Wigs vs. Natural Hair in Theater

Welcome to my first official “Off The Record” blog, written by me, a fellow actress and friend. This blog will provide a free space for actors to share their thoughts and opinions about the theater industry. Each month there will be a question or topic posted on my personal instagram (@jessie_dez) where actors can anonymously take part while having their identities protected. As an actress myself, I want to give my theater community a place of no judgment and no matter what your opinion is, just know I will understand where you’re coming from. Just as you confide in me, I will confide in you and if you’re still skeptical then let me earn your trust. Again, this is a safe place for all of  YOU, my lovely theater community.  

By being a journalist, I feel it to be a privilege to raise the voices of my fellow actors. Believe it or not, this year was my first season as a professional actress in the South Florida theater scene and let me tell you that I was accepted with open arms. THAT came as a surprise to me because I was under the impression that the South Florida theater community was very clicky and that intimidated me. That’s what we do as actors, we assume the worst and feel like we’re being judged by everyone. Which, OF COURSE WE ARE, that’s what we show up to do in an audition room! Nonetheless, this year I met the most talented, bravest, and hard working people I have ever met. With that being said, I could still sense a fear in actors when it came time to speak up or share how they really felt in certain situations. Many actors felt like they had to hold back in order to not be “black-listed” in the theater community and that saddens me. So as your fellow actress, friend, and journalist this place is for all of you that I have met and have yet to meet in this crazy industry we all love. 

Wigs vs Natural Hair in Theater

If you have not yet already, please read The Wig Menace Article by clicking here before continuing my blog. The Wig Menace is the inspiration for this month’s topic of discussion. 

Even though his tactics are aggressive and inexcusable, he did bring up the topic of wigs vs natural hair in our modern day society. The Wig Menace believes that actors should only be cast based on their natural hair color, sounds ridiculous am I right?! This idea of using  hair color as ANOTHER  limitation on what an actress can or can’t do is offensive, at the least, but it does beg the question if actors feel like wigs are a thing of the past. In a day and age where being “true to ourselves” is so prevalent, some actors may prefer to be more natural. Others hold on to the traditional ways of classical theater. 

It is time to pick your poison… Do you prefer to wear a wig or wear your natural hair on stage? To my surprise, it was 50/50 but it was the WHY that made it so interesting. Many of the actors that chose natural hair truly just weren’t fans of dealing with wigs, especially if they aren’t of good quality. They also said it was because it made them feel more natural and like themselves on stage. Which was interesting because the other half of actors that preferred wigs said it was because it helped them feel LESS like themselves and more like the character they are portraying. One thing was clear here, no matter if you picked a wig or natural hair, every actor said it made them feel confident and that’s all that matters. Everyone has their own way of getting into character. It’s just crazy to see how much our physical appearance helps us get there. 

Many actors claim that they don’t fully feel like they’re “in character” until they have their wig on, which I completely agree with. Putting on my wig is the last thing I do before getting on stage and it’s what helps me get into character. Those of you that can get into character without a wig, I applaud you! It truly is a mental challenge that we have to seperate from our physicality. But I do believe there can be a balance. In more modern shows, natural hair is absolutely the best option but in more genre-specific shows, wigs can be an essential part! For example, I was Scaramouche in We Will Rock You at the Lake Worth Playhouse and kept my natural hair. My wild long hair was perfect to style for this kind of show but still remained true to my natural self.

Jessie Dez as Scaramouche in We Will Rock You

Our responsibilities as actors is to voice the inner truth of our characters, use our voice and body to tell their story, and integrate some of ourselves on stage. Some actors feel like wigs can take away from their truth but others feel like wigs make their character come alive. This past January, I was chosen to play Sandy in the production of Grease with MNM Theater Company. As a tan, latina, brown haired actress, I wondered if they were going to make me blonde or keep me as a brunette. They honored my truth and made me a brunette Sandy. That is, till this day, something I am most proud of. Yes, I wore a wig for the time period but I still felt like ME. The wig didn’t take away from my truth, but instead it gave my truth more meaning!

Jessie Dez as Sandy in Grease

Wigs have always played a dominant role in our world history. Dating back to the earliest recorded times, it is known that the Ancient Egyptians shaved their heads and wore wigs to protect themselves from the sun. Wigs were also very popular among the elite for luxurious hairstyles. Thus, their introduction to theater. Back when theater first started, men wore long beautiful wigs to disguise themselves as women because women weren’t allowed to perform on stage. This brings us back to the question if wigs are a thing of the past. If anything, I believe that wigs show how far theater has come in society and it is a tradition that should remain protected. Just like anything in the world, wigs need to be able to evolve with the rest of the world. You can’t deny that magical feeling when you first put on your wig. There’s an even more powerful force when you step on that stage as truly yourself. No matter what you choose, choose to be YOU. 

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