Photo: Sarah Corridon
Photo: Sarah Corridon

How are your wigs made?

For Ask MTC, our dedicated wigs and make-up artist Jurga Celikiene answers Hilary’s question about how we make our actors’ wigs – and details the journey of one wig over 14 years!

By Jurga Celikiene

With an extensive background in theatrical decorative arts, specialising in make-up and hair design, Jurga Celikiene started making wigs for MTC in 2005. Here, she answers Hilary’s question about the wig-making process. For further detail, have a look at this step-by-step breakdown of the Di and Viv and Rose wigs from 2017.

The wig-making process begins during the design stage when I am provided with images by the designer that illustrate the direction they want a particular character’s look to go in. Discussions with the designer and director help me in forming an idea of what the design goals are, what the wig should look like, and how it will help in characterisation. I also discuss with the actor how they see their character, and how the wig and its style would help develop the character.

I have to know what the style of the wig will be before I begin making it, because the style goals influence the technique of making the wig. Another big part of the initial discussion is the hair colour. The lighting needs to be considered. Sometimes I would need to have a discussion with the lighting designer to get an idea of how the wig will be lit. The actor’s skin tone also needs to be considered, as the colour should flatter their face and complexion. If a colour is required that I cannot make by dyeing, like grey or platinum blonde, we need to order it early on.

Making the Wig

The practical steps of making the wig begin with measuring the actor’s head and creating a mould-like structure of their skull out of glad-wrap and tape to assist in cutting and sewing together the lace that is the base of the wig. Individual strands of hair are then threaded into this lace base to create the wig. 

Almost all the wigs I create for MTC shows are later re-styled and used in other shows. Wigs from fake, synthetic hair are sometimes used when the design specifically calls for hair that looks fake, or hair that’s meant to look “wiggy”. In those instances I wouldn’t make a wig with synthetic hair, instead sourcing a pre-made synthetic wig and style it according to the design brief.        


‘The complete process of creating a fully hand-knotted wig from scratch takes 50 to 60 hours, depending on head size.’


After all the strands are threaded in and the wig is created, I cut and style the wig according to the design brief. After that, we have wig fittings with the actors, which sometimes coincide with final costume fittings. The designer, director and actor also make alteration and adjustment suggestions. After final adjustments, the wig is ready for the stage! The complete process of creating a fully hand-knotted wig from scratch takes 50 to 60 hours, depending on head size.

The Wig Paradox

I mentioned wigs being re-used for different shows. A good example is a wig that I used at least eight times throughout a period of about 14 years. My first job at the MTC was in 2005 on Cyrano de Bergerac. I selected a wig that was already in the wig stock – grey, medium-length hair – and styled it for Bob Hornery’s character in that show. After that, I continued to re-front and alter the wig as needed for Mitchell Butel in The Madwoman of Chaillot (2007), Kerry Walker in The Hypocrite (2008), Margaret Mills in Top Girls (2012), Brian Lipson in The Crucible (2013), Marg Downey in Rupert (2013), Heidi Arena in Born Yesterday (2017) and Miriam Margolyes in The Lady in the Van (2019).

The wig was used for men and women, and went from a size 57 to a size 60. It was altered so many times that one might liken this wig to the philosophical thought experiment of the Ship of Theseus (also known as Theseus’s paradox). I think that only a small portion in the middle remains the same now as it was in 2005; the other parts have been added and replaced. Is this the journey of one wig, then, or the journey of many wigs? Something to think about!

Have something to ask MTC? You can submit your question and in the coming weeks it might be yours that we answer.

Published on 29 September 2020

Explore More