25 days of cats

Meet the Woman Who’s Spent 500 Hours Teaching Broadway Cats to Paint Their Faces

Photo-Illustration: Vulture and Matthew Murphy/O&M Co.

Cats, if you’re a fan, is magical for a bunch of reasons. The whimsy. The rhymed chanting. The dancing. The giant tin cans and yarn balls built to make humans look tiny. (All of these are still things even if you’re not a fan, they are just probably reasons the show maddens you, rather than brings you joy.) But all of that magic hinges on you believing those people dancing and chanting around the giant tin cans are actually cats. That’s where Victoria Tinsman comes in. Tinsman was the wig and makeup supervisor on the 2016 Broadway revival of Cats, where she taught every cast member — she later went on to tackle the same role on the Broadway production’s tour — how to do their feline makeup. (Once actors were able to do it on their own, Tinsman was still in the theater every night making sure things ran smoothly and nobody forgot their noses.)

How did you find yourself involved in the revival of Cats? Was that a dream project for you?
It was kind of random. I’ve been working on Broadway for eight years now doing wigs and makeup, and it kind of fell into my lap. Someone needed help with some of the makeup, and I was like, “Great. I love Cats.” I’ve been a fan of it since I was a kid. I used to watch the VHS of it all the time. I started talking with them about their needs, and then they ended up needing both a wig and makeup supervisor for the Broadway revival. So I ended up taking that on, and I was in charge of all of the wigs and makeup for the Broadway revival, and I was there from the opening until the closing date.

Wow. So how long does it take to do a cat’s face?
It totally depends on the cat, because each individual character is a different makeup plot. So in the beginning, I always have an hour to an hour and a half with each character to teach them how to do their makeup. For a swing in the show, if he or she plays eight different cats, that’s at least eight hours of makeup tutorials for that one person. But then, as they get better at it with more practice, some people can get down to 20 minutes. Some makeup plots are just more detailed. Like Rum Tum Tugger, for instance, is a much more detailed plot than, say, Mistoffelees.

What sorts of things does Rum Tum Tugger have on his face that make it more difficult and time consuming?
He just has a lot more colors involved. So a lot of the makeups are color blocked; different colors are on specific parts of the face. And then some cats have a lot more blending, which takes more time. And then other cats have more line work. So it just basically comes down to how many colors are on the face, if it’s blended, or if it’s more color blocked, and the detail work.

What happens if you run into a cast member who’s just not terribly great at doing makeup?
That does happen, and it’s really just practice. I’ve really found the best way to break down each makeup and teach them step-by-step tutorials. I’ll basically do one side of the face for them, and they’ll mimic what I do on the other side when they’re learning. And then we’ll video record the tutorial, so they have basically my words on video showing them what to do so they can re-watch it. And then I also have a full step- by-step printed out for them that basically says, “Put this color here, put this color there. Add this line here, add that line there.” It’s kind of foolproof.

What sorts of products are the cats applying to their faces?
It’s all makeup. No one has any prosthetics or anything, and we use a mixture of … At least on our production. I’m sure other productions use other things, but I also did the newest revival tour, and they all use this stuff, too. They use a lot of Mehron makeup, Ben Nye makeup. And then we use little sprinklings here and there of La Femme and then some MAC products, INGLOT products. A little bit kind of all over the place.

I talked to a number of cast members from the revival, who just said you sweat endlessly throughout the show. I’m sort of curious how you plan full-face makeup for a show where it’s like running a marathon but on Broadway.
Back when the first Broadway run of Cats was done, they used to use an oil- based makeup, which is like a grease paint, and it’s not really that good for your skin, but it stays on. We’ve gone away from that just because it’s not that healthy for you. Everything is now a cream base. We use a translucent powder on top of everything to set it once it’s all completed. If you really push in enough powder, that’s really going to help set it. Then we have two different sealant sprays. For the people that don’t sweat that much, they just use the Ben Nye final seal, and that just helps set it, keep it in place. For the people that we have are really heavy sweaters, they use a product from Premiere Products, and it’s called Green Marble Sealer, and that is the really heavy duty, basically waterproof makeup sealer. It’s what Cirque du Soleil uses for their underwater shows, I believe.

On the flip side, how do you get all that off of your face?
So we’ve nailed it down to a science. There are three different products that we use. Some people will use this stuff from Kryolan. They use a product called Hydro Oil, and with a combination of Cetaphil. they’ll put the Hydro Oil all over their face, and really get it all moving around. You just mush all the colors together, and then you wash straight to the gentle Cetaphil, and then you wash that off. Then you can do another thing of the gentle cleanser, and wash that off. Okay. So it’s kind of a step process of Hydro Oil, cleanser, water, cleanser, water.

And I imagine there’s just accepting the fact that your hairline is going to forever be a little bit tinged.
Yes, especially our orange-based cats. So that’s Jennyanydots, Electra, Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer. They basically always have a little bit of orange in the hairline. We like to call them the Cheetoh cats.

For people that have really sensitive skin, instead of using the Hydro Oil, which is pretty good for sensitive skin, some people will go the more natural route and use coconut oil.

You mentioned Rum Tum Tugger has a pretty extensive makeup plot. Is there a cat that you think has the toughest job to paint on their face?
He’s one of the toughest because he’s more involved, and he’s got a lot of shimmer powders to go on top. But then you run into a trio combo with Peter, Bustopher Jones, and Gus, who probably has the craziest of makeup plots because he has to play three different cats in one show. So he starts as Peter, does a quick change into Bustopher Jones, and then does a quick change into Gus. So that’s more involved during the show.

Who’s the cat I want to be if I’m bad at makeup and lazy?
Probably Tumblebrutus, or Mistoffelees.

Plus, then I get the fun, light-up vest. So I’m curious how the wigs are secured to the heads, the process that goes into that. Do they smell really bad?
Well, the smelling part depends on if your actors sweat is a smelly sweat, but we would wash them a lot. They probably get washed more than your average wig, just because of how much sweat. But they also get sprayed with alcohol every night. That helps cancel that out. The women will do a full pin curl set with their hair, which is basically making your hair into little circles and putting pins in them, and then a wig cap on top of that.  Some of our men have really short hair, so we’ll use a self adhesive ACE wrap around their head, and that really acts like Velcro to shorter hair. And then we’ll put a wig cap on top of that, and pin it to the ACE prep. And then same process. Wig on, pins on, glue.

Anybody ever lose a wig on stage?
It’s come close. It’s come close. I’m thankful that while I was on the show, I don’t think we lost completely any wigs on stage. We had a couple of moments in the beginning with Rum Tum Tugger. He has a really big collar, and the combination of collar pushing up against the wig, we had some issues with that, with it coming loose a lot. But by the end of the show, we really figured out the best wig prep for him, and made it super secure.

Have you seen the trailer for the new Cats movie?
I have.

Thoughts?
I don’t mean this how it’s going to sound, but I had zero expectations for it just because I am going to love it no matter what, because I love the show so much. No matter how they take it, not everyone is going to be happy, no matter what they do. So I am hoping to be one person out of many that can just watch it with an open, happy heart, and just enjoy the ride.

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Meet the Woman Who Taught Broadway Cats to Paint Their Faces