Cherelle Guyton: Artistry of Hair & Wig Design

by Porsche McGovern
Wig Mistress Cherelle Guyton prepares actress Briawana Jackson for a video shoot of Twelfth Night.  Photo: Jenny Graham
Wig Mistress Cherelle Guyton prepares actress Briawana Jackson for a video shoot of Twelfth Night. Photo: Jenny Graham

Cherelle Guyton currently works as the Wig and Hair Supervisor at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.  I met her after a panel discussion at the Theatre Communications Group conference in Portland, OR this year. Cherelle Guyton is an artist, entrepreneur, educator, designer and speaker.  She is the CEO and Designer of C Stylez U, LLC, a bi-coastal wig and makeup design business.  C Stylez U offers a variety of wig and makeup design services for theatre, tv/film, photography, marketing videos, commercials and also serves individual clients. She has designed over thirty-three productions to date, including Les Miserables, voted one of the 2015 "Best of Ashland" plays.

She has a  BA in Costume ,Wig, and Makeup Design, an MBA from Webster University, and an advanced MFA seminar certification in Period Styles for Wig and Hair Design from the University of South Carolina. Her career goals are to strengthen awareness, further knowledge and enhance hair, wig and makeup design aesthetic. 

Cherelle Guyton

How has being a person of color harmed and/or helped your career? 
I don’t necessarily know if I would use the word “harm” or phrase it that way. My existing and being a person of color hasn’t harmed my career.  I feel that “people” often use ethnicity as a covert mechanism to impact my career in negative ways, as an expression of their innate prejudices.   

As an African-American woman born and raised in the South, I’ve been blessed to have parents, family, friends, teachers and wise counsel who take pride in themselves and their culture.  To this end they are their own micro-historians --who’ve made sure that I’ve been mentally and emotionally equipped with the reality of the world.  They were very, very honest with me in regards to how our world viewed me and how it was going to be.  They prepared me to work three to four times harder than all of my counterparts, as they knew my race would set me back in society.  All of these teachings have proven to be invaluable jewels of knowledge.

In regards to how my race has helped: I’d say that just being Black is exquisite.  We have a rich history of culture and triumph.  Knowing that I’m black, knowing my history and knowing that the world awaits with obstacles and distractions motivates me to go harder.

The Wiz at Oregon Shakespeare Festival.  This show was a collaborative effort with my Wig Master Marcia, as this show was culturally and ethnically specific.  Photographer: Jenny Graham.  Costume Designer: Dede Ayite.  Wig Master: Marcia Willard.  Wig Builder & Stylist of Pictured Wig: Cherelle Guyton.  Actress: Britney Simpson as Glinda.

How has your race/ethnicity influenced your career journey?
I’ve always been fascinated with hair.  As a girl I didn’t always love my hair so throughout my life I’ve been on my own personal hair journey.  In my community hair was seen as a source of strength, protection and adornment.  My personal and professional journeys have allowed me to see hair through many different lenses.  These lenses have been particularly helpful with enhancing our Hair and Wig Department at OSF.  For the past few seasons I’ve worked with our Artistic Department, Costume Designers, and the Wig Department to meet the creative needs of our culturally diverse acting company.  My goal is for our hair and wig designs to authentically and accurately represent our casts.

UniSon at OSF.  Photographer: Jenny Graham.  Costume Designer: Dede Ayite.  Wig Master: Cherelle Guyton.  Actresses: Christiana Clark, Yvette Clark and Asia Mark (Terrors and the Apprentice).

What would you like people of color considering or in the early stages of a theatre career to know?  Is there any advice you wish you'd be given?
Your passion is your passion; do not allow anyone or anything to take it away from you.  There’s no doubt in my mind that POCs will have many challenges and obstacles to face in this business.  So listen up…

One thing that I didn’t learn until later in life, actually I’m still learning it (LOL), is how to be quiet and listen.  It’s a mixture of knowing when to speak and how to speak, being silent and watching those around you while learning the lay of the land before giving your two cents.  Don’t talk too much.  Learn how to be quiet and just observe how things are by watching people. 

Often times, POCs are not provided with the same institutional knowledge or traditional educational training in theatre.  They may not be aware of theatre etiquette, best practices, or understand how to create a traditional career-specific theatre resume.  Seeking out networks of professionals in your field, working with community theatres, colleges, high schools or local productions could all contribute to developing your professional experience.  Always remember, being self-taught is invaluable.   

Be open-minded.  We often shut people out and down when we give our opinions and/or past judgements on things prematurely.  I’ve found that people are unable to confidently express themselves when limited by others’ narrow vision.  When people express themselves, and are met with judgement or condemnation, they often shut down and disengage.  Remain open-minded to other ideas, other lifestyles and other ways of doing things.  You don’t have to accept them as your own, but you can be open-minded enough to respect other people’s decisions.

Racism is not over.  Work three to four times as harder and smarter.  Be on time.  If not, they’ll say you’re on C.P. time.  Trust me.  Personal accountability and responsibility is paramount.  Theatre is a collaborative effort; help out wherever you can and conduct yourself with the conviction that it’s all about being a part of a team.   

