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This is less detailed than the costume section; stage makeup is harder to describe than costumes, and I find it harder to pick up. I hope people will find this helpful anyway.
If you want to send in suggestions, please do--but I won't post specific names or catalog numbers for street makeup (Revlon, Maybelline, etc.). They just change too fast to keep updated. More info can be found on the links page .

Last updated: 4/2/2016


Most people start with street makeup, which is fine. I like stage makeup. It doesn't change colors every season and it's designed for what we do--being a specific color, staying put, and looking good under hot lights while the wearer jumps around. Stage makeup can be found in magic and theatrical shops and offers some options street makeup doesn't. It's more expensive than the cheap stuff, and if you aren't near a good source, you have minimum orders and shipping to deal with

When using nontheatrical makeup, I have (mostly) sworn off the cheap stuff. Try a few brands and see what works for you. e.l.f. (Target) is good, and I've had good luck at Sally's Beauty Supply, especially their Beautique eyepencils, which are reasonably dark, easy on your eyelids, and keep a fairly good point. Sadly, their nail polish is crap.

I don't recommend using Halloween makeup (sold at Spirit, sometimes also at costume shops). If it's locked in a glass case, it's good. If it's in a blister pack, probably not. I know people who can apply the water-based white-in-a-tube evenly without streaking, but I sure can't.

Everyone should buy their own makeup, boys too. It's's easier and more hygienic. People who don't usually wear makeup may need help applying it at first. I keep my Rocky and non-Rocky makeup separate so if I need something at the show I know it will be in my bag.

The makeup that works for you will depend on your skin color / tone and the lighting setup at your theater.
The makeup plans here are geared primarily towards Caucasian performers because all the main characters in the film, which is my basis, are Caucasian. Adjust the makeup as needed depending on your skin color: if your skin is chocolate brown, Riff's pallor for you might be ashen brown, not whiteface. If you're playing Columbia and you're swarthy, you'll wear paler foundation than an Irish blonde.

Miscellaneous Tips:

