Wigs by Maxwell: From Mac-Haydn to Broadway

Caitlin Maxwell spent four years at Mac-Haydn as the Wigs Supervisor beginning back in 2007. She has continued to come back helping with various specialty wigs and hair and will also be helping with a few shows this summer. Since her four seasons here, she has worked on National Tours and Broadway, currently working on War Paint starring Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole. I had the chance to ask Caitlin some questions about her time at the Mac, where she went after, and why she can’t stop coming back.

What got you down the hair and makeup track of theatre?
Well, I would have to say initially, luck. I grew up doing tons of community and school theater, so of course we never had professional hair and makeup artists. Instead we had volunteer moms and dads and kids. I always happened to be one of the kids performing AND helping with hair and makeup- thinking all the while, this is so fun but never for a second thinking this was an actual career path. My parents are incredibly supportive and loving, but a doctor and therapist/nurse. Being a professional theatrical hair dresser didn’t occur to any of us.

When it came time to apply to colleges I was applying with the intent to be a Musical Theater Performance major. I always LOVED being a part of the music and theater communities. I spent a majority of my young life doing it, so it seemed the natural next step. I ended up attending Wagner College because I had been waitlisted for their incredibly competitive MTP major. Wagner is consistently ranked in the top 3 best college musical theater programs, so I was eager to attend figuring I’d reapply for the MTP program at the end of the year.

Once I got to Wagner I decided to volunteer my spare time for the technical department of the theater so when I reauditioned for the performance program, I might have a chance at them knowing who the heck I was. What I found instead was my way to the Wigs Department. My Technical Director asked me what I was good at as far as backstage departments for theater. I begged him not to put power tools*** or follow spots in my hands. I suggested any hair or makeup gigs he might have as I knew my way around a curling iron and had been doing all my girlfriend’s hair for prom and helping with everyone’s hair and makeup for all the community and school theater I was performing in. He ended up hooking up little freshman me with MHT alumni and Wagner senior at the time, Emilia Martin.

She took me under her little wing and taught me the basics about wigs and roller setting and really gave me a jumping off point to start learning the art of wigs for myself. I helped her maintain wigs for the show she was supervising at the time, 42ND STREET. I was absolutely and irrevocably HOOKED. I found there to be so much MAGIC in seeing a wig you worked on completely transform and transport a friend into the 1930’s world of 42ND STREET.

I thankfully didn’t end up getting into MTP program when I reauditioned at the end of the year. (Even though John Saunders caused a great upset and had given me a call back for GRAND HOTEL, a show he was directing at the time, as a non major freshman.) At this point I had signed up to work in the hair departments non stop for the following year’s shows and felt relieved that I no longer had to pursue a career in performance. Emilia had offered to put me in touch with MHT as she had worked there the summer prior and agreed to return but found a better paying gig. I told her I didn’t think I knew what I was doing enough to take such a professional gig, she kindly assured me I did and pushed me outta the nest.

*** Funny enough, while I was swinging at DEAR EVAN HANSEN as the Hair and Makeup Supervisor I had to saw Ben Platt’s medical grade fiberglass cast off each show with a Dremel. Pushing a small spinning saw into a Broadway star’s arm makes ya wish you had spent some more time with power tools- hahahahaha.

What got you to make the more permanent move from actor to behind the scenes?
This was not difficult. The minute I found out wigs was a career I was sold. I’ve got piercings, tattoos and curves. I knew these were never gonna jive well with a life of acting and I’m much happier letting my “freak flag fly” (cheesy “Shrek” reference).

What was your childhood like?
Lovely! I grew up in the Poconos in PA. I spent a lot of time running around in the woods, playing in the mud, climbing trees, building forts and swimming in the creek. Besides playing outside, I could be found taking dance class, piano and voice lessons, or at community theater play practice. In 5th grade I started playing the flute. In 7th grade I joined the Show Choir. In 9th grade joined the Marching Band playing the piccolo and joined the Chorale (a select vocal group). By 10th grade I was also playing tenor and alto sax in the jazz band. in 11th grade I tried Percussion Ensemble… They put me on Marimba. I had to admit defeat there, haha. By 12th grade I had joined the freshman band so I could learn the french horn, all whilst playing in the jazz band, marching band and the senior concert band, concert choir, chorale, show choir and of course the yearly musical. I had been acting in 1-3 musicals a year since I was in the 2nd grade. I just adored the theater community, but honestly never loved acting. I still love singing and dancing for fun, but not professionally, hahaha. I’m not sure the real love and passion it takes to truly be a perform was ever there for me, but a love of the community ALWAYS has been.

