A Conversation with Makeup Designer Joe DuLude ll

by Michael Eddy
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Joe Dulude II made a name for himself with his first Broadway Makeup Designer credit, you may have heard of it, the show was Wicked, The Musical. Fifteen years later the show is still running and so is Dulude’s lengthy credits list. He has continued to work on multiple Broadway shows, often concurrently at a time, and his numerous Broadway, Off-Broadway, and West End credits include SpongeBob The Musical, Torch Song Trilogy, Summer, Sunday in the Park with George, Holiday Inn, Anastasia, Allegiance, Dr. Zhivago, On the Town, If/Then, Beautiful, The Wedding Singer, Grease!, Follies, Jekyll & Hyde, along with several touring productions. He has won both an Etsy Design Award and Local 706 Makeup and Hair Guild Award. Dulude’s work can be seen on the big and small screen as well. His film and television credits include Jesus Christ Superstar Live on NBC, Detroit, The Discovery, Ghostbusters, Manchester by the Sea, and Central Intelligence. He enjoys sharing what he has learned applying his craft and teaches theatrical makeup at Muhlenberg College and the Hartt School. He also presents worldwide for The Powder Group, Kryolan, The Makeup Show. 

I had the pleasure of speaking with Dulude late this past summer while he was working as a program director for Camp Highlight, a camp for children that have LGBTQ parents. Dulude has taken the time to work with the camp for the last six years. A role, it was obvious, he is just as passionate about as his ‘day job’. I had not spoken before with Dulude, but I have to say that his enthusiasm for his work, his art, and the theater community was inspiring. 

 

Stage Directions: I know Wicked was a big first step but tell us about the path of your career, how did you end up doing Wicked?

Joe Dulude ll: I loved monster movies as a kid. I’d always wanted to do makeup, but never knew how to get in to it. At that time, you know, there weren’t celebrity makeup artists. Makeup artists weren’t known. Very few people really wanted to be a makeup artist. I didn’t really know what path to go. When I moved to New York, I worked on St. Marks in a punk rock, rock and roll clothing store and I would wear makeup on myself. I was all self-taught. But photographers and stylists would come in and say, ‘Hey, are you a makeup artist?’ I would say, ‘Yes, I am’ and they would have me work a photo shoot, and I was paid with prints of the photos. That’s how I started to learn more and learn about lighting. I had done theater in the past, I had acted, so I knew a little bit about lighting. But I learned on those photo shoots as I went along. Then I worked for MAC Cosmetics for five and a half years, eventually became manager, so I learned a lot more there. My background was editorial fashion, and I’d done some television at that point while I was working for MAC.

I had moved to LA to do more film and television, and to study; I wanted to study. As I was establishing myself in LA, I went back to New York Fashion Week for the Style Network and my friend Kate Best called me and said, ‘Hey, I’m doing Into The Woods with Vanessa Williams and I need to take a couple nights off. Can you come and cover for me?’. I said sure and covered for her, and the two shows turned in to eight shows after which I then went back to LA. She had me fly back to NY to cover for her again the following week after; when she flew me in the third time she said, "Can you come and take over the show for me?" I said yes because it gave me the opportunity to get into the union, which was something that I had been figuring out how to do, even when I was in LA, so I said yes. So after only seven months in LA, I moved back to NY and took over the last two months of Into the Woods

Susan Hilferty was costume designer for Into the Woods and I knew she was doing Wicked. I had read the book twice and loved it. I said to her that I would love to work on Wicked, not even designing just work on it like I had been doing on Into the Woods. A few months later, I get a call from her office saying Susan would like me to come in and interview to design the makeup for Wicked. I was like, ‘Okay, sure.’ Thinking, I didn’t really have a book because a lot of the stuff I had been doing in LA wasn’t editorial anymore. It was a lot of E! True Hollywood stories and stuff like that; very simple makeup. Susan’s office said to just bring whatever pictures I had and that they didn’t really need to see my book. They just needed to get an idea of my work. They were looking for someone who had an editorial background because they didn’t want it to look like typical theater makeup. That’s how I got the job. 

At the time, I was too afraid to just be a makeup designer, I didn’t have the confidence in my skills that I should have had then. So I hired myself to work on the show as well. So, I had a full time job, and I did the Broadway company for a little over a year, then I went on the tour for four years and San Francisco for two, and then finally was done with it. During that time, I made sure that my contract let me go and design other shows, if the opportunity arose. I did some other shows here and there, and I set up all the other Wicked productions that happened worldwide. It was nice. That enabled me to get the confidence to be able to finally say ‘look, this is what I’m going to do now.’ 

 

Can you talk a little bit about the importance of collaborations as a makeup designer with either the costume designer, director, or an actor as a makeup designer? 