  • Look at as many pictures as you can. I keep a file of particularly good makeup photos. Following the suggestions here is pointless if you don't look like your character on-screen.
  • Your local library may be helpful. Stage makeup books are expensive new; the library can afford them. (University libraries are particularly helpful.) Once you know what you like, you can buy used on-line. Older editions are much cheaper but may have fewer color photos. Traditional "beauty" books on makeup/cosmetics can also be helpful. Older cosmetology books and theater books are good sources for information on wigs. And yes, there are all those makeup how-tos on YouTube. Some of the tutorials are really good; some are crap. Use your reference photos.
  • Spray 'n Wash Stain Stick will take lipstick stains off lamé (Frank's cape; the spacesuits). I've also had good luck with Shout Gel, though it's messier to apply.
  • Before applying your foundation, apply lotion to your face. Let it soak in 30 seconds, then wipe off. The lotion sinks into your pores so the foundation won't, which means your color stays more even. This will also help hydrate any dry spots on your face, which otherwise will look flaky when you apply foundation to them. An actor friend recommended applying an astringent instead, which closes the pores...I have tried applying astringent, then applying the skin cream, which works pretty well.
  • Clown white:
    • Most beginning performers (Riff, Magenta, Columbia, Frank) wear too much white. Don't. Columbia is naturally the palest, while Magenta is made up to have the palest face. Frank is the next palest, and Riff Raff is pale and ill-looking. A lot of Frank's "whiteness" comes from white highlights on his chin and above his cheekbones. If your foundation is white, how are you gonna apply highlights?
    • Do not apply white below the jawbone or chin. It will weaken your jawline.
    • Clown white or foundation?
      It's possible to do good Rocky makeup with clown white; I've seen it done. Yes, on most people clown white looks awful because they use too much. The trick is to apply it lightly enough that your skintone shows through, like adding white to foundation to lighten it. Like most performers, I started with clown white and used too much. I had trouble finding a foundation light enough (I play Magenta), but since discovering stage makeup, I've sworn off white. In the mirror, when I did one half of my face with the foundation and half with lightly applied white, the white looked better, but under stage lights, I looked like a ghost. (The other Magenta, in street makeup, looked fine.) I think this is a matter of personal preference, combined with your theater's lighting setup.
  • Remember: dark objects (contours) seem to recede, light ones (highlights) seem to protrude. Google "contouring" if you want more details.
  • When you do your eyebrows, draw in little tiny strokes in the direction of hair growth (unless, of course, you are Columbia or Frank). If you just color in the shape you want, you risk looking like Groucho Marx. If you can, use a pencil designed for eyebrows instead of an eyeliner--they're waxier, so they hold a tip better and smudge less. Ben Nye and Winks both do a nice eyebrow pencil; so does MAC.
  • After applying your foundation/contours/highlights, powder using a powder puff. (After dusting the puff with powder, fold it in half over the powder to work it in, then dust over the face.) Be generous (and consider covering your costume with something so you won't get powder on it). Let the powder sit for a few minutes, then brush off the excess. This helps set your makeup so it won't sweat off. I prefer not to apply powder over precise or brightly colored makeup, like lined eyebrows or garish eye makeup; it washes them out. It's important not to overapply powder; too much can get masklike and emphasize wrinkles.
    I also powder my lips after blotting my lipstick (apply, blot, powder, apply, blot, apply) gives it great staying power.
    Some people use regular talcum powder, or baby powder. Others swear by cornstarch or tapioca starch; I find it lumps. I use theatrical talcum ("translucent") powder, sold at theatrical shops. It's ground finer and the shaker's designed for powdering your face instead of a whole baby bottom. I like Ben Nye Neutral Set; Mehron's Colorset Powder rolls right off my powder puff.
  • Blend, blend, BLEND your makeup. Yes, the audience is usually seated some distance from where you're performing. That's no excuse.
  • Apply makeup from the top down after you apply your foundation and any shading/highlights. This minimizes your chances of ruining your makeup if something smears/drips/etc. A handy tip in a Mary Quant makeup book: before applying eye makeup, dust underneath the eyes with talc. Any color that falls from the eyes during application will fall on the talc, which can then be brushed away.
  • I recommend lipliner; it helps make your lip shape more precise and is particularly helpful if you are creating a lipline different than your natural one. I use lipstick straight out of the tube; I'm just too impatient for a lipbrush.
  • Eyeliner
    • Eyeliner is available in pencil, liquid, cake (pressed) or gel form. Liquid or gel eyeliner will usually give a darker line than eyepencils but is harder to apply. I haven't seriously tried cake liner.
    • In my experience, gel eyeliner is less likely to give you raccoon eyes. It's applied with a stiff brush. When you buy it, make sure the brush it comes with has a cap so you don't get gel eyeliner all over the inside of your brush case.
    • Liquid eyeliner is available with either a brush (usually flexible) or a pen applicator. The pen is easier to use, but the ones I've tried just haven't been that dark.
    • When using liquid or gel eyeliner, steady your hand by resting your elbow on something solid. I find it helps to keep the line as close to the eye as possible.
    • If you're having trouble making an extended "cat eye" line, do it in pieces instead of one swipe: start at the inner edge of the eye and line towards the center, then picking the point at the outer corner of the eye where you want to end the line, and sweeping back from there to the middle of the eye, joining up with the line from the inner eye. Or do it in reverse. It helps.
    • I line the lower eyes in liquid or gel and use a pencil on the upper lid.
    • I tried outlining further out from the eye to make my eyes look larger, but gel liner looked weird, and liquid liner always bled into a crease beneath my eyes. (This may not be a problem if you're younger). I found this was most likely to happen when I looked down right after applying the liner; try looking straight ahead only until the liner dries.
    • If you like liquid liner, consider a stage makeup brand of eyeliner (you'll almost certainly have to special order; even costume shops don't carry it). I tested Maybelline eyeliner against Ben Nye and was astonished at the difference in staying power.
  • Applying lipgloss over lipstick is tricky; I never got lipstick on my teeth until I tried using lipgloss. (If anyone can recommend a lipgloss that doesn't cause this problem, please contact me.) I have tried lipstick sealers and had difficulties.
  • It's worth the extra money to buy an eyepencil sharpener with a reservoir to catch the shavings. Most also have a little pick to clean the sharpener, which is handy.

