Making men into fabulous drag queens

Drag queen makeup starts with a close shave and ends with lashings of sparkling glitter! Taranaki Community News caught up with makeup artist Jacqui Stevenson to find out what goes on behind the scenes of Priscilla Queen of the Desert.

Hi Jacqui! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do? 
I’m a mum of two amazing kids, with two wonderful grandchildren Riley and Arlo. I live and breath my theatre in all it’s shapes and forms, and as well as Makeup for New Plymouth Operatic Society, I help with Little Theatre and Usher for 4th Wall Theatre. And for the first time this year I volunteered for Womad.

I like a good giggle and have a very weird sense of humour, my friends tell me. I love looking at the stars and spotting satellites at night while sitting in the spa. My new favourite music at the moment is The Greatest Showman. The Pyramids are still on my bucket list to visit before I head to the big sky.

But the absolutely best thing (when not taking Riley to as many theatre occasions as possible) is having quiet time with him when he comes to Grandma’s for a sleep over. We sit and colour-in together, have a laugh and talk about his favourite thing of all time – fishing! It’s the best, and I can’t wait until Arlo is old enough to do the same.

Riley and Arlo

When you’re not busy playing with the grandchildren, you are busy as the HOD of makeup for Priscilla. How long does it take to get one of the main men into full drag queen make-up?
Time doesn’t really exist when you have a face to transform into a character. It takes as long as it needs, and creating a drag queen character is no different.

On average it’s about half an hour, but the best thing about the process is watching the performer’s body language and persona completely change when they see the transition in the mirror! It’s like being transported to a new dimension as a new person. It’s just brilliant, and the makeup helps finalise the character and give the performer one of the pieces of the puzzle.

What is the makeup process for the drag queens?
We have a couple of different drag queen looks for this show. Both start with a very close shave – this makes sure the base sticks to the face correctly and doesn’t create unwanted shadows.

There’s quite a bit of glitter in drag makeup!

Then the eye brows get glued down so they appear completely flat. This allows us to draw new higher eyebrows and gives us a huge eye area to cover with bright eye shadow and glitter, and finish wish the biggest eye lash’s we can get!

The contouring of the face is quite specific and challenging as it creates the more feminine aspect of the face. We do the lips last and we need them to look like a bad day with the Botox! Big, plump and bold with lashings of glitter!

What’s the best thing about of doing drag makeup, and what’s the most challenging?
It’s not very often we get a chance to do drag makeup, so this is a bonus for the team because it’s PLAYTIME big time! It’s lots of fun and lots of laughs.

Jacqui helps to turn the men in the show into drag queens

It is a challenge as none of our ladies are theatre trained with makeup, but the amazing team have the skill set and passion as good as any paid professional. They simply do it for the love of our theatre, every year without fail, and we couldn’t do it without them. We are truly blessed to have them.

What have you done with NPOS over the years?
I have been involved with NPOS since 1973. I started on stage as a young dancer in Showboat and auditioned for every show possible. I only decided to be part of backstage ensemble when my babies arrived.

The onstage cast can spend five months of the year, three days a week working to bring one of the large shows to the New Plymouth audience, whereas the makeup is only for a couple of months – which is more family friendly.

My most honoured moment is when I received the President’s Award for my dedication to NPOS. They are my second family!

What has been the most challenging show you have worked on? 
Phantom of the Opera must be my most challenging. I was using prosthetics for the first time with the help of my brother John Bannister. We started the transformation of Chris Crowe at 5pm and finished the process at about 7pm, just before warm ups.

With bald caps, prosthetics and stage makeup we created what I think was an amazing interpretation of our Phantom. We changed some of the supplied prosthetics ourselves, to make the head scaring and burnt skin more readable for our audience, and I can say hand on heart ours was better and gave Chris the macabre feeling and look he wanted to create his character.

If you could invite any three people from history to a dinner party, who would you invite, and what would you talk about?
There are so many people I would love to have around the dinner table, choosing just 3 is quite a challenge! Nelson Mandela, Barak Obama and David Attenborough would definitely be on top of my list.

Nelson Mandela’s absolute power of forgiveness and empathy was tangible and awe inspiring, while Barak Obama was just pure grace, intellect and dignity. And David Attenborough! That voice! The sound of  the best naturalist of all time, you just know who it is the moment he speaks.

Can you imagine the pure power of the quietness in their words? These men have never had to raise their voices to be heard. Their different messages about human forgiveness, the blending of races and cultures and the survival of our planet will never be duplicated. We need more leaders like these – the world would be a better place.

Priscilla Queen of the Desert is being staged by New Plymouth Operatic Society

Why should people come along to this show?
It’s pure escapism, and it’s got something for everyone. The costumes are big, the set is big, the music is big, it’s just big, big big! It’s also a great sing-a-long and giggle.

You won’t be disappointed, you’ll leave with a smile on your face, and you couldn’t ask for more! See you there.