One of my favorite things is collaborating with people. I may have some ideas, but then I could get one word or one sentence from a costume designer, or a director, or even an actor that I’m working with and it can spur something in me that makes me think of something else. In collaborations, you become more creative, and you come up with more ideas because you need that outside influence. You need someone to be talking to you and giving you ideas, and spurring your own work. I love it.

In theater, you know, it’s a collaboration with the wig designer; you’re working together to create things. Chuck [Charles] LaPointe and I work together a lot since Wicked. We have a great collaboration and work back and forth with ideas. The costume designers are the biggest collaboration I think that you have as a makeup designer, because the costume designer is the person that hires you. You work with them, you see what their ideas are for this world, where they’re going for it. Then you take that, and you make it into your own. It’s always bouncing back and forth. Like on SpongeBob, I designed that show three times because I couldn’t get exactly what David [Zinn], was going for at first. I had done a bunch of different designs—they weren’t quite right; I couldn’t get it. I kept doing my research and then he said something to me about his ideas and something clicked in my head. Without that back and forth, I don’t think I could’ve gotten it. So, I think collaboration is one of the most important parts of theater, because you’re all working together to create one vision and one world. If any one of you throws things off by not listening to the others, it can disrupt everything.

Another great collaboration with a costume designer was for Sunday in the Park with George. That was because I got to do the kind of makeup on stage I don’t usually get to do. Clint [Ramos] said ‘I want fresh, dewy, editorial makeup’. I was like, ‘Ah, yes, I never get to do this. Thank you!’ so, everybody had dewy skin, it looked like it was reflective. I used a lot of creams on the faces, cream shadows, cream blushes. I used these really soft, beautiful bright colors. I was pulling some of the colors from the Seurat painting and taking from their costumes, because it was all blocks of color. Then when they got into that pose of the painting, it made me so happy It looked so beautiful with everything. It was just such a great experience to do that. 

 

Collaboration is also essential since we know the the audience will make subconscious decisions just from the appearance of a character.

Absolutely, decisions about the way that they look. It’s part of the whole look—the costume, the hair, and the makeup. That’s why it’s important to work together, because we create that character. For example, look at Madame Morrible from Wicked, she was one of my favorite designs I have ever done. She walks out onstage, in that costume, in that makeup, in that wig, and you’ve already made your assumptions about her. You think you know who she is, just from that first step out on to the stage. When I watch it in the audience, I can hear the people around me, they like gasp when she walks out. It’s like this gasp of ‘oh my God, look at her! She’s so crazy and over the top!’ And then her character develops and there are subtle changes that happen with her makeup and with her wig, and as her costumes change, when her character starts to change. It’s just these small things until it gets to this extreme thing at the end, and then you’re like wow, it really makes a difference when you see that.

 

You’ve done such a range of shows. From green-faced wicked witches, to everyday street looks. Talk a little bit about the fact that makeup design doesn’t necessarily mean extreme makeup. I’m not sure that everybody understands that there’s a lot of research involved in an everyday look.

Yes, I think that’s the biggest thing. I love researching. I’ve become a wiz at Google search. I’ve been able to reword some of my searches to find things, because I tell my students this all the time. If you go and you search in Google for "1920's makeup," you are going to get modern people's interpretations of 1920's makeup. You’re not going to get images of actual 1920's makeup. You have to figure out how to reword your research so that you can get pictures actually from the 1920s. You have to research what 1920's makeup really was. Why did people do that kind of makeup? What was happening politically at the time, that then people did it. 1920's makeup isn’t always the prettiest makeup on people, but everybody loves it. Everybody wants to do it, but there was a reason why it was so extreme. You know, because of what was happening. Because women were finally able to cut their hair, they were able to wear trousers, they had this freedom that they didn’t have at the beginning of the century. This is why it went to such an extreme, because you get this freedom and it goes really far.

Once you understand what that climate is, then you understand where the makeup comes from. Why the makeup was the way it was. It’s not about just looking at a picture and being like, okay this is what they did. You need to know why did that happen? Then you can interpret it better, because on stage, you do have to alter things. Like for On the Town, which was 1940. 1940's eyeliner is a liquid eyeliner that went from one end of the eye to the other. On stage that doesn’t work because it doesn’t allow the eyes to be pulled out. So it makes the eyes look closer together. So you have to wing out that eyeliner a little bit more than you would in a traditional 1940's.

I think researching for a specific period is really important. That is one thing that does bother me when I go to a show that is supposed to be a specific period, and the makeup is not in that period. Like I said, I know you have to adjust sometimes; I’ve had to adjust for certain period shows, for the lighting, for stage, etc., but it should still hold up to that period. And it always bothers me when I see shows where it’s set in like the late 1800s, early 1900s and some one is wearing sparkly eye shadow or red, bright red shiny lips.

