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Conference & Stage Expo
For the Record
The Art of Pain
Workshops Bring Out Bruised Underbelly of Theater Technology

Laura Giovanelli
Journal Reporter

The model turned in her chair and smiled, showing off a broken nose, first-, second- and third-degree burns, a cheek-size scar and a bad outbreak of adult acne.

Under her right eye, a deep purple bruise bloomed with the delicacy of a watercolor painting.

Five inches away, it looked real.

"It's beautiful," murmured Pat Dennis, one student in the makeup class.

Another voice from the back of the room asked about what came next.

"Oh, we're just going to cut open her forehead," answered Michael Meyer, a faculty member at the N.C. School of the Arts, picking up a small brush.

Designed as workshops and lectures, the United States Institute for Theatre Technology's southeast section held its annual series of master classes at NCSA this weekend. The classes provide continuing education for lighting, sound, makeup, costume and other theater professionals and students. About 150 people were registered.

Among the offerings were a class on "scenic goo," with instruction on how to make stone, brick, stucco, "faux steel, and rustic wood-grains." Another was "Performer Flying 101," taught by Delbert Hall. Hall is "one of the leading innovators in the field," promised the workshop brochure.

"He travels all over the country doing productions of 'Peter Pan,' for example," said Joe Tilford, the dean of the School of Design and Production at NCSA.

Students left the class on gory makeup - "Blood and Guts: Creating realistic wounds and prosthetics for stage and screen" - with pretend gashes and burns on their hands and arms and seven recipes for fake blood in their notebooks. One formula was specially created to make it easier to pump. The basic ingredients in most of the other versions are corn and chocolate syrups (makeup artists seem to prefer Hershey's) and food coloring

"Blood," one student wrote carefully, doodling with a ballpoint pen around the word. "Gelatin is transparent," she added to her notes, "so makes good skin tone."

This weekend's conference was also an opportunity for NCSA faculty members and administrators to show off their new 16,000-square-foot wig, makeup and costume shop, which was opened this semester. The building was constructed with about $1.3 million, part of the taxpayer-financed state bond money passed in 2000 to pay for construction on campuses in the University of North Carolina system.

Sewing machines, a dye room, makeup lights and mirrors, fitting areas and a special padded hardwood floor to save student customers' feet and legs were paid through about $359,000 in donations.

In the made-up, makeup world, labs look different from those at other colleges.

In Meyer's prosthetics lab, an arm dangled from under a blue shroud stored on a high shelf. Red-stained tubes snaked out of a flesh-colored stump attached to the edge of a worktable. Two skeletons stood in the corner, one with just part of a face. It was a remnant from a film project that called for "a lady in a car, chewed up by a crazy vampire thing," Meyer said.

In front of a mirror, Meyer - a NCSA faculty member with 25 years makeup experience in films and on stage - demonstrated several painful-looking wounds and slashes.

Sitting in a back corner, Jenna Shirey, a volunteer and a college junior at NCSA, looked a little unimpressed. She'd seen a lot of this gore before.

"We had to do it last year for a crash simulation for EMTs," she whispered.

When Meyer was finished, students crowded around to get a closer look. Dennis - a professional makeup artist and the head of the theater department at the University of Minnesota, Duluth - held her hand under the model's chin, as if the grisly gashes on the 25-year-old's smooth, freckled cheeks were a sculpture to be admired.

The model, Rebecca Kuzma, is also second-year graduate student at NCSA with a strong stomach and an artistic eye. Her undergraduate classes at Elon University included anatomy and physiology. Now, she researches wounds online and examines her own bruises with a clinical eye. After she graduates, she wants to work making up actors in science fiction and horror movies. "I've seen this because I've dissected two people," she said yesterday. "I want to do the bizarre."

For all his work in such areas, Meyer prefers to watch more subdued suspense: he likes Alfred Hitchcock. "I personally don't even enjoy watching horror films," he said. "A severed head is severed head. How many can you see?"

Kuzma turned back to the mirror, touching up a bloody cut on her lips. She planned to wear the makeup to lunch.

© 2005 Winston-Salem Journal.

Reprinted with permission, all rights reserved.

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USITT's Southeast Section Master Classes drew media attention from the Winston-Salem Journal. Their coverage, including the photo at left. of the workshop in progress, and the article below appeared on Sunday, September 25, 2005.
(c) 2005 Winston-Salem Journal

photo/Bruce Chapman