I do a few things pretty well. I’m a good baker. I’m a good dancer. Occasionally I can turn a good phrase. I crack witty puns — okay, some people might disagree with the with the witty puns. But my point is that I’m skilled in certain areas due to many years of practice.
But lately, as my dancing skills have improved, I’ve been able to perform on stage with dance troupes. And that has required learning a new skill — putting on stage makeup.
In general, I wear very little makeup. In fact, I would prefer to go makeup-free at all times. My face has rarely seen foundation, and I have yet to find a lipstick I really like. Learning to use stage makeup now is made more complicated by the fact that I am a Woman of a Certain Age, which, translated, means that I can’t read any makeup labels without the assistance of a magnifying glass to accompany my reading glasses. Plus, when I take my glasses off to apply eye makeup, I can’t tell if I’m drawing in a smoky eye or a clown face. It might have been easier if I had started experimenting with makeup when I was a teenager, but that ship sailed more than 30 years ago.
However, when I dance, I want to represent the troupe well when we’re on stage. And on stage, if you are not wearing lots of makeup, your face becomes invisible. So when the opportunity to take a workshop arose, I seized the day in an attempt to learn a little more about how to put on stage makeup.
We were told to bring our makeup kits, a hand-held mirror, a note pad and a pen to the workshop. I found the note pad and pen easily enough. I had a small thing of eye shadow of indeterminate age, an eye pencil, mascara, an eyelash curler and a lipstick I tried once for a previous performance. I bought the hand-held mirror at CVS on my way to the workshop.
The workshop leader, a skilled performer and make-up artist, introduced herself and then said, “first take out your primer.”
Primer? I looked around blankly. A few veteran dancers pulled out a tube of the liquid in question. The workshop leader saw me and a few others gazing at her with wide eyes and explained that using primer on your face allows the foundation to go on smoothly and holds the makeup on your face, even when you sweat. Foundation? She smiled, made the rounds and gave those of us who had no primer a small daub on the backs of our hands. We smoothed it on our faces.
We continued layering with foundation, concealer, contour, translucent powder — none of which I owned. I watched the workshop leader as she expertly donned each layer, and then she or another makeup maven would share with those of us who were lacking the right items. After a few layers, I looked in the mirror at my own work and sighed. Too little of this and too much of that.
I reminded myself that Rome wasn’t built in a day — and that my made-up face would not be either. I continued gamely on.
We learned how to fill in our eyebrows to create a certain shape and line our lips to do the same. We layered on eyeliner and different shades of eyeshadow to create a smoky eye. We blended the foundation and concealer into our faces and layered on the blush. Other women at the workshop used their various brushes to paint on the differently colored layers. I used a q-tip and my fingers. Where would one even get so many brushes? Many of these women had a dozen makeup brushes. I wasn’t sure what exactly to do with one.
At the end of the workshop, we had a photo shoot. My artistry was not up to DaVinci standards — it was more like paint-by-numbers. But the makeup looked good from a distance and I was pleased with the results, it being the first time. I thanked the workshop instructor, left the class, and set about moving from Florida to California.
Fast forward about four months. I’m dancing with a new troupe in California, and we are performing at a fundraiser. Our choreographer and leader suggests a cherry smoky eye and contour makeup. Come to the venue ready with your makeup on, she says.
Time to deploy what I have learned.
I go to Target and an employee, a young woman with green hair and fabulous stage-ready makeup, helps me find the things I need. Blush, brushes, contour, concealer, an eyeshadow palette all find their way into my house. I have four makeup brushes now! I’m still not sure what all of them are for.
I practice a few days before the big event. I open the eyeshadow palette and discover, to my dismay, that the colors have descriptive adjectives instead of names. Do I want to wear “chatty” or “cozy?” “Flirty” or “amorous?” Whatever happened to amber, teal, cherry and brown? I sigh and get on with practice. Each time I get a little better. Except for the dark lipstick, which is an unmitigated disaster. I go to wipe it off of my lips, and instantly the whole area around my mouth becomes dark red. I look like a terrifying clown. The makeup remover wipes bleed dark red as I swipe them over my lips again and again. Good thing it’s practice! Note to self — dark red lip color, not good.
Days later, it’s finally time to dance, and I must put the stage makeup on for our performance. I place all my new tools on the counter before me and take a deep breath. I prime. I brush, I blend. I contour. I blend some more. I create a smoky eye. I look at myself in the mirror. It’s all looking really good. I feel a rush of pride.
Now it’s time to put on the false eyelashes.
Hmmm. I haven’t done that in a while.
I squeeze a tiny bit of glue onto the lower rim of the false lashes. A bit of glue leaks on to the lashes, and I try to flick it off, but instead it smears into the lashes. Maybe it will be all right, I think, and I close my eye, trying to apply the lashes just over the lash line.
I squint with my open eye to see what I am doing. I line it up and press down…and miss. I try again and miss, again.
Five seconds later, my eye makeup smeared, the false eyelashes still in my fingers, I realize that I have glued my left eyelid to itself.
Unfortunate words spew from my mouth as I try to flick the glue-laden lashes from my fingers so I can liberate my eyelid from itself. I gape briefly at the mirror and see that I’m less Glamour Barbie and more a cast member in Monsters, Inc. Not exactly the look I’m going for.
A few gallons of water and makeup remover later, I have freed my eyelid, but my eyes look like something you might see on Halloween, or in your nightmares. So I start over, bring it back to something close to a smoky eye — a misty eye, perhaps.
I forgo the false eyelashes. I succumb to the failure. Those are a lesson for another time.
I have to remind myself that this is only the second or third time I’ve ever used stage makeup. So eyelid-gluing aside, I’m probably not doing so bad.
In fact, if I keep at it for another 30 years, I might become an expert. And hopefully, sometime during those three decades, I might learn how to keep the glue off my eyelids and on the eyelashes. One thing is certain: I will never become good at stage makeup — or anything else — if I don’t try. You have to start somewhere, and that means lots of tries and fails. Practice may not make perfect, but one day I hope to create a passable smoky eye along with beautiful lashes.
My epic, eyelid-gluing moment reminded me that the only people who never fail are those who don’t try anything. So the next time I have the opportunity to put on stage makeup, or write an essay, or try something new, I’ll do my best not to let the fear of failure get in the way.
Here’s a successful moment with the false eyelashes. There’s no photographic evidence from the failures.