An interview with Campbell Young: The Hair and Makeup Designer for the West End Musical 'Company'
Campbell Young is an established wig maker, hair, and makeup designer within Broadway, the West End, opera, television and film. Covering the likes of Les Miserables, Matilda, Mamma Mia and Company, including huge TV shows such as Doctor Who, Orange is the New Black and House of Cards. Here Campbell shares his experiences so far and what wig making entails with Mandy News.
Campbell, tell us a little bit about how you first got involved in wig making, hair, and make-up design?
I originally started playing with hair when I was very young. I always loved hair and then became a hairdresser in the 1970s. I worked in some great salons in Australia and in London.
Then, in the late 1980s, I started playing with wigs and dressing wigs. In 1990 I came from Australia to live in London, to work out how to become a wig maker.
So how did that then lead you to working in theatre, opera, television, and film?
I was an assistant to a wig maker who worked in opera and film. Anything that had hair in it, we’d do. I just gradually got into designing and got asked to do more shows. I started with small plays, operas, various – Scottish Opera, the Welsh National Opera, Opera North – and theatres in Europe.
Then I started to learn to do make-up and could do the overall thing – hair, make-up and wigs.
Could you tell us a little bit more about your company, Campbell Young Associates, and when you met your business partner, Luke? How your roles are within the company and what has changed since 2003?
Luke and I used to both work at the Monnaie, the Opera House in Brussels. Luke was a permanent staff member there and I came in as a designer and did some operas there. We worked a lot together in opera in Europe and he then came to join my company.
That’s how we expanded into America: I had done some work there but Luke was interested in working in New York so we decided to open up a studio there.
We’ve had the studio there since 2009 and Luke has been working with me since 2007, I think.
What point do you become involved in a production? When and how do you get approached, etc.?
We normally get asked either by the director, the producer, the costume designer or an actor. That’s how it starts. For example, we’ve just done Tina Turner the musical and were asked by the director and the set and costume Designer if we would be interested in doing the hair for them.
You get your work from different angles, in different ways. Most of the time it’s usually from the director or the costume designer.
What is the process of creating pieces? Is there a standard turnaround for it or is each thing bespoke?
Everything is bespoke. It’s all varied, depending on what show it is. If we’re doing Tina Turner: The Musical, we’re doing all sorts of hair; Afro hair, 1960s hair, 1970s hair.
When we did Hello, Dolly the musical from Broadway, it’s all period, but it’s got to look like heads of hair. Sometimes we do some fairly outrageous stuff, where you need to use bright colours and things like that, but most of our work is creating heads of hair.
What is the process of actually making a wig?
You have a conversation, usually with the actor and the director, discussing what hair colour, what type and what style. When we’re doing something like Tina Turner: The Musical, we have lots of reference pictures to go from, because we’re basically replicating that. If we’re doing an opera, there’s a concept idea – it’s completely open, you can have black hair, orange hair, green hair.
It’s all bespoke. A good hand-made wig normally takes between 80 to 100 hours to make.
Does the process change in terms of timelines when you’re working in theatre, opera, television or film?
With television and film you’re being observed closer, so yes the process is a little bit finer: we use the same technique, but we use a different form of lace. On a play, the actual wig needs to be a little bit more robust, because they’re doing eight performances a week, sometimes 52 weeks a year.
When we’re doing film stuff, it’s lighter; it’s only going to be used for a maximum of 12 hours or something like that.
What are the biggest challenges that you face?
Numbers. When you have a huge show with a lot of wigs – like 140 – it’s just getting everything done.
We did Spiderman on Broadway, 8-9 years ago, and that had a lot of different types of wigs.
How many people do you have working on a project at any given time?
In our studio here we have about 14 people, then in our studio in New York we have six people. We also have various people who work from home who we call ‘outworkers’.
So, sometimes 20-25 people working on a show. It depends on how big the show is.
What are you currently working on? Or what are your plans for the future?
We are working on Company at the Gielgud Theatre and two big tours for America; one for Hello, Dolly and one for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. We are also making wigs for Downtown Abbey the film.
What advice do you have for somebody wanting to get into wig-making and hair and make-up design?
Hard work, observation and tenacity.