applied base colours; and the rest doing full applications to finishing details.  The last week several of the Cats were doing their own bases and some even their whole application and I have to say I was really impressed with how well they did!  It freed up the crew to concentrate on the rest as we had a few nights short staffed.  I’d like to thank Cazzie, Devon, Naomi, Marg, Julia, Robin, Gail, and Amy…  And thank you to the cast members who stepped up and helped out/did their own!

I had done make-up tests on each actor back in January and then used the photos to create charts to use.  Once we did the run through and we could see the effect the lighting had I changed the base colours – the white was to be for muzzles and under the eyes only (except for the two set of twins which stayed white.)  We used Ben Nye creams and base colours were Death Straw, Death Grey, Vampire, and Lite Auguste.  Then the colours and markings of the individual costumes and wigs were replicated to shade and contour – we used many shades of brown, dark grey and grey, yellow, orange, goldenrod, Dark Tech, Sunburn Stipple, Dark Sunburn, Desert Tan, Ultra Lite, and, of course, white and black…. tons of black.  Oh… and blue on Grizabella (except for closing night when she requested green.)  After the initial run through I also changed the eye designs to make the white area larger under the eyes to make them more visible to the audience.  I took all the charts I had printed and using pencil crayons made modifications to the eye lines and colours right on the photos which was way easier than trying to get new photos or draw new charts.

I strung up a rope in the make-up room with 3M hooks and used fold back clips to attach all the charts to the rope.  Then the actors would remove their chart when they arrived and went to get their bases on.  Then they would give the chart to the make-up artist who would finish their make-up.  We would then keep the charts until the end of the night.  Then when the stage manager or other backstage cat-herder came to check how far along we were they could just look at the charts on the wall to know who wasn’t yet started.  This worked excellently!  I could also then know how many cats I did at the end of the night.  I was doing 13-14 of them myself most nights.  You can see the charts in the background of this photo of me doing McCavity’s make-up.

Me and McCavity

Five characters were face painted – Rumpus Cat, Fire Frore Fiddle, McCavity, and two kittens (who appeared after the bows with their “mom” who presented them to Rum Tum Tugger who ran away with them chasing after him!)  The impact of the face paint was bolder and it was faster to do for the actors who were only on stage for minutes and not working up a sweat.

I took some photos of my applications that I was particularly pleased with during the run.  And I did Rum Tum Tugger every night and took photos to see how I changed the design each time.  One of the reasons I love theatre make-up so much is that I can play around with a design and alter it to improve it, or fix something that doesn’t work, or just try something different just to see how it will work.  I tend to stick to a plan, but details can change without causing the character to alter.  And when I like how it looks I will keep that element and play around with other parts.

Last Saturday I also face painted at the Maple Sugar Festival put on by the ACFA (local Francophone association).  This is a very popular annual event and this was the first time they hired me to face paint.

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I was swamped!  I don`t know how many I painted but I was doing under two minutes a face most of the day.  And an interesting note:  First time that I have ever had the health inspector come and check out my set-up… passed with flying colours of course!  When I arrived I was handed a copy of the Alberta Health Regulation for Face Painting by the event organizer with was the first time an event has actually been enforcing the regulations, let alone even known about them.  I was impressed and happy to be in compliance.

On Sunday I face painted with two crew members at the annual Timbits Jamboree which is an Under 8/Under 4 soccer tournament sponsored by Tim Hortons.  We were painting steady without any breaks for five hours, as usual.  Mom was washing all of our brushes as we worked.

Had a rather nasty woman at the end of the day – I had my signs up and they stated that the people in the chair at 5:55 p.m. were the last being painted.  This woman came over about 5:54 (we were all in the middle of painting children) and asked if we were painting the last ones in the chair, I said yes, these children in the chairs now are the last ones (as they were going to still be there at 5:55.)  She went away… I thought.  (I know the time exactly as we were in an arena with the big clock up on the scoreboard.)

Then when I finished the face I was painting, I stood up to see that she was still over at the bench by the sign which was the line-up location.  I said, Sorry, we’re done.  She got really angry and said all sorts of nasty things… I was tired so was not in any mood to try to be nice about it.  We think she thought that the ‘chair’ was referring to the bench used as a line indicator not the actual chairs we were using for the kids to get painted in.  Although I have no idea what her reasoning could have been.  Painting was done at 6 p.m., the event was OVER at 6 p.m., they were removing things from the arena in order to play soccer.  We weren’t able to continue in any case.  I pointed out the sign that clearly stated the times (and I’d also been making announcements for the last 4o minutes about how much longer we had.)  She said the line was long and she couldn’t see if from way back there… um, lady you’ve been pretty close to it for sometime now, obviously.  She told me I had a lousy business model. I can’t figure that one out as she was lining up for FREE face painting sponsored by Tim Hortons, not sure how us closing the line before she got her turn is a bad business model? I told her to speak to the organizer if she felt that way as we were following instructions – she said she was going to.  The organizer said she hadn’t heard from her when she came over to give me the cheque… and said she is going to try to get more budget for next year for four painters.

