In a show’s production, preparation done by actors for their roles tends to glide beneath the radar.
When a student is cast for a show at Butler University, that student never knows how dramatically his or her appearance might need to change.
The costume shop, for example, may ask cast students to cut, grow out or dye their hair a different color.
In the Butler theatre department’s production of “Pigeons” this spring, senior Kerry Stauffer was asked to cut her hair short and dye it bright red.
To those outside the theatre world, the request might be surprising.
“You really don’t think about it, though,” Stauffer said. “If they tell you to do it for a role, you do it.”
Students are usually willing to make drastic changes for the production.
“In the real world, if an actor isn’t willing to do it, they’ll cast someone else,” said Angie Malone, costume shop manager. “People have to be very flexible with their looks because that’s how they get acting jobs.”
Senior Quinn Leary said theatre students understand they must make sacrifices for the good of the whole.
“They realize that they’re part of something bigger than themselves,” Leary said.
In a series of shows spanning 12 months, Leary was not allowed to cut his hair.
“As an actor, you’re a blank canvas,” Leary said. “You become one of (the director’s and designers’) tools to make art through.”
While resistance sometimes occurs, the love actors share toward the production is greater than concerns over their physical appearance.
“If a costume designer asks you to cut your hair, you’re upholding their aesthetic vision of the show,” Leary said. “You become complicit in helping develop that vision.”
Actors cast for a production are required to not cut their hair, including facial hair, until the costume shop has a costume and make-up design completed.
“Actors are often cast based on their looks,” Malone said. “We often ask them to change their appearance to look more period or more like the character would look like.”
The actors then cut their hair to fit the show’s needs.
If actors have tattoos, they are required to provide their own makeup to cover them.
The reason for appearance changes is the same reason actors wear costumes. It’s one more way to get into character.
That is not to say actors hide inside their costumes. In fact, it is quite the opposite.
“People think that creating a character is about concealing,” said Diane Timmerman, theatre department chair. “But really great acting is about telling the truth of a character.”
Telling the truth of a character, however, is challenging and is a new experience for actors every time.
Each actor approaches getting into character differently.
“I usually start first with the physicality of that character,” freshman Taylor Galloway said. “Once my body associates that physicality with the lines I’m saying, I’m able to create a consistent internal character as well.”
Whatever way an actor chooses to become a character, the end goal is present that character honestly.
“The character often comes to life most fully when the actor understands the underlying dramatic action of that character,” Timmerman said. “You always want more than just the literal value of what’s being said.”