Make-up Workshop and Exhibition Shows How Creativity Transcends Age

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See the final portraits in our Digby Gallery exhibition, until Monday 3 October. Free entry from 10am Mon-Sat.

“We all know the major characters in Shakespeare’s plays, but what of the supporting roles?”

This was the question make-up artist Mel Winning posed to her group of students at the start of a two-day theatrical make-up workshop at the end of July.

The workshop, held in the Mercury’s Studio Theatre space, introduced participants to theatrical make-up skills including technique, application and character design.

Bringing Shakespeare’s Characters to Life

The participants, a group of 16 older adults, were tasked with creating make-up designs for some of the supporting characters in Shakespeare’s plays.

As Mel explains: “Being a hair and make-up artist and designer, I have to consider every character that makes an appearance in the play. Shakespeare sharply observed not only his leading characters, but the nurses, blacksmiths, courtesans, landladies, clowns and fantasy characters. These were the unsung heroes that often added a link to the plot, provided some light relief with humour and were a colourful glimpse into the everyday working life in the Elizabethan period.”

Mel began working as a freelance designer 20 years ago and regularly delivers workshops at the V&A Museum. She spent the first day of the workshop teaching participants about character design, getting them to think about the characterisation of these supporting roles and how they might be portrayed through make-up.

Hands-on Creativity

Our new make-up students then paired up and set to work on transforming their workshop partner into their selected character using the design and application techniques they had just learnt.

There were several tea breaks and, most importantly, biscuits were always on hand, as participants explored different looks and tricks of the trade.

False beards were applied, lips were painted, and gaping wounds were created to bring to life characters such as the Gravedigger, Nurse and Banquo’s Ghost.

On the second day the students were ready for their professional photoshoot.

Each student prepared their workshop partner for the shoot, applying make-up and adding costume and props to complete the character’s look.

During the shoot participants tried out their acting skills as they brought their character to life in front of Mel’s camera. Candid shots, on smartphones and tablets, were shared amongst participants, who turned into budding photographers themselves!

The resulting images really demonstrate the hard work and creativity put in over just two days by our participants and show their ability to learn new skills

The exhibition of photography will be displayed in the Mercury Theatre’s Digby Gallery from 3rd September to 15th October, coinciding with our Made in Colchester production of Much Ado About Nothing.

Getting Involved

Older adults can themselves be the unseen and unsung characters in our communities.

The Mercury Theatre’s group for the over 50s, Act V, provides a space to explore creative skills, build confidence, socialise and share stories over a cup of tea. Arts activities such as workshops and theatre trips are effective in boosting both mental and physical health in the older generation. Act V workshops include drama, singing, Bollywood dance, and even stage combat.

Our Senior Matinees offer the chance for a cup of tea and a chat, a pre-show talk from our creative team, followed by the performance of one of our Made in Colchester productions.

Further information on our activities for adults can be found at:

Tickets for Act V or a Senior Matinee can be bought via Ticket Sales in person, by phone: 01206 573 948, or from this website.

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