MAGNIFYING, No. 20: Amanda French

June 18 2019

By Noelle Sharp

For this episode of MAGNIFYING we spoke with Wig Master, Hair and Makeup Designer for Pioneer Theatre Company and the Department of Theatre, and Adjunct Assistant Professor for the Department of Theatre Amanda French. Our creative community here at the College of Fine Arts is diverse and wide spread. With the goal of gaining a deeper knowledge and awareness of the people within our community, we bring you MAGNIFYING, a series dedicated to showcasing the talent of our students, faculty, and staff.


Tell us about yourself: Name, where you are from, what you do and how you got into in your field of work
My name is Amanda French and I am originally from Cincinnati, Ohio. I am the Wig Master and Hair and Makeup Designer for Pioneer Theatre Company and the Department of Theatre, and Adjunct Assistant Professor for the Department of Theatre teaching stage makeup classes, and classes in all aspects of wig and makeup design.

I construct and style all of the wigs and facial hair for all Pioneer Theatre productions and for the 4 mainstage productions for the department of theatre. I make sure that all of the performers know how to do their own makeup for the productions, including instruction as needed. I have also done prosthetics for productions, including the severed head for Macbeth, the nose and mouth pieces for the Beast in Beauty and the Beast, and Cyrano’s nose in Cyrano de Bergerac. I have been at Pioneer and the University since 2003, and have worked on over 200 productions in that time.

My path to this job has been quite varied, and this is the short version: In high school I wasn’t the best academic student, but enjoyed my time in 3 different choirs, and marching and concert band. I was never a part of the drama club, but did enjoy being in the chorus of Guys and Dolls my senior year. At the time, a career in theater was never on my radar. My first year in college I studied music education and voice, then when my family moved to Pennsylvania, I went to a community college where I took acting classes, and joined a swing choir. I did a small amount of acting and helped backstage doing props, and sound, then found my way to a stage makeup class – which I loved. A couple of summers I worked as an assistant stage manager for a small community theater, and decided that I loved working backstage and needed to focus on that work. I applied to and then attended the University of Cincinnati – College Conservatory of Music (CCM) from 1986-1990 where my major was in design and technical theater with an emphasis in wigs and makeup. I continued to work as an assistant stage manager (ASM) and did a couple of internships with Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park. By the time I left CCM in 1990, I was working professionally as an ASM, and when I wasn’t doing that, I was doing wigs and makeup. In 1992 I decided to focus on wigs and makeup, got a job teaching at The School for Creative and Performing Arts in Cincinnati, and never looked back. I have been blessed with a 30 year career doing what I love.

What has surprised you the most in your life?
What has surprised me the most is how important teaching has become to me. There have been several articles in the New York Times in the last couple of years that talk about wig making becoming a dying art as some of the best in the business in the US, like Mr. Paul Huntley in New York, get closer to retirement. However, the author of the article neglected to look outside of the city, to find out how many great wig masters and wig artists there are in the Regional Theater world, and working for professional touring companies all over the country. There are very few schools that have wig and makeup design as an emphasis or major, and it is very important to keep this field supported. Being a wig maker is a job that has existed since at least the time of the Egyptians, and isn’t going any where soon, but we need more active professionals to teach the very specific skill sets that are required for building wigs. This is not a skill set that is taught in beauty schools at all, and more universities need to include it as a major in their technical theater departments, taught by working professional wig masters.

What do you wish you had known/been told?
I was actually warned several times that it is hard to make money in live theater. Most of my classmates went into film and television, and I am one of the few who chose to stay in live theater. I wish that I had learned more about the business side of show business and that I had reached out to more professionals in the field for guidance, early in my career. But then, that was before the days of the internet, and it is much easier now!