Can you tell us about your first summer at MHT?
It was NUTS! I cried more than a couple times. Bless Monica and John for holding my hand and talking me off the ledge each time. Working with your Costume Designer to Design each show then style, maintain and run each show for 8 different shows a summer, plus Children’s Theater is truly awesome. It was the first time that I had worked so hard, so fast and learned SO much in my craft. I explain the MHT experience to most as a boot camp. It’s really challenging to produce so much high quality material in such a short time, but you come out on the other side so much stronger, faster and smarter. Plus it’s a hell of a resume builder too! For someone just starting out in the Hair and Makeup field I walked away with a really impressive resume that could stand up to my peers who had attended more prestigious Wigs Undergrad and Masters Programs.

What brought you back for 4 seasons?
The relationships I built and the incredible opportunity to flex my creative muscles. I was constantly challenged and giddily accepted each new show’s challenges. Looking back I realize I was trusted with so much responsibility. I worked so hard because I took that trust so seriously. I wanted to live up to what everyone believed I could do. I stretched so hard I definitely grew a ton each season.

Can you talk about the transition from being on the road to Broadway and moving to NYC?
This transition was easier than I thought it would be, but at the same time terribly difficult. The move to NYC was my first time really setting out on my own. Prior to that it was touring for 5 years. You don’t have to worry about rent on tour- haha. As far as work- I moved to the city, started Cosmo school and dropped a resume at EVERY stage door. 25 stage doors later I received a call before I even got home to swing at PHANTOM and then the next day got a call from GENTLEMEN’S GUIDE. It happened really quickly. I was told my resume was impressive. 5 years touring as a wigs supervisor, 5 years designing, styling and supervising shows at MHT and all my shows from college. Busting your tail pays off in the end!

You seemed to be working so consistently in theatre, what made you decide to become a license cosmetologist?
I wanted some job security- not that I ever really want to work in a salon, but salons are always there, shows are not. It’s also good side cash. Further more the union in NYC really prefers you to be a licensed cosmetologist. It makes sense. If you’re giving hair cuts on a show or even just dealing with different people’s scalps, you should know how to do what you’re doing in a sanitary matter.

What is the biggest difference between a sit down on Broadway and being on the road?
Probably the closeness of your company. On Broadway we all go home to our own friends and loved ones. On the road you work with these people, sleep in the same hotel/tour bus and go out with these people. Your company becomes your family- you’ve got 24/7 playmates. Once I got established in the Broadway scene I adopted a sweet puppy, Vivian Grace. I had to fill the hole left from not having my tour family anymore. She’s definitely done a good job! Haha!

In four years at MHT, what was your favorite show?
Hands down, without doubt, HAIRSPRAY. I could spend my entire life chasing John Saunders around as my Edna and die a VERY happy lady.

What brings you back to MHT today?
My absolute love of John, Monica, Jimm and Lynne. These folks took a real chance on me coming straight out of my freshman year of college having only worked on 2 shows. They believed in me before I really believed in me and for that I will be forever grateful.

MHT feels like a summer home to me. I’m still waiting for the all star reunion season to make a full season return.

I’m dead serious- haha!

You have a friendship and workship spanning 10 years with John Saunders, can you tell us about that relationship?
My goodness! I feel so incredibly blessed to have this man as my friend, cheerleader, agent, guardian angel, and mentor. I’m so continually impressed by him and his artistic vision whether he’s an actor, director, artistic director or just a friend. He’s always got a brilliant view of things. I have been his Stage Manager/Costume Designer/Hair Designer on a show he directed at Wagner, I’ve taken care of him as an actor in my track, and I’ve dealt with him as my artistic director. No matter what this man is thoughtful, kind, fun, funny and brilliant. I would literally do just about anything if it meant I got to be near the greatness that is Johnny.

Caitlin and John Saunders at the opening of “War Paint” on Broadway

What advice would you give to someone coming to work for MHT for the first time?
Work hard, play hard and ask smart questions. I always tell people you’ll have a blast, build your resume and have a lot of fun if you let yourself. I think no matter what, you have to have a balance of hard work and play. I’m writing this while working out on the elliptical at the gym next to my theater. We work 11 hr days most days and my dinner break is often the only time to slip in some self care.

What advice would you give yourself of 10 years ago?
Save. Your. Money. Good lord. I wish I would have listened to my parents on this one.
Self care. I work so hard that I forget to breath sometimes. Without caring for yourself, how can you care for others?!

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
The longer you spend in the industry, the more this vision evolves. I’d like to think I’d be regularly supervising new Broadway shows, maybe working on a little more film and TV, maybe being a designer’s go to gal to help them set up and organize their shows and tours. I LOVE the initial set up and tech of a show.