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By Brian Robin

Aging Gracefully—How We Created the "Coleman ’72" Wigs

At the heart of Charlie Oh’s world premiere, Coleman ’72, is the concept of memory. How do we remember events from four decades ago? Oh wrote the play through the eyes of three siblings who hold different recollections of a memorable road trip from their childhood.

The three actors Tess Lina (Jenn), Jessica Ko (Michelle) and Ryun Yu (Joey) play their characters as kids—and as adults. Their mother, Annie, played by Jully Lee, is portrayed in her mid/late 30s and as an elderly woman. This presents an interesting challenge for SCR Hair & Makeup Supervisor Allison Lowery to capture the aging process going both forward and backward.

We caught up with Lowery and asked her how she skillfully pulled off this artful, time travel stagecraft.

Allison Lowery: “One of the challenges with doing a memory play like Coleman ’72is figuring out how to place all of the characters in time. Who is having the memory? Who is being remembered? How do we make this clear to the audience?

“In the hair and makeup department, we are always looking for ways to help tell a story. For Coleman72, the play takes place in 2010, with three adult children reminiscing about a road trip they took with their parents in the 1970s. This puts the children’s ages in their 50s. Their mother and father would be in their late 30s/early 40s in these memories. This gives us a unique situation on stage where the children should appear older than the actors playing their parents!

“We have added some gray hair, through extensions and a wig, to the children. James and Annie, the parents, have been designed to look younger, with fully dark hair. Costume designer Sara Ryung Clement has also designed a color palette where the children wear softer, dustier colors while the parents’ clothing is more vibrant, truer to the 1970s.

“We have used two wigs for the character of Annie. Her character is the link between time periods. She has a dark wig that she wears for most of the play, and then a much grayer wig that she wears when her character arrives in 2010.

“Jully Lee (Annie) has wonderful hair, but she needs to be able to change very quickly from one look to another. It is much faster to move from wig to wig than it is to move from the actor’s own hair to a wig. She changes back into young Annie at the end of the show, and she only has 45 seconds to do a complete costume and wig change!

“We always hope in a memory play that we can help give the audience that spark of recognition that ties the play to their own memories. ‘Oh my God, my mom has that exact haircut!,’ ‘I swear we had that exact casserole dish at grandma’s house!,’ or ‘That house in the photo projection looks just like my family’s old house in Wisconsin!’ These are great comments to hear, because it means that we, in the production department, have done our jobs to create a world that feels real and brings truth to the story.

“It’s never simply hair or a casserole dish—it is someone’s memory that takes them back to a specific time and place in their lives.”

About the author

South Coast Repertory

South Coast Repertory is a Tony Award-winning theatre is known for producing classics, contemporary hits and world premieres, for having the largest new-play development program in the nation and for advancing the art of theatre in service to the community. 

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