The ’80s were a time of bright coloured sweatshirts, shoulder pads, leg warmers, mullets and big hair. It was a time without the internet, without Facebook, text messages and Skype. There was no screen to hide behind or multiple channels of long-distance communication. Instead, women congregated in their local hair salon with their neighbours and friends. They shared tea, hair styles and gossip. They supported one another and shared each other’s joy and pain.
Steel Magnolias lives and breathes the atmosphere of the time - the chatter, the opinions and attitudes of the ladies who pass through Truvy’s salon, and of course, the hair-styles. To capture this atmosphere, the costume, set and hair designs had to be of the period. The fashion in the 70s was to have long, straight hair which was flicked back. When that changed dramatically in the 80s, hair salons changed to keep up with the new trends - big, wild and permed hair. Perming machines were brought into salons and wheeled over to each client. Their hair was then wound in perm rollers, doused in solution and clamped with a hot clamp onto a heated bar for twenty minutes. When Shelby’s hair is styled for her wedding, her hair is pre-permed and set in rollers. Truvy then puts her hair up and has it titivated into a gorgeous 1980’s hair style complete with gypsophilia, or ‘baby’s breath’, demonstrating the favoured wedding ‘up-do’ of the time.
Sarah Greenwood-Buchanan has styled each of the wigs and hair designs for Steel Magnolias combining her love of hair dressing with her love of the stage. Sarah searched far and wide to find the right wigs for the job. Then she set about cutting them, setting them into curls and making them as big and as ‘80s as possible. The hardest task was figuring out how to make two actresses look like trained hairdressers. A month before rehearsals began, Lucy Porter and Sarah Kelly began hair training workshops to learn how to wash and dry hair, put in rollers, set the hair and comb it up. Lucy plays Annelle, who has had a year at beauty school and a little bit of experience. She is young and new at hair dressing, but also quite confident. Truvy, played by Sarah, has been hair-dressing for years. The plan was for the process on stage to be so seamless that you, as audiences, don’t notice what is going on. “The audiences’ focus shouldn’t be on sitting and watching the characters get their hair done. They should be focused on listening to the women talk about their lives, themselves and each other – the hair should just happen in the background. Hopefully the audience will go away, realise what unfolded before them, and think ‘oh my gosh, that was amazing’,” Sarah Greenwood-Buchanan says.
To develop a ‘hair plan’, Sarah started by working through each stage direction in the script. There she could plot out exactly what happens with the hair and who has their hair done. Once she had worked out each of the styles, she sat down with director, Gregory Cooper and figured out what else was happening in the script during each hair styling scene and how long the actresses had to create the hair styles. Gregory, Lucy and Sarah Kelly were then able to take their knowledge of the hair styles and the script into the rehearsal room and craft the roles of Truvy and Annelle around their newly learned hair-dressing skills. When combined with four other wonderful and lively characters, the hair salon is brought to life on The Court’s stage.
Steel Magnolias beautifully captures the essence of friendship in the ’80s. Sarah Greenwood-Buchanan says, “The script portrays what would have happened in a normal situation in a hair dressing salon of that era. Gregory wants there to be truth in what audiences see on the stage. He wants it to be very real, very period and show how it would have been back then. It’s our goal to try and achieve that.”