Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Tammy Potts - Merritt: At The Table With Tammy Potts Merritt

At The Table with Tammy Potts-Merritt, Make-up artist for Disney's The Lion King

 Wig Designer/Make-up artist Tammy Potts - Merritt at her personalized station backstage, Disney's The Lion King

When Tammy Potts Merritt was 16 years old she wanted to be an astronaut. However, her career vision changed when she fell in love with the theater. As one of the make-up artists and wig designers for Disney's Award Winning Musical, The Lion King, Tammy travels the country with the important job of transforming actors into the famous characters that we all know and love!  Originally from Nashville, she attended Middle Tennessee State University and received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Theater and Art then went on to receive her cosmetology license before pursuing her Master's Degree in Wigs and Make-up at North Carolina School of The Arts.

Her first job after receiving her Master's Degree was with the Opera. She's worked with The Nashville Opera, Opera Carolina and freelanced with numerous other productions. A connection she made while working in the Opera arena is how she landed this coveted job with The Lion King. Her hard work on the make-up and wig teams for various Opera productions paid off when a supervisor for The Lion King contacted her about an open position with this production. Four and a half years later, she is still traveling the country with this world-renowned theatrical masterpiece!

Being on the road with The Lion King full time has now become second nature to Tammy, her husband and their daughter. She works 6 days per week with one day off each week to catch up on sleep, explore the various cities that the show tours in, and spend time with her family. She admits that she has become somewhat of a night owl because her work days usually don't start until around 5pm during the week. She works 12 hour days on Saturday and Sunday due to there being two shows on each of those days. She has become accustomed to packing up everything she travels with every 4 weeks to head to the next show city. Tammy has to be aware of how much she shops on the road because there is not much room for new clothes, home goods, toys and games for her daughter, etc. She often times has to ship some things back to Nashville where she and her husband keep a pretty big storage unit for everything that can't travel with them on the road!

She starts setting up 2 hours before show time and starts the makeup applications 1 hour before each show. She begins with Zazu's makeup and wig application which takes about 30 minutes and then moves to Mufasa's make-up and wig application which takes another 20-30 minutes. She has the timing down to a science and is very systematic in her approach to transforming these actors into the characters you see on stage.

Since being with The Lion King for 4 1/2 years, Tammy suspects she has been involved with about 1500 shows! The energy backstage can be electric as there are dancers stretching and warming up, singers warming up their voices, and production team members preparing costumes and props. She says that there are so many creative people, in the forefront and behind the scenes, who are a part of the show that the vibe is almost always positive and upbeat! Many of the team members have become like family to her. "When you are around the same group of people like we are all the time, you start to celebrate birthdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter together and really get to know each other" Tammy says. There are about 25 children who travel with their parents on the road so her young daughter is never without other little ones to play with during their travels.

She's traveled to about 60 cities with this production and loves the opportunity for learning and growth that it allows not only her, but her 7 year old daughter! She love that her daughter has been able to see Alaska, Canada, 2 oceans and almost all, if not all, of the 50 US States. As much as she enjoys traveling all over the country with The Lion King, she is glad to be back in Nashville, even if only for 4 weeks while the show is at TPAC. "It feels lovely" Tammy says. She's enjoying spending quality time with her parents who still live in the Nashville area.

On being asked what advice she would offer to those interested in theater wig and make-up artistry Tammy says "Don't compromise. Do what you do and love it! There may be times along the way that you won't get paid for your work, but learn from the experience. Find people who love doing what you want to do and talk with them. Find a mentor and intern with them. Find a couple of people and make a big circle of mentors that you can reach out to when needed." That is great advice for those looking to pursue their career passions!

A few days after our interview, Tammy invited me backstage after a Saturday Matinee show for a closer look at how things operate behind the scenes! I was BLOWN away with seeing everything up close. The first time I saw The Lion King stage production, I Literally cried during the opening number. Everything was just so beautiful and I was overcome with emotion at the magnificence of the characters and music. To see these costumes right in front of me made my eyes light up like a kid in a candy store! As expected, Disney has a very strict policy of not allowing photography backstage. However, I was able to take the photo above of Tammy at her Wig and Makeup Station. Her make-up station is very personalized to fit her personality! She introduced me to many of the actors, some still in full stage make-up, and I could feel the creativity flowing through each and every one of them. I was able to hold an actual character wig and marvel at the attention to detail Tammy put into it. She says that it often takes her 50-60 hours to craft just one custom wig!!

Tammy Potts-Merritt is such a talented Wig Designer and Make-up artist that I'm sure we will be seeing her work on stages around the country and the world for many years to come!

 Photo taken outside of the Tennessee Performing Arts Center (TPAC - May 2013)

--Dr. April


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