Onward Audits: Basic Theatrical Makeup

There are some classes at Penn State that practically everyone has to take: the dreaded English 015, the even more dreaded CAS 100, the perhaps most dreaded of all Math 141. But by no means do these classes represent what attending Penn State is really like. Because if you were to ask any student walking on Pollock what their favorite class is, they wouldn’t respond with one of the courses listed above. No, they would say their favorite class is the one that made them fall in love with their major, or the one where they got to pet a cockroach in front of all their classmates. There are so many interesting classes at Penn State, even among the endless exams and lectures.

This is our newest series, entitled Onward Audits. We decided to highlight a few of these fascinating, and severely underrated classes at Penn State by sending a writer to attend a class.

First up is Theatre 146: Basic Theatrical Makeup. I’m currently enrolled in Theatre 146, but since this weekend is Halloween, I figured the class’ focus was particularly fitting. Especially because this week’s assignment was to create a Halloween inspired makeup design.

Theatre 146 is taught by Suzanne Elder, the head of the BFA/MFA Costume Design and Technology program in the School of Theatre. She’s worked in theatrical costuming for more than 40 years, during which she helped costume “The Lion King” and “Man Of La Mancha” on Broadway. Suzie, as she’s affectionately known to her students, teaches Theatre 146 in the basement of the Theatre Building. Instead of a classroom, Basic Theatrical Makeup is taught in the women’s dressing room of the Playhouse Theatre.

Every Tuesday, Suzie lectures the class about a particular aspect of theatrical makeup. She typically demonstrates a particular technique on a student for the whole class to see. Then, the students put their makeup skills to the test on Thursday. Equipped with a Ben Nye makeup kit and a schematic (a sketch of an actor’s face detailing their makeup design), I set out to create a spooky creation yesterday.

For my design, I decided to take a creepy spin on an old classic: a porcelain doll. Instead of making my entire face like a doll, I decided to make the doll’s face broken. Creepy, right? Anyway’s here’s what my plan looked like before I started putting on makeup.


Each makeup class, students in Theatre 146 are required to bring two things: their schematic and their makeup kit. Like I said before, we use Ben Nye makeup. It’s the standard in theatrical makeup, and we were each required to buy a Creme Makeup Kit at the beginning of the semester. It wasn’t cheap, but hey, I’d rather pay for a makeup kit that I’ll actually use than a hefty textbook that I have no intention of ever opening. Here’s what that kit looks like on the inside.


The first thing I did to bring my spooky creation to life was to block off which part of my face would be porcelain and which would be “broken.” Then, I filled in the porcelain section with white cream makeup. I’m going to apologize ahead of time for all of the selfies. They were necessary.


Next came the fun part. I was able to paint on the “cracks” using black creme makeup and a brush. Afterwards, I filled in the “broken” section with that same black creme makeup.


Finally, I made my porcelain side look more doll-like. I added blush, made my lips perfectly pursed, and added some classic China Blue eyeshadow. The finished product looked a little something like this:


Now every Basic Theatrical Makeup class isn’t this spooky. Learning how to block out eyebrows, mold new noses, and create character-inspired makeup designs are all on the syllabus. Theatre 146, while only open to theatre majors and minors, isn’t your typical Penn State class. Instead of memorizing vocabulary and crunching numbers, students in Basic Theatrical Makeup learn the skills to create countless new faces and designs.

Which class should Onward State audit next? Let us know! 

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About the Author

Anna Foley

Anna is a senior majoring in Communication Arts & Sciences and Spanish with a minor in Theatre. Yes, she went to Spain. Follow her half-funny thoughts @exfoleyator and send her chain emails at [email protected].

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