Experiences

Night is turned into day

By Bianca Bättig

"Are you really sure that you want to start this program of studies? Think about it carefully. The course is very intensive. A 60-hour week is not unusual."

"Of course I’m ready for it."

That is an excerpt from my first telephone conversation with the Director of Studies after she had told me that I had passed the entrance examination. Only in the next three years did I really come to understand what intensive means.

When I was a child, I did not know what I wanted to be when I grew up. Although I had always practised with my mother’s make-up, I never felt that that was pointing me in that particular direction. It was only after doing an induction year at Zürich University of the Arts that I took a decisive step in that direction. I intensively analysed the human body and changes to the body. What fascinated me again and again was that I have unlimited possibilities in my work. Then I chanced upon the Bavarian Theatre Academy’s website. From then on, I knew where I wanted to go and applied right away. I had not had anything to do with the theatre until then and also did not have much idea of what this program of studies had in store for me.

But first, I think, I should explain something about the Program of Studies in Wigs, Make-up and Special Make-up Effects for Stage and Screen. Again and again, I realise that that many people have no idea of what it involves.

As the name suggestions, the Program of Studies in Wigs, Make-up and Special Make-up Effects for Stage and Screen is to be understood to be training in both wigs and make-up. We learn the traditional crafts of wig-making and make-up, for example, making hairpieces, beards and wigs, cutting and styling hair and applying make-up to create a historical or modern appearance. We also learn to use silicon parts to make a person look the required age or produce items to change a person’s appearance using polyurethane foam, resin or plastic. The latter technique was particularly in demand when our year group cooperated with ZDF television in the summer of 2012 in the making of its Christmas fairy tale production, Beauty and the Beast. We designed and implemented all the wigs, make-up and special make-up effects for the beast in that production.

What sets this program of studies apart from other theatre make-up courses is that it includes theoretical subjects. It is not just a matter of making the items, but also of understanding the background context and reasons. The theoretical subjects are drama, opera and film analysis, light design, art history, semiotics, aesthetics, the study of costumes and production processes. Their purpose is to help us to arrive at our own concepts, to grasp a play’s characters and to transform this understanding into wigs, make-up and special make-up effects that work.

So on my first day, I was sitting in the workshop area with seven other young women. None of us had any idea at the time that in the years ahead, this room would become more than a classroom, more than a space for creativity. It would be the showcase of our lives. We knuckled down in the first week, immersing ourselves in the subject of wigs and make-up. After doing some intensive modelling, we moved on to cutting hair. The first theatre production was scheduled to take place shortly afterwards. Our task was to do the make-up for the choir in Le nozze di Figaro. I well remember how nervous I felt before the show with a performer sitting in front of me. For me, it is still a nerve-racking moment when a performer comes to me for the first time to have their make-up done. The so-called “soft skills”, probably the most important attribute of a make-up artist, are learnt through work experience. That means sensitivity and social competence. A make-up artist must be able to work well with performers and be a good team player. That means gauging the performer so as to be able to create a pleasant working atmosphere for both of you. The special thing about my work is being so close to a complete stranger and winning their trust.

And before we knew it, we were in the middle of our course. The days just flew by. We were assigned more and more projects. It was just at this time that the “EigenArten” projects were created. Initiated by students and supported by the Academy, this is an opportunity for students to realise their own projects with financial backing from the Academy. I was at the first meeting and helped to develop the idea, and was lucky enough to be involved in the first project Malinche – Ein Herrenabend - one of the first and best theatre experiences I had the privilege of experiencing during my course. Generally, I have always found it very enriching to work with the different programs of studies at the Academy. One gains a better understanding of other theatre professions and the clichés lose their impact because you find out what each program of studies really involves. And the many Academy productions enable you to work together and gain experience.

Meanwhile, I had understood what “intensive” means. Sleep is replaced by work. Sometimes you lose track of what day it is or eat nothing but filled rolls from the canteen because you hardly get the chance to get out to the shops when they are open. You have to get used to the situation. The most important qualifications for studying at the Theatre Academy are belief and passion. They support you when you are not sure how you are going to manage the work. I am someone who very much enjoys working hard and I have a lot of stamina. But even I came up against my limits during the course. But looking back, it was a good experience. You get to know yourself better through such extreme situations and can deal with them better in the future.

Such a course is not only intensive in terms of the time you invest in it, but also because you are always surrounded by people. I find this a very pleasant aspect of my work, but it is also something you cannot escape. On our course, instruction is always given to all of us as a year group. There were eight of us. When eight women work together in a room almost all the time, it can lead to friction now and again, to put it mildly. But that was no problem for us. I must say that without my year group, I would only have half as many good memories of my studies. Our group was made up of very different personalities who managed to become good friends over the three years. Mutual respect for the person and their work and cohesion within the group enabled us to enjoy the three years together.

