Behind the Scenes at A.C.T.: An Interview with Wig Master Lindsay Saier

By Annie Sears

You can tell a lot about a person from the way they style their hair. That’s Lindsay Saier’s area of expertise. After growing up in Redwood City, California, she studied at the Make-up Designory in Burbank before moving to New York, earning her barber’s license, and completing a wig and make-up internship at The Juilliard School. After working at some off-Broadway theaters, she returned home to the Bay Area to join the A.C.T. family as wig master. We recently took a trip to the Wig Shop to learn more about the process of creating a character’s look.

How would you describe your job?
Essentially, we give depth to characters. It’s something people don’t really think about because when it’s done right, you don’t notice it. For instance, if the character is supposed to be evil, we can play with their hairline, their part, and the color of their hair to really tell that story. Or in Rhinoceros, we have a character that is flippy and fun and French, but the actor playing the character is bald. So we put a fun, curly wig on him. It’s a really interesting way to change the dimension of the character.

2018–19 Wig Fellow Lyre Alston applying latex to the netting of a bald cap. Photo by Annie Sears.

How would you make that wig?
As soon as the actors arrive on campus, we bring them in for a fitting. We take all their measurements so that we know the circumference of their head and the measurement of their nape, front to back, and ear to ear behind the head. After that, we take a head tracing. We use Saran Wrap and tape to wrap their whole head, then we mark their hairline so that, when we take it off, we have something that looks just like their head. We pad that with polyfill or Easter-basket filler, then take lace netting and lay it out over the tracing. Then it’s time to begin ventilating, which is the process of adding hairs—between one and eight hairs at a time—and creating knots into the wig all the way from the back of the wig to the front. We use tiny hooks that look a lot like minuscule crochet hooks to attach the hair to the lace; the process is a cross between latch hooking and crocheting. Once the wig is built, we use a lot of different spring rollers, hair products, and steam to style it. That’s where we really get to play and explore. Sometimes we pull wigs from stock and make alterations—adding hair to them, giving them haircuts, or adding a little bit of a dark gloss or a red tint.

A.C.T. Wig Master Lindsay Saier ventilates a wig. Photo by Annie Sears.

How long does that take? 
Ventilating a wig usually takes between 40 and 60 hours. It’s a workweek. There are some people out there who are speedy and can bust through a wig in 20 hours. Life goals, right? [Laughs] A beard usually takes about 8 to 10 hours to build, depending on how thick and voluptuous.
 
A selection of spring rollers used to create the 1930s looks for A.C.T.'s 2019 production of Rhinoceros. Photo by Annie Sears.

What’s one of the more challenging productions you’ve worked on?
In Sweat, we had these crazy tattoos. In theater, we’re usually trying to make things stay on as long as possible. Often, we try to get four or five days out of a tattoo. But in this case, we had to quickly apply really offensive tattoos and quickly take them off between scenes. We have a partnership with Kryolan makeup, so we used their aquacolor line that you activate with water. We created our own stamps, and we’d stamp on the watercolor makeup before the scene, and it was easy to take it off with baby wipes before sending him right back onstage.

A completed wig for A.C.T.'s 2019 production of Rhinoceros. Photo by Annie Sears.

And some of your favorites?
I really enjoyed my first show at A.C.T., which was King Charles III, because it’s recreating the royal family. It was fun to create iconic people. At A.C.T, there’s been a never-ending stream of fun, weird, quirky things coming our way. We go from something like Edward Albee’s Seascape where we’re doing full-on makeup looks, to Mfoniso Udofia’s Her Portmanteau, where I’m creating a subtle family tie by incorporating a grey streak into each of their wigs. That’s one of the best things about theater in general and especially wigging: no show is the same.

Catch Lindsay’s work onstage throughout our 2019–20 season. Check out the lineup, and subscribe today!

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