A line of fire splits the stage as Javeline—a character inspired by the goddesses Nike, Athena and Artemis—dances on a platform, five aerialists whirl in spheres above her, warriors leap over the flames and viewers hold their collective breath.

The drama is unfolding at the 2015 Pan American Games, held July 10 in Toronto’s Roger Centre. The event has drawn 45,000 attendees, 625 performers, athletes from 41 countries and Make-Up Artist magazine’s senior editor, Cori Stoddard, who is there to cover the make-up.

Sponsored by M.A.C. Cosmetics and applied by 36 M.A.C. artists and 30 international make-up volunteers, the make-up has been six months in development. Cirque du Soleil is producing the Opening Ceremony performances and Julie Bégin (who worked with Cirque on its 2009 show Ovo) has signed on as make-up designer.

“With the nature of this—crazy timeline, one night only—they needed someone to think outside the box, be flexible and think on her feet,” Bégin explains before the event. Usually the make-up for a Cirque show has individual instruction books for performers, who do their own make-up. To gear the instruction to make-up artists, she created a new app to streamline the documentation: Persona (set to release in September).

She says the show’s narrative is about people’s evolution toward multiculturalism. Her inspiration started with the native communities, and she aimed for a contemporary tribal vibe. “I discovered a universe full of colors and textures, not at all like native art seen in souvenir shops,” she says. “So many amazing colors in native looks.”

Photo courtesy of PanAm
Image © Toronto 2015 Pan Am / Parapan Am Games
Photo courtesy of PanAm
Image © Toronto 2015 Pan Am / Parapan Am Games

Here Stoddard shares how that vibe came to life backstage on the day of the event.

Our first stop is the kids’ make-up area; there are 153 performers ages 8 to 10. Eleven make-up artists will process them, matching their eye make-up to their socks.

11:35 a.m. On to the straight make-up. Jade Hunka, M.A.C.’s Manager of Artist Relations, explains that everyone has a schedule of what to expect “to the minute.” Wranglers bring in the people, and if anyone is one minute over, they get pulled from the chair. At the moment, Bégin is facing challenges beyond timing: She wasn’t able to work with the lighting director building up to the show. “‘How is my make-up going to be lit?’ she wonders aloud before the event. “Everything crazy. Opposite to normal.” Additionally, she and the team weren’t able to rehearse in the venue until the night before the event.

11:53 a.m. Bégin and the M.A.C. make-up team finish a quick meeting in the Green Room. First looks begin at noon, and the lead characters will start at 1:30 and 3 p.m. The leads are Discus, Javeline, Lutus, Runus, Satina, The Messenger and Clay Juggler.

Bégin and the M.A.C. make-up team meet before first looks | Photo by Cori Stoddard
Bégin and the M.A.C. make-up team meet before first looks | Photo by Cori Stoddard

Each make-up station has a number and an artist’s name clearly marked above it, and make-up and brushes are neatly organized. Artists’ assigned make-ups, with images of the performers, hang next to a schedule.

Bégin created every make-up design digitally in Photoshop with casting shots from the artistic coordinator. She designed straight onto the photo.

The Fireline Warrior dance make-up is modern tribal. Bégin split the bulk of the cast into pink and blue tribes. “You’ll notice that there’s a lot of cyan and fuchsia,” she says. She has designed everything to be high impact and low complexity and accomplished in a short time.

“We did the run-through yesterday and it was really, really well done,” says Bégin. “The M.A.C. team is killing it. We had a little unexpected product shortage yesterday and all of a sudden, bam! It didn’t matter much. The product emerged out of thin air.” (Later Hunka says she ran to the M.A.C. office to get more Pigment in Silver Fog.)

Photo by Cori Stoddard
Photo by Cori Stoddard

Even though the artists in this room will process nearly 400 performers, the atmosphere is calm and lighthearted. Dancers joke with their make-up artists and talk about the latest YouTube video or celebrity gossip.

Pull_Quote_ItsBeenIntense_PortraitIn preparation for the big day, Bégin made a design list, extracted the products and shipping list and gave all the artists what they needed. Some products are not out of the box, so she and her assistant, Holly Bradridge, have premixed what’s needed.

Practically speaking, the make-up has to survive profuse sweating. It has to read well in the arena. And: “Worst of all it’s an HD live transcript,” Bégin says. “Those are the things from a make-up standpoint that are completely opposed to each other. I’ve had a lot of fun finding a happy medium. It’s been intense but it all paid off, really.”

12:15 p.m. “Nobody needs direction this morning. It’s just boom boom boom,” says Bégin as she moves from station to station to see if artists need help or more products.

Photo by Cori Stoddard
Photo by Cori Stoddard

12:24 p.m. Bradridge is painting a blue masked female Fireline Warrior. Next to Bradridge’s station is a tiled shower room draped with plastic. Two painters will work on the Javeline and Satina characters here.

Body make-up for Javeline character | Photo by Jess Baumung, courtesy of M.A.C. Cosmetics
Herald eye make-up | Photo by Cori Stoddard
Herald eye make-up | Photo by Cori Stoddard

M.A.C. Senior Artist Melissa Gibson says about the process: “It’s very smooth. Very organized. Easy to follow. It’s a beautiful look.” She’s making up a pink female Fireline Warrior. Like many artists here, this is her first production of this size.

M.A.C. Senior Artist Melissa Gibson making up a pink female Fireline Warrior | Photo by Jess Baumung, courtesy of M.A.C. Cosmetics

At Station 1, I talk to M.A.C. Senior Artist Jane McKay (below), who will create the make-ups for Discus, Javeline and Lutus, as well as for Sphere and the head female straps performer.