Now these three years are over and, with a Bachelor’s degree under my belt, I am once again looking for the right way forward. You wonder in which area you would like to enter the job market or whether you have learned enough. Since we were not trained in a regular theatre, we are often told that we do not have enough practical experience, which is reflected in our working speed or the way in which we perform our job. I was always afraid I would start to work in a theatre and would not be able to cope with the pace or the work. But that fear was not confirmed when I talked to graduates who are already working. What completely dispelled that fear for me personally was my practical Bachelor’s examination. Our exam consisted of doing the make-up for the soloists in two early works by Wagner (Rienzi and Das Liebesverbot) at the Bayreuth Festival. That made me realise how much I had learned in the three years. It gave me a sense of security, enabling me to set out into the future with confidence.

In October, I will be taking up a job at the theatre in Lucerne. The head make-up artist, Lena Mandler, was also at the Theatre Academy and she knows all the things you can do when you have completed a degree in Wigs, Make-up and Special Make-up Effects. That is reassuring, because I will not be confronted by false expectations.

I am not yet entirely sure whether I really want to work in the theatre. There are many areas, such as photography, that appeal to me. But before ruling anything out, I want to give everything a try.

I have discovered so much in this program. Not only new knowledge and a craft, but also a love of theatre. During a period that is so intensive, you also undergo enormous personal growth. I am very grateful that I had the chance to study at the Bavarian Theatre Academy August Everding and to undergo this development. It was probably the most strenuous time of my life so far, but also the best.

A Dream come true

By Melanie Glanzmann and Florian Zeughan

Opéra National de Paris- Opera de Bastille

It is now already more than a year ago but it still seems to us as if it were yesterday. When we began work as make-up artists at the National Opera in Paris on 3 January 2011, it marked the start of one of the most wonderful experiences of our life, and it is still continuing….

It all began in Munich. Shortly before completing our degree in Wigs, Make-up and Special Make-up Effects at the Bavarian Theatre Academy August Everding, we had a unique opportunity to do an internship lasting several weeks at the Opéra Bastille in Paris. Thanks to the generous support of the Munich Richard Stury Foundation, we were able to afford a small apartment near the Eiffel Tower for a short time and spent five wonderful weeks in this fascinating city. It was the greatest experience that we had outside our program of studies and we gained a great deal of positive professional and personal experience. 

On our very first day, we were given a very warm welcome to the Opéra Bastille. Right from the start, the head make-up artist and her team at the “Atelier Maquillage et Perruque” endeavoured to give us an in-depth impression of the world’s greatest opera house. We were fascinated by the immense size and the charm of this unique venue, and what impressed us even more was the positive atmosphere surrounding us in the atelier and throughout the whole theatre. We were integrated into the lively operations of the theatre right away, giving us a sense of belonging that became so deep over the subsequent five weeks that our departure was a tearful one.

We worked with the make-up artists on a number of different productions, for example making hairpieces for the opera The Marriage of Figaro and the ballet Romeo and Juliet, which were on the program in the 2011 season, styling beards for The Barber of Seville, the latest production at the time.

We got to know the world’s biggest opera house very well indeed and we are still fascinated by its unique stage with its impressive auditorium, which regularly whisks away 2,700 enthusiastic guests into another world with the world’s most famous singers, such as Renée Fleming, Nathalie Dessay, Paul Gay, Roberto Alagna etc. But what impressed us most was the building’s atmosphere. There is a very friendly working atmosphere among the more than 2,000 staff and you can sense that people like coming to work.

Something else that greatly impressed us in the atelier was not only the open and helpful way in which we were treated, but also how the colleagues behaved towards one another. It really gave us the impression of being a strong team, where everyone profits from everyone else. We were truly spellbound by this French openness and serenity and at the end of our internship, we wished more than anything else to return.

This dream finally came true when the head make-up artist in Paris was a guest examiner at our Bachelor’s degree examination in July 2010. We could hardly believe our ears when she invited us to start our career path with her in her atelier.

So at the start of 2011, we launched out on a new life, which still seems like a dream to us from which we never want to wake up.

Since many different approaches are taken to our “exotic” profession and we learnt state-of-the-art techniques on our course, the Paris make-up artists are interested in our techniques and lively exchange is possible. For example, they repeatedly praise the finesse and naturalness with which we knot hair onto a wig foundation. As a result, great interest is aroused in our course and in the Theatre Academy in general and we have already recommended Munich to some French people who had just started work. It is with real pride that we can claim that our Program of Studies in Wigs, Make-up and Special Make-up Effects for Stage and Screen at the Theatre Academy is a special and good one, because that is confirmed by the praise that we are given by the pros in the department.

It should be mentioned at this point that a program of studies like the one at our Bavarian Theatre Academy August Everding does not exist in France. Even within Germany and internationally, we consider our program of studies to be unique.

Not only because it has enabled us to live a life we could never have dared to imagine. This city simply offers every possible opportunity for further development, both personally and professionally. 

Since the summer of 2011, we have worked not only in Paris, but also at the Salzburg Festival, the world’s biggest opera festival. Another equally enriching life experience we would not want to have missed.

We would like to express our heartfelt thanks to the Bavarian Theatre Academy August Everding for laying the foundations for all the enriching life experiences that we have had the privilege to gain so far.

To sum up, we would now like to encourage all the students to dare to take a step into the unknown, even if it is not easy at first. It is worth fighting for something, because nothing can broaden your horizons as much as a willingness to embrace new ideas and situations.

Best regards from Paris!