  • Some Personal Recommendations:

    Personal Recommendations page has thoughts on various makeup brands. They're slanted towards Magenta because that's who I play.


    You can find video instructions on doing Rocky makeup for most of the characters on YouTube. Quality is variable - but if the person giving the tutorial doesn't look like you want to look, keep looking.

    If you want to buy makeup from a Rocky fan who's puzzled out the colors (don't just blindly accept her choices; do your own research!) and you like Mary Kay, check out the links page and go to Makeup.


    Frank Sweet T:

    Frank Floor Show:

    Amazingly enough, some Franks have time not only to change costume but to apply additional lipstick and eyeshadow for this scene.


    Makeup pictures are here.

    Janet Floor Show:


    None til floor show. Draw in sideburns with a black eyepencil if you need to.

    Brad Floor Show:


    Click here for a simplified, generalized makeup plan for Riff (many thanks to Melanie La France). You can find makeup photos here.


    Click here for a simplified, generalized makeup plan for Magenta (many thanks to Melanie La France). You can find makeup photos here.

    Space Scene:


    Click here for a simplified, generalized makeup plan for Columbia (many thanks to Melanie La France, with input from Mina Smith and Saffron Shearer-Gare). You can find makeup photos here.

    Touch Toucha:

    Columbia wipes off her rouge, eyebrows, and her beauty mark before Toucha Toucha.

    Columbia Floor Show:


    Rocky Floor Show:



    DR. SCOTT:


    The following (slightly edited) comments are from Zenin, who won the Crim division of the costume contest at the 20th anniversary:

    Ben Nye makes a great old age starter kit for something around $20. It's got almost all the makeup one needs and pretty decent instuctions.

    Throw away the gray hair stuff they give you though, it's useless for stage (for film it's ok, but you really have to know how to use it). Instead, get yourself the biggest bottle of Ben Nye "snow white" you can find. It's great stuff. By far the cheapest way to gray your hair, and it looks the best once you've had some practice. That's the hard part though, it takes more skill to use than hair spray white. Put it on first, and then use it to help hold your hair in place when you style it. Have a water spray bottle nearby in case it sets too fast. Spray the whole thing down with hair spray once you're done.

    Do the dark shadow before you do the light, even if the instructions tell you otherwise.

    Use thin lines when using the darker eye shadow and blend them out. Wrinkle each part of your face as you use it and let your natural cracks be your guide by running your thin brush down the center of them and maybe a little (1/4") beyond.

    For the light shadow, use a large brush and while wrinkling your face again run it over the tops of your wrinkles. Don't worry too much about the light as it mostly blends in too much to be noticed anyway. Your real shaping power is still in the dark shadow.

    Remember, light normally comes from above. Shade the undersides more then the tops of wrinkles and other features. If it helps, put a desk lamp in front of you at a 45 degree angle over your head and look at the shadows for a guide.

    And practice! Old age, at least good old age, makeup is one of the hardest to do well. Don't worry so much about what it looks like up close; remember you are on stage. Step back at least five or so feet from the mirror when judging it. Overdo the depth of the wrinkles as they will look much milder from the house. If you are in a show with good lighting (non-flashlight, pro spot light or better) then this goes double as all your work will just be washed out otherwise. A bright light can make a 70 year old man look 12. I once was a lighting designer for a living; trust me, I know this from experience. If the light comes from directly in front of you (eg, most spot lights at Rocky) then this is even more important.

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