I rarely get really nasty people… this would be, I think, the third that has been really belligerent.  One of them was a woman with a child in a stroller who got really mad because she had got in line and waited, only for me to refuse to paint her baby… the sign, again, clearly stated that I did not paint children under three years but she complained that the sign wasn’t visible because the line was so long…???? So… once you get close enough to read it you stayed in line? Really?  What is it with people and lining up for FREE face painting and not bothering to read any of the notices?  And am I supposed to hire someone to wear my a-frame sign and walk up and down the line using a megaphone?

The line at the Maple Sugar Festival ended easily – the organizer put my sign out front a little less than an hour before the end time and put a “closed” sign on it.  No problem there.  I think I’ll have to start putting a “Line Closed” sign up – might make it easier.  Generally the times being posted works well enough.  Just is annoying to have someone attack me after a long tiring day.  I mean… none of us even got a chance to go to the restroom!

I’ve got a new crew member, Cazzie, who worked with me on Cats.  I had put out a call for volunteers to work on Cats and Cazzie contacted me – she’s also a graduate of Blanche Macdonald which is where I got my make-up diploma!  She did great on Cats and I was needing a third painter for Sunday’s job… so we made her face paint the kittens at the closing performance of CATS and she did great so “you’re hired!”… She did fantastic face painting from my photo sheets – was able to copy them and her speed was great for a beginning face painter!  Mom was very impressed as she was watching her all day.

I’ll post more of my photos from Cats later this weekend… I need to crop and edit them first.   But here’s one of Naomi starting McCavity’s make-up…

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Even more CATS

The show is going wonderfully.  Every performance has had a standing ovation and the cast are nailing it!  I neglected to mention that it is a live orchestra as well which makes it that much more impressive.

Last night the cast and crew went out after the show to In The Zone which is a sports themed restaurant across the highway from the theatre – they kept the place open and staff on hand just for us. Just to get an idea of how big the entire crew is… there were people I knew there who I did NOT know were working the show!  We are isolated in the dressing rooms which are in the dungeon of the complex under the stage… the make-up and hair crew are down there at 4 p.m. to start and we don’t generally get out of the room until 9 p.m. at the earliest.  Curtain is 7:30 so we don’t see the technical and stage crew at all.  So it was nice to see so many more of them last night.

I don’t often get a chance to go to the social things but mom’s aide was able to stay last night.  So once we got the make-up room cleared up most of the make-up crew headed over before the show finished – we got good parking and got to choose where to sit.

I’m having to do laundry pretty much every night – the capes and towels are getting completely coated in powder and are a mess.  The key to a good solid make-up that doesn’t smudge or lift with sweating is to POWDER it heavily.  My make-ups are holding up excellently even on the actors who sweat so bad that it actually rains off their wigs – every strand of hair is dripping.

The designs have been modified a bit more as well – along with darkening all the base colours which I mentioned before, I have altered the eye design to make them more visible.  The catch is that each artist is interpreting this a bit differently but I think we’ve all now got it happening consistently.  And the rest of the make-up crew has had a chance to see their work on stage and are noticing details themselves – like the muzzles needing to be whiter.

These photos are mine which I took at the tech rehearsal and run-through.

Posed photo by the entire cast – they were posing for the photographer who was in the balcony and I took this from the main level.


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Cats lounging about…

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Near the end of Mr. Mistofelees number…

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Addressing of Cats…

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Coricopat and Tantomile aka “the twins” (the brown on their faces is now matching the costume rather than the wigs.) The make-up here was done by another artist on the crew…

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Quaxo aka Mr. Mistofelees…

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Grizabella… I like this shot – the empty theatre seats make her look so alone…

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Rum Tum Tugger… early version… and I am tweaking it every night (I am the only one who is doing his make-up.)  I’m taking photos of him each time to show the progression of the design which I will share when the show is over.

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Tugger and his “mate” Etcetera…

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Did I mention that Tugger is about 6’5″ or more?  Tugger, Demeter and one of the kittens (the kittens are face painted) …

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This show is the most exhausting of any of the 80+ productions I’ve worked on… and I love every minute of it!