Agropoli Where were you born?
Pawtucket, Rhode Island
http://carlabaz.com/shop/?orderby=price-desc Where do you live now?
Pawtucket, Rhode Island
What’s your sign?
As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
An archaeologist or a paleontologist. I was a big nerd even back then. I loved the idea of traveling around the world and discovering remnants of the past and trying to put it together to tell the story of these people who left these items behind.
How did you get your start in makeup?
I always had a fascination with makeup since I was a kid, watching old horror movies like Dracula and Frankenstein. I did theater, as both a performer and backstage, throughout high school and college. In college I took one makeup class for stage with one of the most interesting and knowledgeable women I have ever known — Barbara Matheson. I learned so much about reshaping the structure of the face, and transformation, in her class. She brought me on to design the makeup for a production of Sweeney Todd that the college was putting on. After college I moved to Atlanta and worked in a clothing store where I’d do makeup for our fashion shows and shoots. Then I moved to NYC and was working at yet another store, Trash & Vaudeville, when my best friend James Vincent, who had been working for MAC for years, said I should apply to work at MAC and be a makeup artist. I didn’t even think that was a thing. I thought makeup artists were only special FX and that it took lots of training and you had to live in LA to do that. But I took his advice and applied at the MAC in Soho that had just recently opened. I interviewed and was hired as a cashier. That was the best school I could have ever gone to. I worked with, and learned from, some of the most amazing artists.
What was your first memorable work as an artist?
The first thing I remember doing that really struck me was an event I did with MAC called Take Home A Nude. We were paired up with models and then given a design created by a notable celebrity in the fashion, creative, performance and business worlds. Once done, the models were photographed and then were on display at a cocktail event, naked in just body paint. I was so nervous and for no reason. We had a great model to work with and the final work was something I was very proud of!
What are the things about your work that makes it the most interesting to you?For me creating character and creating worlds is the thing that I love doing the most in this industry. I love being able to take a script or an idea and then doing the research, finding the inspiration, creating a design and finally executing that design on myself or someone else. For example with Wicked, here was a world that already existed and was so well known, whether through the movie The Wizard of Oz or through all the L Frank Baum books. And here I got to create my own version and idea of this world. The same for Beetlejuice. Here is a design that is so ingrained in everyone’s heads. Ve Neil’s work on the movie is iconic. Then I get asked to design the musical using inspiration for Tim Burton’s art. How amazing is it to be asked to recreate something so iconic and make it your own?
What are the challenges you face working as a freelance artist?
The biggest challenge is getting work or knowing that work is coming. I have always had to put my faith in the universe that it will provide for me. Whenever I start to have doubt, the work disappears. Whenever I trust that I will be taken care of and that the right projects will come, they do. It is a hard journey to trust in your talents and trust that work will come your way. It is a struggle every day. Part of that struggle is choosing the projects to work on. Sometimes I think, well I’ll take this because I need the work or I haven’t designed a Broadway show in a while and I should keep my name out there. Then I take that project and suddenly all these other projects start to present themselves; projects that seem more exciting or that I would love to be a part of. So you’re always having this give and take. Should I take this? What if something better comes along? I just have to trust that the universe puts things in front of me for a reason.
What should someone who is looking to develop a career in makeup know before getting into the business?
This industry is tough. It is long hours and hard work. It is designing a Broadway show and getting paid less than what you deserve for the amount of work you’re putting into it. It is working 12 to 18-hour days on set in the heat, the cold, the rain. It is waking up for a 2:30am call when your body is used to waking up at 8am. It is dealing with some difficult personalities both on screen/stage and off. It is being the best you can be even when you don’t feel the best that you are. But it is also one of the most rewarding experiences you can have. When you see your creation come to life on stage or on screen — there is nothing to describe how that feels and how much joy it brings into your life. It is an amazing path to walk down, but it is not easy.
What are some of the most important qualities that a makeup artist can have?Kindness, respect, patience, determination and a positive attitude. The ability to be aware of specifically what you were hired to do and to do it — and to be where you need to be, when you need to be there. Talent goes without saying, but you may not be as talented or as fast as the person next to you, but what will make you stand out is a positive attitude and a willingness to do the job and do what is asked of you. Producers, department heads, performers will see this and this is why they will want to work with you again and again.
How do you continue to grow as an artist?
I love to learn. I feel like there is always something I can learn – and not just from someone who is more experienced than me. I love to learn from artists at all levels of experience. Expose myself to art in all its forms — theatre, dance performance, museums, concerts. I also take time for myself. We are always concerned with the next job and we work and work and work and we don’t take those self-care moments. If we’ve learned anything through the pandemic, it is that we need our “me” moments. Take yourself out on artist dates. It is so important to recharge so that you can come back more powerful and be an even better and more focused artist.
