Applying makeup for the stage is an acquired skill. Even if you are a woman and already used to wearing makeup, you’ll find that stage makeup calls for far more dramatic colors and lines than what you would normally wear. Most of us are timid when first applying stage makeup, only to find that by being too conservative, all of our facial features washed out under the bright lights.

Don’t be afraid to be bold when applying your stage makeup; your goal here is to make sure the people in the back row of the balcony can see your face.


Put on an old bathrobe or wear a smock over your clothes. Stage makeup can be messy, and you don’t want to dirty your costume less than an hour before curtain.

Wash your face, then apply moisturizer to your face and neck. This helps guard your skin against excessive drying from powerful stage lighting and the makeup itself.

If you have oily skin, use an oil-free moisturizer. Heavy stage makeup often contains a lot of oil and can induce skin breakouts.

Start with foundation. If you’re playing a mime or a horror role, use standard clown white. Otherwise, for a natural look, choose a foundation that is one shade darker than your natural skin tone. Apply evenly to your face, neck and hairline, then blend well.

Suck in your cheeks and purse your lips so that you can clearly see the line of the cheekbone. Apply blush to the apples of your cheeks using a large soft brush. Men should use a neutral light brown shade or bronzer; women should use pink or red to define cheekbones. Follow with bronzer in strategic spots around the temples, chin and cheekbones for shading.

Use a brow brush or pencil to darken your brows. If you have fair hair, you may literally need to draw them on. Eyebrows are usually the first thing to disappear under the stage lights, so use a dark brown color and make the brow line look bold. (Hint: you can also use an old tube of mascara; sweep the brush along your brow line, then gently brush away any excess flakes.)

Apply your eyeshadow in three colors: a medium tan tone across the entire eyelid, followed by a light gold or white shade under the brow. Then use a dark brown in the crease, tracing the crease from the outside corner to the nose line, and blend well.

To make your eyes look bigger, dab a little extra white shimmer eyeshadow on your fingertip and apply to the area around your tear duct. Tapping a little shimmer shadow underneath the eye will enhance your eyes and make them sparkle.

Use liquid eyeliner to line the eyelid along the lash line all the way to the corner. Make the line thick and dramatic. Use a dark brown or black eyeliner pencil for the bottom of the eye, making the line a little thicker towards the corners of the eye; this makes them appear large and round. Men should use brown eyeliner as a general rule; bold enough to be seen onstage but not too obviously “made up.”

Dip a large soft powder brush into the container of translucent powder, which should be a shade lighter than your stage makeup, not an exact color match. Tamp the brush on a towel or the sink to remove excess powder before applying to your face and neck. Be sure to apply enough to fully set your makeup, as you will likely sweat a lot under the hot stage lights and may not have time to touch up during your performance.

Apply lipstick. Men should avoid coral, red or wine colors and instead use a basic light bronze; this looks more natural while still defining the lips. Women’s shades are often dark reds or wines; these give a rosy look to the lips and the colors are more pronounced from a distance. Both men and women should use lip liner to ensure the lipstick doesn’t crack or bleed.

Apply at least two coats of dark mascara to your lashes. Choose the exact same color as your eyeliner – generally neutral light brown for men, dark brown or black for women.

If your role calls for crying, always use waterproof mascara.

Take about five steps back from the mirror and have a good look in the mirror. Are your features clearly defined? Do you look natural from this distance, or are the lines too harsh? Then take 10 steps back and look again. If the dressing room is big enough, take 20 steps back so you can get a better idea of how your makeup will appear to someone sitting near the back of the auditorium. If you find your features start to disappear at some distance, darken your makeup in the problem areas–usually the eyes.

Wash your hands to remove excess makeup, then put on your stage costume.

Tips

  • If you are new to stage makeup, ask a more experienced cast member to do your makeup for you. Most actors don’t mind doing this to help out a new cast member. Watch their technique in the mirror and you’ll learn a lot of interesting tips and tricks.