Citizens Unite In The Name Of Makeup
Known for fusing a classic burlesque sensibility with an undercurrent of political satire, The Citizens Band’s gaggle of actresses and supermodels (and an aerialist for good measure) has been spreading its message of social change through song and dance for the past four years. In its sixth original show, the troupe will perform The Panic Is On this week at the Lower East Side’s Henry Street Settlement, a quirky mix of classic songs and original compositions in which they muse over war, immigration, xenophobia, poverty, and their own hopes for political progress. The three-night engagement, which begins tomorrow, will feature the vocal and acrobatic stylings of regular TCB’ers like Karen Elson and Sarah Sophie Flicker as well as special guests Nina Persson of the Cardigans, Zoe Kravitz, and one James Boehmer, NARS Cosmetics’ international lead makeup artist, who joined the Vaudevillian freak show back in January. Style.com caught up with Boehmer, who is a backstage mainstay during shows in New York, Paris, and Milan, to talk about the difference between stage makeup and runway makeup and how to get that classic Clara Bow lip.
What made you want to add theater makeup to your already well-established fashion repertoire?
I actually started out on in theater—regional theater and plays in high school—and I found that I always loved what was happening backstage more than what was going on onstage. So I went to college for makeup artistry and assisted a stage makeup artist in Chicago, which just kind of evolved into fashion somehow.
And how do you find the two undertakings different? Do you like one more than the other?
With editorial and runway, you’re usually grooming people so that they look very beautiful, and this is a political cabaret troupe that is providing a subtle, subversive commentary on what’s going on in the country. So for me it’s rewarding to actually have a political message.
Can you walk us through the process of designing the makeup looks for a Citizens show?
It starts with conversations between me and Sarah Sophie Flicker—she’s sort of always served as the creative director for the group. We talk about ideas and inspiration and go through how we see each character looking. They’re all meant to live in this imaginary time from the turn of the century to the 1920′s and 1930′s, so we look at silent film stars like Theda Bara and Clara Bow.
So how does that kind of high-concept approach play itself out onstage?
Well, Sarah is playing a 16-year-old and when the show starts, it’s her 16th birthday. So the idea we had for her is that she is this living doll circa the 1920′s, with pale skin, rosy cheeks, and long, individual doll eyelashes with heavy makeup in the crease of her eye so she looks like a “blinky doll.” She also has Clara Bow lips.
Yes, that tiny pucker is very indicative of the era—and Citizens Band performances as well, it often seems. How do you go about creating that kind of lip?
We usually erase the natural lip entirely with concealer and then I’ll use a plum or black pencil to get the shape of the mouth. Afterward I layer an intense pigmented red or berry lipstick on top and compliment the small lip with big eyes, enlarged with smokier colors.
I know you said that each character’s look is unique, but do you find that there is an overlaying concept or color scheme that runs throughout?
I usually limit my palette to create cohesiveness, while making sure that each character retains some sense of individuality. For example, the band is meant to look like a sepia-tone photograph—like a somber, turn-of-the century marching band. So they’re all contoured and highlighted and shadowy-eyed in muted tones. One of the band members is getting a vintage American flag on his face so the flag is going to be burgundy, cream, and gray, instead of red, white, and blue. You never know though—we’ll see if it pans out!
Photo: Courtesy of The Citizens Band