Wigging Out in Ashland

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“These, over here,” points Caitlynn Adlard, smiling modestly as she gestures to a nearby array of shelves, “are our heads.”

Well, yes they are. Those are heads. To be specific, mannequin heads. Lightbulb-shaped and largely featureless, the disembodied crania are mostly bald at the moment, though several of them do boast wildly elaborate and very realistic wigs.

“Most of these wigs are made of human hair,” explains Adlard. “Human hair is the best.”

Welcome to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival Wig Shop, in Ashland, Oregon, where Adlard has just begun a four-month stint as an assistant wig builder. The shop is tucked off in a corner of the vast, underground labyrinthine directly beneath the Angus Bowmer Theater, one of the three world-class theater venues where OSF annually produces a rotating repertory of eleven different shows, running between February and October. The first four shows of 2017 — “Henry IV, part one,” “Shakespeare in Love,” “Mojada: a Medea in Los Angeles,” and “Julius Caesar” — all opened at the end of February, and will be joined, over the next few months, by several very ambitious new “wig shows.” They include this April’s “Unison,” a world premiere showcasing the poetry of playwright August Wilson, plus this June’s world-premiere of “The Odyssey” — developed by Tony-winning director Mary Zimmerman — followed by an elaborate staging of Shakespeare’s “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” and a new spin on the beloved Disney musical “Beauty and the Beast.”

Adlard, already at work building wigs for the March 29 opening of “Hannah and the Dread Gazebo,” will be helping to build hairpieces for some or all of the summer shows.

“The summer shows are all going to be big, big shows,” remarks Devon K. Ash, OSF’s designated Wig Master. In charge of builds and styling decisions for all the shows, Ash has been with the company since 2011, and Adlard — raised in Petaluma, and initially trained at Santa Rosa’s Summer Repertory Theater program — admits she is thrilled to be working with such experienced professionals at a company as renowned as the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

The lifelong theater-lover has spent the past few years in Las Vegas, where she’s been working on the recently ended song-and-dance spectacle, “Showstoppers,” at the Wynn Hotel and Casino.

“That was a huge show,” Adlard says. “There were 125 wigs. I was originally hired to just keep track of the wigs and make sure everything was ready for the next show, but I gradually got more and more involved with the wigs as the show progressed.”

Even before “Showstoppers” officially ended its two-year-long run on Dec. 31, Adlard was busy looking for her next gig, assuming it would also be in Las Vegas.

Then the Oregon Shakespeare Festival job opening appeared.

“I thought it was a long shot, because my resume is not really that long yet,” admits Adlard, who ended up getting the call to come out to Ashland. Adlard says she is always willing to change states and climates, for the right opportunity. “I will travel anywhere that gives me a chance to do theater,” she smiles. Still, this California native does allow that relocating from the desert to the mountains of Oregon has been more-than-a-bit dazzling. “It snowed here last week,” she says with a laugh. “I couldn’t get my car to drive up the hill to my apartment, until some nice people came out and gave me some help.”

Though Adlard has for years been hearing about the quality of the productions at OSF, she’s never had the opportunity to catch any of those shows — until four days ago.

“”Julius Caesar” was the first show I’ve ever seen at OSF,” she says. “I’ve seen it twice now, because I’m going to be running the wigs during the show.”

That means she’ll be present for every performance of “Julius Caesar,” preparing the wigs, assisting the actors in putting their hairpieces in place, making adjustments as needed, and caring for the wigs between performances.

And this is where she’ll be spending a lot of her time — down in the caverns beneath the theater, where it’s noisier than one might expect, even hours before the next performance. Currently, one can hear a long series of loud booms and crashes overhead, as the transition team dismantles the set for “Caesar” — which runs every three or four days — and installs the massive set for this evening’s performance of “Shakespeare in Love.”

“”Shakespeare” is our biggest show this season, in terms of cast,” notes Ash, as Adlard points out a number of wigs, mounted on their mannequin heads, waiting on yet another shelf. Towering above the others is one particularly intricate hairpiece, worn in the show by actor Kate Mulligan, who plays Queen Elizabeth. Nearby are drawers with wigs and wig-pieces in plastic Ziplock bags, and a wall-mounted board with various fake beards and mustaches.

Ye Old Wall of Facial Hair.

“We do the beards and mustaches, too,” says Adlard. “If it’s hair, it’s done by the wig shop.”

As Cherelle Guyton, OSF’s Wig and Hair Supervisor, steps into take a look at some of the current “build projects — specially designed wigs in the process of being built to specifications — Adlard steps into a smaller side-room with two “beauty shop” chairs, where the actors come to have their wigs securely put in place.

“Wigs and hair are more personal than costumes,” says Adlard, who is also a skilled costumer, and enthusiastic “cos-play” practitioner. “Doing costumes can be fun,” she says, “but with wigs, you are really working closely with the actors, because, you know, you are actually touching their head. You get to talk to them, so you really get to know them after a while. You get a much stronger feel of who they are then when you are just doing costumes.”

Adlard is hoping that her contract with OSF — which currently lasts through June and the opening of the outdoor Elizabethan Theater — will be extended through the end of the 2017 season, so she can see the wigs she’ll be building in action on stage. Perhaps she’ll even get to run the wigs for another show.

“I’d love to do that, to keep working here in Ashland,” she says. ”But even if it’s just until June, or just through October, it’ll still have been an amazing and valuable experience, and a really great way to continue my training. I mean, this is one of the best theater companies in the world, right? However long I get to be here, I know I’m never going to forget it.”

(Contact David at david.templeton@arguscourier.com)

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