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  • Jenni Gilbert, IATSE Local 706 & Local 488

Making Over My Life

If I’ve done my job well, no one knows that I was there. People think the actors just look that way naturally, or that they did their own hair and makeup. I grew up loving Broadway musicals thanks to my parents, but I had no idea I’d end up working on them. In college, I was an English major at an Engineering school. I had a lot of electives, so I opted for every theatre class they had. When I took their only makeup class, it completely changed my life. I made prosthetic horns and painted my face like Darth Maul, and suddenly I was hooked. I couldn’t believe something so fun was actually a career.

I finished my English degree and started researching how to get the best training in makeup & hair. When I heard about UNC School of the Arts, I knew it was the place for me. They couldn’t accept me into the graduate program because I didn’t have an art degree; but the program director believed in me, and asked me to come spend a year taking the arts classes I was missing with the undergrad students. My family questioned my decision to start another four-year degree program for a tough career, but I’m so glad I did. I earned my Masters in Wig & Makeup Design, I made amazing friends, and I learned a huge myriad of skills for working in theatre & film.

I’ve been fortunate to work in many different areas of this industry, including three Broadway tours: “Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” “Elf,” and most recently, “Fiddler on the Roof.” They’ve enabled me to work backstage all around the country, and as far away as Japan. I’m proud that I’ve worked on several world-premiere shows, including “Beauty and the Beast” for Disney Cruise Line. There’s nothing quite like transforming a beast in 45 seconds in the middle of the ocean during rough seas! But hearing the audiences cheer every show made it all worth it.

I love that my job is a team effort, working with the backstage crew, with stage management, and with the actors. It’s so rewarding for me when an actor needs me to complete their transformation into their character; or when someone is shocked to discover their favorite character was wearing a wig. I get to contribute to transporting an audience away from their everyday life for a while, and I have a blast doing it. I’m so excited to continue creating that magic and to see where it takes me next!

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