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Flipping out over her wigs

ARTICLE BY TERRY BRYNE

Photography by Ashley Soong

The elaborate wigs in Actors’ Shakespeare Project’s “The School for Scandal,” including one that incorporates a bird’s nest complete with eggs, and another that meshes perfectly rolled curls with a frizzy jumble of hair in shifting shades of yellow and blue. 

Where: Multicultural Arts Center, Cambridge, MA www.actorsshakespeareproject.org

Amber Voner has designed nearly a dozen fantastical wigs for the outrageous crowd of 18th- century characters that cavort through Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s comedy, “The School for Scandal.”

“It’s all about character for me,” says Voner. “I love doing the research, learning who these people are, and figuring out how their hair can help convey their personality.”

She picks up the impossibly tall wig worn by Mrs. Candour. “Well, her name says it all. I try to make the wig offer the audience a little more information about the character to help them enter the world of the play.”

The wig for the aptly named Snake is a mostly black combination of tightly braided hair that extends out into a dreadlock-style look, all built onto a skull cap. “Snake is slimy and slippery,” says Voner, “so I also gave the wig a pointed widow’s peak.”

Voner, who grew up on Cape Cod, studied theatrical set design at Emerson College. “But then Rafael Jaen (a former costume design professor at Emerson College, now at UMass Boston) ‘stole’ me,” she says with a laugh. “He gave me the opportunity to play, to explore different ideas and possibilities with hair and makeup, and I never looked back.”

Voner says she loves the collaborative nature of theater and proudly pairs her wigs with costume designers’ Tyler Kinney and Jen Bennett’s stylish and playful frock coats and gowns.

“It’s important that the wigs complement the costumes, and then they also have to work within the parameters of the lights and the set,” she says. “But they also have to be sturdy, to survive a three-week run, and easy to take off and put on.”

Each wig, says Voner, comes with a chin strap to keep it secure, but the actors have told her they stand up straighter when they wear their towering tops, and it does help them think about how haughty their characters are.

“What can I say?” says Voner, who also designs hair and makeup at the American Repertory Theater. “I love heads.”