Be sure to have a healthy work life balance.

Allow social media to work for you.  Follow up and follow through on initial networking.  Consistency and continuity is crucial.      

Being humble goes a long way.  If there’s something I want to learn, I don’t care about stepping back and being a student or assistant.  There was a popular show years ago called Making the Band 2 by P. Diddy (formerly known as Puff Daddy).  In one episode, Da Band pissed Diddy off and was tasked with walking to get a slice of strawberry cheesecake from Juniors, which was 12.4 miles away in Brooklyn.  I remember the cast fussing, cussing, fighting and whining the entire episode.  I also remember two of the band members refusing and riding off to do their own thing in a cab.  I’ve always remembered that moment on TV, and I remember thinking I would have done one of two things.  I would have caught a cab back and totally given up, but for me, failing isn’t really an option.  So I would have brought Diddy a cheesecake.  Not a slice, I’m coming back with the cake.

Over the Rails at OSF PR shoot. Photographer: Mark Holthusen.  Actress: Lily Gladstone (Isabel).  Costume Designer: E.B. Brooks.  Hair and Makeup Artist: Cherelle Guyton.


Who was a role model of yours in your respective field? 
Valerie Pruett and Lisa Martin Stuart were two of my most influential professors at the University of South Carolina.  They loved and cared for me as an individual while simultaneously understanding challenges that I faced as a person of color -- without being condescending, overbearing or just plain fake.  They are genuine women who pushed and protected me when needed.  They invested time, energy and teaching in me.  I will forever be grateful to Ms. Valerie and Ms. Lisa, my professors at Carolina.

Years ago, a close friend sent me an article entitled “Dream Weaver”.  It was about Adele Thorpe, an African-American hair weaver and wig designer.  This woman was designing hair and wigs for theatre, television, film and recording artists in New York in 2004.  My friend said, “If she can do it, you can do it.”  I still have the article- it’s on my vision board.  This woman, without even knowing it, has been a source of inspiration and motivation for me.

Another photo from The Wiz at OSF.  Photo credit: Dale Robinette.

Who was it that helped formulate who you are as a person of color trying to express your art in a white-dominated field?
My mama, hands down.  My mama supported me against some of my family who didn’t agree with and/or appreciate my artistic expression.  Again, I started theatre at 3.  I did theatre at church, at school and in all of my cultural and educational summer programs.  My mother believed in us (I have a younger sister) going to school year-round, so we had to go to summer school and summer programs every year until we were grown.  Once again, we had to be smarter, work three to four times harder, and have a stronger work ethic than our peers.  She instilled history and culture in us.  My mom and dad divorced when I was little.  So she solely raised us and spent a lot of money, time and energy ensuring we were able to participate in extracurricular activities such as swimming, dancing, theatre, art, French club, etc.  I still remember her hauling me all over town to rehearsals and practices.  My mother went without pursuing some of her own dreams so that we could pursue our dreams.  She has always supported my dreams.  I can never repay her for all of the sacrifices she has made.

My sister has also been instrumental in my artistic formation.  She is very intelligent and extremely direct.  There have been times when I’ve been stagnant and it was my sister who told me not to be wasteful with my talent and/or skills.  My sister has often lovingly “bullied” me into success while remaining supportive and “southern sweet.”  She inspires me with a brutal and poignant wit coupled with a sharp and venomous tongue.  I will forever be thankful for such a strong minded and solid sister. 

Beauty & the Beast at OSF PR shot.  Photographer: Mark Holthusen.  Costume Designer: Ana Kuzmanic.  Hair, Wig and Makeup; Cherelle Guyton.  Actress: Jennie Greenberry (Belle).

Tell me about working at Oregon Shakespeare Festival as the Wig and Hair Supervisor.
It has been a wonderful yet often challenging experience. I enjoy the art we create and especially love it when we’re able to collaborate respectfully and successfully.  Yet, there are many discriminatory hurdles to get over.  I am often reminded why so many of us (POCs) are unable to pursue our passions in a joyous and rewarding way. 

I supervise ten people and four locations on a day-to-day basis. We have three theatres and an offsite salon for actors and the company.  We have made great strides in regards to actors’ hair and makeup choices.  We are committed to authentic and creative choices that show the duality of the character and actor on stage.

Where do you see yourself in the future?
As a global designer, based out of South Carolina.  I love the South and I love being home with my family.  Whether as a designer, an educator, entrepreneur, a facilitator, or instructor… I know I’m going to travel.  I believe in praying on what I don’t know.  So, I can say all that about what I’m going to do, but I don’t actually know.  I got here by grace and mercy, so no matter what I think I know, God has got a plan.  I know to be kind to people and I know that I’m going to enrich people’s lives, whether it’s  through the art of hair, wigs, makeup, costumes,  clothes, fashion, business, etc. I don’t know; I just know I want to be able to teach and create freely.

You know, just create… that’s all I really want to do.