Behind-the-scenes: Wardrobe and Technical stores at Marden

Forming part of an exciting ongoing dance performance project – Creative Pathways – 60 students from Knole Academy in Kent, eager to work in the performing arts industry, were given an insight into the world of creating and maintaining theatrical wigs and costumes at English National Ballet’s storage and warehouse facility in Marden this week.

The school hope that the visit to Marden will help its students make informed decisions about their career choices, with an inspirational talk from Wig and Make-up Supervisor Amelia Carrington-Lee and an exclusive look behind-the-scenes with Touring Wardrobe Manager Lola Stott, showcasing thousands of costumes from past and present.

The students even saw costumes and shoes set to be worn by the 120-strong cast of the upcoming production of Romeo & Juliet in-the-round as they witnessed four skilled dressmakers at work.

Amelia described the long process of making an authentic wig from real hair, emphasising the importance of creating a base cap which fits snugly onto each dancer’s head. The wigs and facial hair are often glued to the dancers to prevent them from falling off while performing. Foundation from make-up sponsor MAC Cosmetics is then applied and a grease-based Kryolan palette is used to create additional colours. “A lot of foundation powder is used so the make-up lasts for the length of each act” describes Amelia.

Act 2 of Romeo & Juliet sees a fight between Tybalt and Mercutio.

“In that fight, I have to pre-set a blood bag on Mercutio’s chest… The awkward thing about the Royal Albert Hall is that there are no wings to the stage. Once they’re on, that’s it, so we cross our fingers that Mercutio can hold out to the end of the fight scene before the blood bag bursts!” Amelia Carrington-Lee, English National Ballet’s Wig and Make-up Supervisor 

Amelia then demonstrated to the students how to make this exploding blood bag using clingfilm, fake blood and washing-up liquid!

Lolathen showed the students around the warehouse where the costumes are made and stored. They were astonished to discover that many of the glamorous dresses were elaborately covered in crystals from sponsor Swarovski.

Students from Knole Academy will be watching Romeo & Juliet in-the-round at the Royal Albert Hall and a selected group of dancers from the school will then work with artists from the Company during the last week of term to choreograph their own interpretation of Shakespeare’s most prolific work. Other students will be designing and making costumes, styling hair and applying make-up, surely inspired by their exclusive visit to the company’s storage facility.

By Danny Hewitt