 

Have you had to shift palettes or do more test studies now that some of the lighting has shifted over to LEDs? Or that theaters are starting to bring cameras in with projection and things like that? 

Yes, definitely. I’ve had certain colors that I would always use. MAC is a big supporter of my shows that I do, and you know I’ve had certain colors from MAC that I’ve used in shows all the time. Then all of a sudden, you find, oh, this isn’t looking right anymore. Something’s different, it’s not looking the way that it used to. Then it’s about needing to change colors; finding something that works. I actually have a great little lip palette now of colors from MAC that work really well for sort of neutral colors. Like in Anastasia. When they go into the 1920s, they wear red lips, but before that when they’re like the princesses, or when they’re the regular everyday people on the street, they have to have these sort of lip colors that don’t look like lip color, because those people weren’t wearing makeup. But, at the same time I can’t put them in no lip color because then it’s too harsh. Yet, I can’t put them in a crazy lip color, because I don’t want them to look glamorous. So, I’ve been able to find these colors that have a little pop of color, that it gives them a little bit of life. We’re not creating realistic communism on the stage for the show; we’re creating a stylized version of it. So I give them a little bit of color, but it doesn’t make them look like they’re wearing makeup. So the palettes and some of the colors that I use have changed as the lighting has changed. So yes, it has changed over time and will continue to I expect. 

And it changes with lighting designers. Certain lighting designers have certain styles. Ken Posner’s one of my favorites. I’ve worked with him on many things, and I love, love, love his lighting. He’s one that I always work closely with, we have a great relationship ever since Wicked. He sat down and went through every single green gel that he had in the spotlight with me. We looked at it with the green makeup on, and I would be like yes, this works, this works, that doesn’t work, and then he narrowed it done. He’d be like, ‘Well I’m thinking this. This makes it look a little brighter in the scene, and I want to go for something a little more dramatic in this scene, so does this work for you?’. It is always great to have that collaboration.

So yes, there is change but I think that no matter how old you are, you’re never done with education. You can always learn something else, and I think being in the makeup industry in particular, that’s something that I think people might not understand. They feel very comfortable with what they do, and they don’t want to step outside of that. Some people are still doing makeup that they did 10 years ago. But the world isn’t the same, fashion isn’t the same, makeup isn’t the same. The composition of makeup, the ingredients, it changes. There’s new technology now in makeup as well. There’s really great makeup to use for stage that people don’t even know about. For me It’s really nice to be able to bring some of the companies that I’ve worked with outside of theater, into the theater and get people knowledgeable about them.  You have to be able to evolve with everything that’s evolving around you. 

 

Was there a piece of advice that you got during your career, maybe at the start, that you still hold through today?

I think I learned from all the people that I worked with on Wicked, because that was my first time designing for theater. So the thing that I most remember is how supportive everybody was. When we did our out of town of Wicked in San Francisco, the people that were in the hair department, who were also makeup artists, they were helping me out. They were giving me products and telling me about things that I didn’t know about for theater. And I think that is still the one thing that has stuck with me, and I think that’s about collaboration. Something that I’ve always held to, and always done myself, is asking for help and giving help. 

Later in my career, when I started writing, I was writing a play for a festival, and I have a friend who’s an amazing writer, Janelle Lynch. She gave me two pieces of advice that I do tell my students a lot. She said, ‘Let your characters tell your story.’ And she said, and this is the best quote that she said, ‘Don’t be afraid to kill your baby. Don’t be afraid to let go of the things that you really love.’ And she is so right, because sometimes we get so attached to something, like for makeup for example, you get so attached to a design you don’t want to change anything about it. But I think in time, letting go of it, and changing it, could actually make something even more beautiful and better. Those two pieces of advice have stuck with me in everything that I’ve done.

In the 15 years since Wicked opened, what has surprised you about your career?

So much. I mean the biggest surprise for me is the people—some of the people I’ve gotten to work with—and some of the people I’ve gotten to meet. You know, when you’re growing up and you admire these people, you see people on television or in movies and never think that one day you’ll meet them, or you’ll become friends with them. That their phone number will be in your phone and you can text them anytime. All the time I look at my life, and I just look at how amazing its been and how incredible the journey has been. Sometimes it doesn’t feel real. I think about the Emmy nomination; I just think it’s still not real. I don’t think it’ll actually sink in that it’s real until I’m there at the awards. [Dulude was nominated for his makeup design for Jesus Christ Superstar Live on NBC.] Sometimes I’m overwhelmed with where my life has brought me and the amazing things that I’ve been able to do. I have been doing makeup for 20 years, and I've been designing for theater for 15 years, and I'm still learning. That is exciting to me as an artist.