Street Smart Chicago

Education 2010: Wigging Out

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WHC2 058Continuing-education programs in Chicago consistently prove to be as diverse as they are fascinating. Catering to the city’s vast theater community, DePaul University offers a program designed to teach students the art of wig making. “The basics are that if you go to a typical theater show, there’s about eighty wigs on stage,” says Nan Zabriskie, program director and co-teacher of Wigs and Hair Chicago (WHC). “Wig making is a skill that requires a lot of patience and art. And it takes training.”

WHC offers numerous courses. Students can earn certificates in both Wigs and Hair Production and Wigs and Hair Maintenance. These classes are designed to cater to both experienced professionals and beginners, and no prerequisites are necessary. As such, DePaul welcomes anyone who is interested in wig making to enroll in classes. “We have people who are really looking to hone their wig-making skills, and we have some who are just curious,” says Zabriskie. “It’s a diverse mix.”

The production class allows students to learn the arduous process creating and ventilating wig fronts and facial hair. Students learn essential skills such as hair coloring, hair choice, choosing lace and dressing facial hair. And the program is expanding. “This year we’re going to try and offer Production II, which will be a continuation of the first production class,” says Zabriskie.

“It takes a fair amount of artistry and talent to maintain a wig, which is what we teach in the second course,” says Zabriskie. The wig-maintenance class covers methods of upkeep. DePaul will also offer a new advanced program for students who have completed Wigs and Hair Production and wish to continue their learning experience.

In addition to being the program director, Zabriskie has headed the makeup program at The Theatre School at DePaul for twenty-eight years. “I’ve been into wig making for about twenty-five years, but I’m actually a costume designer. I needed to produce beards and hair, so I started to learn wig making myself,” she says.

The course also promises to share trade secrets with students, as well as recent advances in wig-making technology. “Wig making is really an old-world skill ultimately, but I think the world of synthetic hair has become so much better than it used to be,” says Zabriskie. “There was a time when using synthetic hair was frowned upon. In terms of the actual tools and lace, there haven’t been a lot of advances.”

Held at DePaul’s Lincoln Park campus over the summer, courses meet for five consecutive days for seven hours each. While no college credit is offered for the courses, students can earn Certificates of Professional Achievement from the university. DePaul is also working with theaters in Chicago to create new opportunities for internships in wig making.

“I think it’s so important to take your mind to places that you might not have when you were younger,” says Zabriskie. “You have to reinvigorate your brain.” (David Stockdale)

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