When the cast list for Romeo and Juliet went up, like every show that has ever had prominent leading players, people had things to say about it, particularly about the girl playing Juliet. Whether or not these issues were actually called for was of no concern to me. I was surprised first and foremost because of the massive gray patch of ink on the back of her neck. She had a tattoo.
I'll begin by saying that I truly have no problems with tattoos, I have just never wanted one personally. Well thought out and expertly applied tattoos are fun, but what I find more pleasurable to look at are the horrendous tattoos.
Often enough, these are products of drunken escapades that made sense to commemorate at 4am in the morning after two joints and nine whiskey-sours. More often than not, though, a person is likely to get a bad tattoo because they actually think that it looks good. A massive bald eagle carrying a naked biker babe in one claw that takes over the entirety of their back, a Chinese dragon with a tail that extends down the shaft of their penis, Rod Stewart's likeness; these designs are colorful and detailed, indicating that someone actually paid a generous sum of money and invested several visits to the tattoo parlor for the finished product. These are my favorites.
While I understand that it's a free country and anyone can and should get one if they want, it never fails to amaze me when a fellow actor tells me that they want a tattoo. I suppose I shouldn't be that surprised; For the most part, I have found that actors are people who need more attention than the average small dog. Therefore, I never assume that they are talking about getting one in a concealed area such as the bottom of their foot or in between their vagina lips.
Ours is an industry where people get work based off of their appearance and their ability to look like something that they are most likely not. The ideal candidate for almost any job is a blank canvas. So unless your aspirations end at the World Wrestling Federation, getting a tattoo in a visible place is a stupid idea if you are an actor and you are just starting out.
Case in point: with opening night for Romeo and Juliet just days away, the costume crew could no longer skirt around the issue of covering up Juliet's tattoo. Our costume budget was designed to purchase the thick curtain and upholstery fabrics to make the period appropriate garments, not buy an actor's make-up for them. Faced with the fact that Juliet couldn't buy it herself, we began to experiment with third tier make-up from Walgrenes. By no means am I am an uppity bitch who is above drugstore make-up, but covering up a tattoo is serious business. Especially since, in Juliet's time, any process a girl could have used to permanently embed ink into her skin would surely have resulted in extreme disfigurement, if not death. And let's see Romeo want to seduce a Juliet that resembles Spud more closely than the traditional nymph.
Trying to cover up a tattoo with the cheap stuff was a bad idea. We tried every shade imaginable. We tried mixing every shade imaginable. We tried exfoliating, rubbing alcohol, anything to make the foundation stick. Nothing. The tattoo was still visible, possibly even more so because the make-up congealed into greasy pools of foundation and sweat that glistened under the stage lights. Covering up the tattoo with a costume, while it seemed like an easy solution, was out of the question. Our director nearly shat himself when we brought up the possibility.
"A dress that covers up the neck? Are you kidding me? No, really, are you kidding me? Because we're serious. We take Shakespeare seriously. Do you know what teenagers wore back then? Not some dress that crawled up their neck! Historical accuracy, people, historical accuracy!"
"That's a load of crap," I told someone. "If they're really concerned about the damn time period being correct, why the hell does the director have me singing some song that was written five hundred years down the road, huh?"
It was true. The director wanted some kind of music to underscore the instant sexual attraction between Romeo and Juliet. His solution was to have Lady Capulet sing a song written half a century down the road about beating yourself to repent for your sinful thoughts.
"It's in Latin," he said. "The Audience will never know any of those things."
Their final solution for Juliet's inkjob: a green concealer stick that they used to create a thick layer of aquamarine colored sludge over the tattoo that would then be covered with ivory powder. The result was a slimy patch on her back roughly the size of a grown man's hand. And while it looked more like a massive, unsightly bruise, it offered the consistency that none of the other methods could. The blob was plainly visible to the audience, but we figured it would make sense when they saw the scene where Juliet's father beat the living shit out of her.
On the final night of the show, when I walked into the green room and heard one of the freshmen talking about his plans for a 'radical' new tattoo on his back, I mentioned the hardships it would mean he'd have to endure when he began to audition for legitimate projects. He shrugged it off, saying 'that's what stage make-up is for.' I glanced in the direction of the stage, where Juliet's blob was in the middle of an important scene, and said,
"Well, in that case, I saw this really cool tattoo of a Chinese dragon where the tail extended all the way down the guy's penis. You should look into that one."