Wigs used to give Dawn Rivard fits.
Working as a window display artist, Rivard said she “loved everything about my it except the wigs, so I went on a hunt for someone to show me how to make the wigs look better because nobody in that fashion end had much knowledge.”
What she found was a new career.
“I took a leave of absence and found a wig and makeup training program for the Canadian Opera Company, “ said Rivard, a native of Windsor, Ontario.
Dawn Rivard’s headshot.
“They took four apprentices for a full year ,” Rivard said. “During the day we would do the prep, fittings, planning and classes, and at night we would run the shows.
“I did that for a season with the intent that I was going back to window display, but then they offered me an assistant’s position, so I was like, ‘Sure, let’s try it. We’re on a wave.’”
Rivard rode that wave from window display to backstage with the Canadian Opera Company, and from there to work in television and movies.
Rivard most recently worked on the 2022 Apple TV+ series Five Days at Memorial.
She didn’t leave opera behind, though. In fact, one of her clients is Opera Tampa, with whom she’s worked for several seasons. Planning for the season’s hair needs begins long before the Toronto-based Rivard arrives in Tampa.
“I have conversations six and eight months before with the directors of the shows that are coming up, to get ideas of, ‘OK, what are we thinking?’ My job jumps off of one designer’s, ‘Oh, I see that character as a redhead.’”
Dawn broke down the challenges and demands of Opera Tampa’s hair needs this season:
Norma: Tons of long hair but thankfully, in 50 B.C., hair wasn’t overly glamorous. Also, they were often unshaven, so, we’re lucky right now. The men seem to have a lot of facial hair, as opposed to eight years ago.
Rivard working backstage during Norma.
Pagliacci: We’re prepping this now. The characters are Italians in a small and very religious village. All of that plays into what’s going to feel organic and realistic. The costumes actually are probably a little more polished than some Pagliacci productions. They’re not high fashion, high end, but they’re also not dirty.
Sweeney Todd: I’ve had a couple of discussions with the director, Dean Anthony, and he likes the idea of blood, which I’m all about as well. Also, Dean likes to mix time periods and pull in some present-day elements, which requires a lot more work because you’ve got a costume that is historically correct, but now he wants it to feel current.
Watch Caught in the Act‘s interview with Dawn Rivard here.
All that work, much of it done under extreme deadline pressure, has earned Dawn and her fellow wig workers the right to celebrate International Wig Day on March 10.
Dawn said this was the first she and many of her peers had heard of International Wig Day, but there seemed to be plenty of agreement on how it – and they – should be celebrated.
“When I announced it to the crew, the instant reaction was, ‘Does this mean people send us cookies?’ And I said, ‘Yes,’” Dawn said,
“I’m sure that International Wig Day means every wig department is given cookies. Well, we’re hoping.”