By Lisa Chinn Marvashti ’92
Makeup artist Madeline LeCuyer ’11 moves like a ninja. Armed with powder and hairspray, she dodges bright lights and big lenses, stalking stray hairs and slick skin.
“You don’t want actors to look shiny because it will read as oil or sweat,” said LeCuyer, who returned to her alma mater last fall to prep the student stars of UMW’s first-ever TV commercial. “We want actors to look pristine at all times.”
LeCuyer has helped folks put their best faces forward since a college play got her all tangled up in hair. From She Stoops to Conquer at UMW to Aladdin on Broadway, the theatrical stylist and professional wigmaker has been coiling and crimping her way to the top.
Growing up in Newport News, she loved lipsticks and liners, polish and gloss. Live theater? Not so much. Dragged to a performance of The Music Man, she begged to sit in the back near the exit. By intermission, though, she was ready to get close to the action.
Her father, a sculptor, and her mother, a portrait artist, preached color theory and other artistic principles. But LeCuyer’s decision to go into theater had “almost nothing to do with my parents,” she said, “and more to do with Mary Washington.”
She’d followed family members, including great-grandmother Bessie Satchell Amory ’29, to UMW and was weighing her options when she took a stage makeup course. “I saw that spark in her,” said Associate Professor of Theatre and Dance Kevin McCluskey. “When I challenged her to push herself, she did.”
When the department hired a pro stylist to help create sky-high 18th-century hairdos, the professional noticed LeCuyer. “She pulled me aside and said, ‘You’re really good at this.’ ”
A theater and classical studies major, LeCuyer designed hair and makeup for UMW’s Our Town, Romeo and Juliet, and Seascape, and interned with the American Ballet Theatre. At McCluskey’s urging, she applied to the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, where she earned a master’s degree in wig and makeup design.
“I feel like I haven’t stopped moving since I graduated from Mary Washington,” said LeCuyer, who also holds a cosmetology license from Empire Beauty School in Queens.
She thrives on the fast pace and quick changes of Broadway, where she’s worked on Aladdin, Cinderella, and The Book of Mormon.
“You’re not just sitting around waiting to touch up a curl or powder a nose,” LeCuyer said.
Her classical studies background helps her build customized wigs in elaborate looks from all eras – from the fanciful wisps of ancient Greece to the lofty hot-air-balloon looks of Marie Antoinette. It’s a painstaking process that requires precise measurement, real hair ordered from overseas, and patience – one wig can take up to 50 hours.
When she isn’t fussing with French twists and finger waves, pin curls and ponytails, she’s happy to head back to campus to teach master classes and share her star-studded world with Mary Washington students.
“I’m proud to do it,” she said. “I’m happy to get to give back in some way.”