Do you have a project that you’ve done that you are especially proud of?
I’m proud of most of my projects. But, I have to say, the one I’m most proud of is Jesus Christ Superstar Live on NBC. This was the first television production I designed. I loved every moment of it. Here was a production that you could tell everyone from the highest level down wanted to be the best it could be. It was so collaborative and creative. I got to design makeup I don’t usually have the opportunity to. I was able to design custom tattoos that were mentioned in a Bill O’Reilly tweet. And I was nominated for an Emmy Award and got to attend the Emmy’s — which as a young gay boy growing up in Rhode Island and only seeing these events on TV, I never imagined that one day I would be walking that red carpet and having my picture taken at the step and repeat. Aside from the accolades, there was a really emotional moment when we were in tech and I was out in the audience seats watching the monitor. I got a little overwhelmed and I began to tear up. This was my work and people all over the world were going to be able to see it on their television. At that moment I think I was the most proud and the most grateful for my career and my work.
What project was the most challenging?
Beetlejuice had to be the most challenging show I’ve designed. That being said, it is one of my favorite shows I’ve designed. Usually when you are working on a show a director wants you to pull back or figure out ways to make things simpler. Alex Timbers, the director of Beetlejuice, didn’t want that. He pushed me to go further and push my design to a place I didn’t even think it could go. In most shows, if the ensemble have to be different characters, I try to design a makeup that can be built up so that very little has to change. But for Beetlejuice I have ensemble members who are getting in and out of full makeups at least four times in the show. It was a big challenge to figure out.
You work in many areas of makeup artistry — film, theater, educator, performance artist. What type of work is most transformative for you in your career?
The moment that I started doing drag and created the character of Mr. Drag has probably been most transformative for me. Drag has allowed me to open up and allow these qualities that are inside of me to be manifested externally. This is the power of drag and makeup, hair and costume. It allows you to be something you can’t be in your every day life. Mr. Drag has satisfied my performance itch, but also it has allowed me to write, direct and produce. I’ve created a whole world with several other characters and have performed shows in my former home of Western MA. It is truly rewarding to have people come up to me and say “Your show is something that our whole family can come to and enjoy and it is now a family tradition.” Who would have ever thought that would happen?
What would your clients say is the best thing about working with you?
I think people love working with me because they know I will do my job to the best of my ability. They know I am talented at what I do. I also approach each space with a very calm attitude. I don’t stress out about things. I try to stay positive and happy and feel I give off that energy. Clients and actors take that energy in and it calms them as well. I am also able to think quickly on my feet and change things up or fix things when they need to be fixed. I thank my days at MAC for that. Having worked runway shows and events where things changed at the drop of a hat, you had to be adaptable, you had to be quick and you had to be good. I truly don’t think I could have had any better training than that.
What inspires you?
Everything inspires me! Art, history, people, nature, books, films, TV shows, cooking, music. I can walk down the street and see the color of a sign and be inspired. Once I designed makeup for a runway show based on the color of killer ants that I saw in a documentary. Provincetown and its light is a constant inspiration. Walking through a museum and looking at the paintings or sculptures — seeing how those artists used color, shape, texture to create something very believable or totally abstract. Walking down the streets of New York or London and seeing people’s personal styles. I pull from everything around me.
Whose work do you admire?
The painting masters like Francis Bacon and Salvador Dali. The brilliantly talented film artists of Hollywood such as the Westmores, Ben Nye and Rick Baker to name a few. Photographers such as Avedon and Mapplethorpe. Then of course there are the pioneer makeup artists such as Pat McGrath, Ve Neill and Kevyn Aucoin. People who transformed the makeup world and showed us that you can think outside the box and be creative. Currently one artist that blows me away is Wendy Miyake. She is a brilliant artist, a beautiful person and I feel like she works miracles on everyone she touches
Any final thoughts on your life as an artist?
This career has allowed me to live an amazing and beautiful life. As a young gay boy growing up in the suburbs in Rhode Island, taping pictures of Cybil Shepherd on my wall and listening to Duran Duran, Eartha Kitt and Madonna, never would I have imagined the life that I have lived. I have had the opportunity to design some of the most iconic looks for Broadway, have worked with some of the most amazing artists and performers and I have gotten to travel the world. Not all of it was puppies and flowers and there have been some very tough times and some very hard lessons learned. And I have worked hard to get to where I am. But every day I wake up, I am so grateful for this life that the universe chose me to be a part of and I look forward to seeing where the next 50 years takes me!
Words Michael DeVellis
Photos Courtesy of Joe Dulude
Portrait Katie Ambrose @katieambrosephotography