Find Your Passion: Transformer of Characters First Changed Herself

Stesha Ross
Ross with the tools of her trade in
the costume shop, where she styles
and designs makeup and wigs for
campus performances.

(Photo by Zach Riggins)

By Dana Lewis

The Grinch isn’t known for inspiration, but recreating and designing makeup to transform herself into the Grinch for a class project convinced Stesha Ross she had found her calling.

Ross, a junior from New Market, switched majors from broadcast journalism to theatre after her freshman year. Having seen several campus productions, Ross was sold on the theatre program.

“I started out wanting to act, just like everyone else,” she says. “I took beginning acting classes, but it was my first makeup class where I fell in love with hair and makeup design.”

Ross’s teacher set the final class project as a challenge for students to transform themselves into anything or anyone – a challenge that Ross met head on and one that convinced her she was in the right place.

“After the project, I volunteered to help out wherever I could with productions,” Ross says.

She was soon immersed behind-the-scenes of productions such as “The Odd Couple” and “Into The Woods.” Ross says she is awed by the opportunities she has on campus, especially those that have led her from nomination to second place winner in the Region IV Kennedy Center American Theatre College Festival’s Technical Design competition. A chandelier designed and constructed for “The Wild Party,” set in the Roaring ‘20s, was recognized at the prestigious competition.

“It was a huge undertaking,” the theatre major says.

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Not only did Ross research and design a historically accurate chandelier, she learned to weld in the process. She built the chandelier herself, complete with wiring, for the set. To top it off, the director wanted a character to swing from the chandelier during the performance – which later turned into two characters – and so Ross’s decorative chandelier was a sturdy, secure prop for the characters to safely hang from.

In addition to building specialty props, Ross has designed the makeup and hair for a number of productions, a process more detailed than what meets the eye.

“For one production, there were huge elaborate hairstyles that would take hours to style,” Ross said. “In order to cut back on the call time for cast members, I instead chose to use and style wigs for the show.”

Although Ross makes sure hairstyles are accurate to the show’s time period and style, she relies on the help of modern technology to learn some styling techniques and some how-to tips that are hard to find elsewhere.

“I actually watched several videos on YouTube to learn how to style for a particularly challenging era,” Ross said.

Ross is also conscientious of cast members when designing makeup for the shows. She creates “makeup maps” by taking black and white photographs, tracing over them with vellum, and then detailing on the tracing and in writing exactly how to recreate the makeup. Ross is usually there to assist before shows, but she always adds detailed directions “just in case.”

Stesha Ross
Ross applies makeup to a cast member.
(Photo by Zach Riggins)

Stesha Ross
Ross showcases her award-winning and historically accurate chandelier built for characters to swing from during a production of “The Wild Party.”
(Photo by Zach Riggins)

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Dana Lewis will graduate in May 2010 from The University of Alabama with two bachelor's degrees in public relations and political science, and a minor in the Computer-Based Honors Program. A native of Huntsville, she plans to work and pursue a graduate degree in health communications.

This story is part of the Find Your Passion feature section of the UA home page. For more stories, please visit Find Your Passion or Crimson Spotlight. To learn more about how you can find your passion at The University of Alabama, please visit UA Undergraduate Admissions.