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“Painting the face” online: how a stage makeup class is held virtually


The class that Lisa Martin-Stuart teaches, THE 151 — Stage Makeup, is just one of many studio art classes that has had to adjust to online learning.

Being in a tactile career field like theatre has proved to present many difficulties during this virtual era of learning.

Despite that, Martin-Stuart said there have been some surprising positives that came out of hosting the stage makeup class online, such as extra application and research time.

“I decided early on that the only way to teach it was going to be online,”  Martin-Stuart said. “You can’t do social distancing, and even then you would have to wear a mask, which then you can’t do makeup, so this was the best way.”

Students in the class research different looks, plot their execution of them and finally apply their makeup. Students’ before and after images are submitted before class and then are critiqued by Martin-Stuart during their synchronous classes.

Martin-Stuart defines applying theatre makeup as “painting the face.”

“It’s been interesting to be able to see their images on the screen because in some ways it accentuates things,” Martin-Stuart said. “They can kind of see more clearly where the highlights and shadows are.”

Different looks the students try in the class include a basic accentuation, heightened contour, celebrity likeness, reverse gender, aging, sugar skull and more. 

Maura Kesterson, a sophomore theatre and arts management double major, said the format of the class is not ideal, but she thinks it is going really well in spite of that. 

“It’s genuinely fun, which is not something you can say for a lot of classes in college sometimes,” Kesterson said. “When I do sit down and [am] able to to have a creative outlet and have something for class that allows you to express yourself, it’s a good way to have a little break even though I’m still doing an assignment.”

As part of the class fee, students were sent a makeup kit to use, which included everything from foundation colors to body wax.

Sometimes, Martin-Stuart does demonstrations for the students during class so they can see her face up close. 

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“They have an entire week to do the application, so in some ways, [being online] is allowing them a lot more time to work on their techniques and their skills,” Martin-Stuart said. “I’m already seeing some really great improvement in the work that they’ve done.”

Ben Capella, a sophomore theatre and computer science double major, said he was a little worried at the start of the class because it was such a hands-on subject.

“I don’t know anything about makeup,” Capella said. “So for me, being in this class and not being in person, I was afraid that I wasn’t going to learn anything.”

Overall, Capella is really pleased with how the class ended up working out.

“It’s as hands-on as it can be,” Capella said. “Even though it’s not in-person, it’s still really helpful.”

Capella said his next project is going to be trying to replicate a David Bowie look on himself, and he noted that Martin-Stuart has been really helpful in sending him resources for the look.

This academic year is Martin-Stuart’s first year as a full-time faculty member after being an adjunct at Miami for four years. 

Because of that, Martin-Stuart described this semester as “jumping into the deep end.”

“It has been interesting to try to work out the syllabus and curriculum all online,” Martin-Stuart said, “but I’ve been quite pleased, and I think the students are doing really well.”