Match the hair to the character.
The tall bee hive in the back definitely belongs to Edna. The blond bouffant with the side curls has to belong to Amber.
And the three identical wigs of black hair surely belong to the Dynamites.
The Dynamites are the trio of Supremes-like black women who sing “Welcome to the Sixties” in the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical Hairspray.
It’s the same musical that opened July 8 on Baton Rouge Little Theater’s Main Stage and continues Thursdays through Sundays until July 31. The musical is set in 1962, when bouffants and flips replaced ponytails as the “in” ‘dos.
And they’re definitely the rave in the little theater’s wig shop on this particular afternoon. It’s the Sunday before opening night, and the show’s details are beginning to take shape.
“What do you think of this?” Aaron Kinchen asked.
He combs out a wig atop Marion Bienvenu’s head.
“It’s Tracy,” she said.
She’s right. This hair, puffed and flipped, definitely belongs to Tracy Turnblad, Hairspray’s optimistic main character. Bienvenu plays Turnblad in this production; Lester Mut will wear the bee hive as Tracy’s mom Edna. The role traditionally goes to a man.
Shelly Regner will wear the blonde wig as Tracy’s teen rival, Amber.
Kinchen has designed them all. The wigs, that is.
“I got the go-ahead from Keith (Dixon, the director) to start working on them after they finished Guys and Dolls in March,” Kinchen said.
“I worked on some of them in New York and shipped them, and I worked on some while I was in St. Louis and shipped them.”
But the bulk of the work is happening here, in the wig shop, where Kinchen began working at 6 p.m. the day before.
Kinchen flew into New Orleans earlier that afternoon after building wigs for the Opera Theatre of St. Louis, then rented a car and drove directly to Baton Rouge Little Theater, where he immediately began working on the Hairspray wigs. He worked late into the night, then returned to the theater, which is where he is now, combing, cutting, styling. And pointing out which wig belongs to which character.
“This is my first time to design a show,” he said.
“I’m from Baton Rouge; I graduated from Central High School. My parents live here, so this is a chance for me to see them.”
It’s also a prime chance to put his own touch on this musical. Not that he hasn’t previously worked with musicals.
Kinchen has actually worked on Broadway shows, beginning with Wicked. His current gig is with the Metropolitan Opera. He’s styled wigs, built them. But he’s never designed an entire show until now.
“I don’t know if having a community theater production of Hairspray on my resum? will help me get other shows when I return to New York,” Kinchen said.
But it can’t hurt.
Kinchen will have this show on his resum? when he returns to New York and begins knocking on theater doors.
“I’m going to prepare to build wigs for the Met’s full season, and I’m going to try to get on a show,” he said. “There are several new shows that are opening, and I’m going to try to get on one of those. I’ll drop off my resum? at the stage door and leave a cover letter and tell them I’m interested in a swing position.”
A swing position is theater lingo for substitute. If the wig stylist isn’t able to work during a show, the swing takes his or her place for the night.
“And one of those swing positions hopefully will become a permanent position,” Kinchen said.
This may one day lead to the opportunity to design a new Broadway show.
Everything happens in steps, and one of the final steps here is fitting wigs on actors. Oh, there will be extra trimming here and curling there. Some color will be added to the wigs’ synthetic fibers, too.
But when fitting the first of three Tracy wigs on Bienvenu, it’s clear that the job on this ‘do is almost done.
Bienvenu turns her head, feeling the curl of the flip bounce against her neck.
“So much body,” she said. “I’m excited about this.”
The other actors have yet to show up for their fittings, giving Kinchen more time to tweak their wigs. This is a job that never seems to have a clear ending.
Kinchen always sees something he can do to make the wig’s style a little better.
And who would ever have thought he’d return to hair after working in journalism? Yes, Kinchen has his cosmetologist’s license. He worked 10 years as a hairstylist in Miami, then New York before earning his journalism degree. He was working for a public broadcasting station in New York when the slow economy forced the station to lay off staff. Kinchen suddenly found himself without a job, and he wasn’t interested in returning to a beauty shop.
“I really didn’t like working with the clientele,” Kinchen said.
But working with hair minus the clientele was a possibility. Kinchen was given that chance two years ago.
“I’m a member of the Gay Men’s Chorus in New York,” he said. “A friend in the chorus is the wigmaster for Wicked, and he told me I could come work in his wig studio.”
Kinchen certainly had the experience, and journalism jobs were not plentiful in the city. So, he accepted his friend’s offer.
“The money was pretty good,” Kinchen said.
And the work is steady.
“The top of this wig is ventilated, so you can put a pin right here,” Kinchen said, pushing a pin through the top of Bienvenu’s wig. “That will keep it in place ? this wig isn’t coming off.”
He gazes around the wig shop, which really is a makeshift space in the back of the theater. He learned of the little theater’s staging of the show through Mut.
Mut is a member of Baton Rouge’s Krewe of Apollo, which celebrated its 30th anniversary in the past year. Kinchen is a fan of the krewe and contacted Mut about designing a wig to go with Mut’s krewe captain costume.
“I designed the wig, but I didn’t style it,” Kinchen said. “One of Lester’s friends styled it, and it turned out gorgeous. But I designed it with a pinned lace, which allows it to fit on the head, but you don’t notice the lace, because it looks like the hairline.”
That wig is one of at least two Mut will be wearing in this show. It’s now clear that Kinchen took Mut’s advice and contacted Dixon about designing wigs for Hairspray.
Dixon gave Kinchen the OK, and Kinchen began looking through wig stores for the looks he wanted.
“We’re working with synthetic wigs,” Kinchen said.
“Wigs made of real hair have a longer shelf life. The Met has wigs that have been in use for 30 years.”
He removes the second Tracy wig from Bienvenu’s head and replaces it with the third. This one is smooth with no bouffant, signifying Tracy’s individuality at the play’s end.
“I’m most excited about this one,” Bienvenu said.
This triggers a thought. Kinchen remembers a wig he was most excited about, too.
He’d worked three weeks at the Opera Theatre of St. Louis, which staged four operas while he was there. It’s the image of the wig he helped build for the opera’s production of Pelieas et Melisande that stays with Kinchen.
“We had to build a wig that was 7 feet long for Melisande,” Kinchen said.
The process was both tedious and stressful. The longest hair extensions are 3 feet, so this wig had to be layered in such a way that the hair appeared to be continuous in its flow.
“I’ve never cried over a wig, but I cried over this one when I saw it on stage,” Kinchen said. “I was extremely proud of it.”
There are other things that cause him to tear up every now and then. Mardi Gras scenes will do it. Hearing a recording of the LSU Tiger Band playing the first four notes of “Tiger Rag” in its pre-game song will, too.
“In the song, it says, ?I want to be a part of it,’ when talking about New York,” Kinchen said. “Well, there’s something to be said about being a part of this, too - being a part of south Louisiana. It’s special.”
For now, it’s the home to Tracy Turnblad, her mom Edna, as well as all the other characters who make up the musical world of Hairspray.
Bienvenu is now gone from the wig shop, leaving behind her Tracy Turnblad hairstyles to mingle with the others.
Though the wigs are faceless, they’re not without character. It’s easy to match names to hairstyles here.
This means Kinchen has accomplished his mission.