“I don’t have a minute to spare for about six hours,” says McKay. Showing me the mock-up for Discus, she says, “I love this whole look when you see him all together.” Discus, played by Freestyle Frisbee world champion Daniel O’Neill, was designed following the director’s superhero inspiration. Products for his look include M.A.C. Studio Sculpt Foundation, acrylic paint in Black and Landscape; M.A.C. Pigments in Silver Fog, Platinum and Silver; and Lit Cosmetics waterproof glitter glue. He uses special nails to perform; they will be painted with dark sparkly green polish.

M.A.C. Senior Artist Jane McKay making up Discus character | Photo by Jess Baumung, courtesy of M.A.C. Cosmetics

“Everyone in the room is certified with the M.A.C. organization at different levels. We know we can bring them into the environment and know they can do it,” says McKay. “Julie’s job is to be happy with the continuity and adaptation.”

When I ask her about the volume of glitter in the various looks, McKay says, “For this, it’s a staple.” It might also be a hazard—her eyes are red from glitter irritation the night before. She says she’ll probably turn off her fan.

12:57 p.m. Gibson readies her station to create looks for The Messenger, Fireline Warriors, DJ Shub and others. Senior Artist Caitlin Callahan (below), next to Gibson, is doing looks for Runus (inspired by the god Hermes, performed by Thomas Evans), Satina (modeled after surrealist interpretations of Aphrodite and performed by Erika Lemay) and Clay Juggler (Jimmy Gonzalez).

Gibson shows me one design she’s excited to work on: armbands for DJ Shub (below). She will use a fine white dust powder that goes over a gel mixing-medium base; it glows in the light like safety tape.

DJ Shub with his final, glowing armbands | Photo courtesy of PERSONA™ & Julie Bégin

“I love working with Cirque. They’re up for anything, right?” says Gibson.

“Yesterday it was just a huge pile of glitter and big gobs of clay on my chair. I’m really sorry for whoever has to clean up,” says Callahan.

Callahan describes changing the pink and blue warrior make-ups into silver make-up as an assembly line of artists slapping performers with a puff and saying, “Go! Go!”

1:52 p.m. “I like looking crazy! You get into character,” says Toronto dancer Mandy Keating (below), who’s made up as a blue Fireline Warrior. “It makes me get fully into character because then everything feels complete.”

Photo by Cori Stoddard
Photo by Cori Stoddard

2 p.m. McKay is working on The Sphere next. “The first look took 45 minutes yesterday and was 30 minutes today. Which is good, because I need 15 minutes to clean my brushes,” she says.

2:15 p.m. Kids’ Level: “With some of the pigments, the more you buff them in the more they glow,” says make-up artist Sarah Nisbett as she creates a luminous look on a girl. “It’s exciting to be a part of this. It’s great. It’s a nice change of pace and makes you feel like an artist fresh out of school.”

3:40 p.m. Green Room: Bégin checks Callahan’s station to replenish the mud jar for the Clay Juggler’s make-up (below). The clay mixture was a little too runny to her taste yesterday, Bégin says, so she’s adding to it. When she first created the look, she made a recipe that would keep the clay looking cracked without coming off. It’s sandwiched between two layers of Pros-Aide, she explains.

Pan Am Games Clay Juggler
M.A.C. Senior Artist Caitlin Callahan works on Jimmy Gonzalez | Photo by Jess Baumung, courtesy of M.A.C. Cosmetics

7:15 p.m. Only 45 minutes until showtime. Many of the make-up artists are moving with their kits closer to the immediate backstage areas. DJ Shub, formerly of the group A Tribe Called Red, just got his forearms painted in the safety-tape look so we can see how fast his arms move during the ceremony.

Bégin helps McKay complete the look for The Sphere while another artist finalizes her matte-gray and one-gold-nail manicure.

As they’re finishing, the attention in the room turns to a group of tall, authoritative men walking in. “He’s here,” Bégin tells McKay and apologizes as she pulls The Sphere performer from the chair. Turns out that the head of the group that just walked in is Donovan Bailey, a two-time Olympic champion sprinter. He gets a touch of powder.

8 p.m. I settle into my seat for the performance. It starts with four groups representing different tribes and then The Messenger (world champion hoop dancer Nakotah LaRance) appears onstage. This portion of the performance, dubbed “PowWow Carnival,” has 183 dancers from 21 dance troupes.

Fireline Warriors during the Opening Ceremony | Image © Toronto 2015 Pan Am / Parapan Am Games

8:10 p.m Bailey’s role becomes clear when the video monitors show him—and his fellow 1996 Olympic gold-medal winning relay team—carrying the Pan American Games torch.

8:25 p.m. Parade of Nations starts, with more than 6,000 international athletes.

9:12 p.m. The Heralds (in silver eye make-up) who led in the athletes are now bounding acrobatically onto the stage.

9:17 p.m. To blaring music, the five gods appear onstage. The child performers light the stage with lamps.

9:27 p.m. Clay Juggler appears; his earthen make-up reads well from my seat.

9:38 p.m. Satina, Guardian of the Long Jump, and other rope performers sparkle in the air as they twirl; her facial jewels reflect the lights.

9:43 p.m. Lutus (performed by Wellington Lima) enters to the sounds of thunder. His body paint glows and shows off his moves.

9:55 p.m. The intense Discus makes his way onstage, his make-up and hair covered by a large hood which he removes to reveal the look.

After a series of speeches from dignitaries, Runus and the Heralds run in place on treadmills on high platforms as other performers create slow-motion structures below them.

Bégin’s 1500 hours of work leading up to the show, and the skilled make-up application just before it, were something to be proud of.

“We LOVED how it went!” says Hunka. “The show ran so smoothly and the entire team had overwhelmingly positive feedback. From start to finish, it was an incredible project to be a part of.”

For more on Cirque du Soleil, see Issue 114.