UNO makeup artists create realistic and spooky characters for theatre performances


Megan Fabry

When students, staff and family come to theatre productions at The University of Nebraska at Omaha, they are often in awe of the actor’s dedications to their roles and the unique storylines. What they don’t often see is the thought and planning that the makeup department puts forth in each performance.

Every show requires several different looks depending on the time and context. Most frequently the UNO makeup department works with age and period makeup, but occasionally a show requires trauma or scarring makeup.

Charleen Willoughby is a professor at UNO who teaches a class called Stage Costume and Makeup, where she teaches the fundamentals of sewing and the use of highlight and shadow to alter the faces of actors in various ways. She also teaches the students to create simple prosthetics.

“I’ve been teaching at UNO since 2001,” Willoughby said. “I’ve always wanted to teach. I started as a high school drama teacher but realized that college teaching is where I should be. I became interested in stage makeup after taking the Stage Makeup class at UNO in the late 80s, early 90s.”

Willoughby uses what she learned from her classes to help her students improve their skills with makeup and prosthetics. Over the past few years, she has been exploring the art of moulage – makeup for disaster preparedness drills. She often encourages her students to become involved in these drills for extra practice.

Makeup is often used to enhance the features of actors and actresses and make them more beautiful. But, it can also be used to create scary and grotesque faces that leave the performer unrecognizable. When artists in the UNO theatre department use makeup, they are helping the audience connect to the world of the characters and help them become as engrossed and fascinated with the story as those on the stage.