If you need to know how to get the perfect shade of Elphaba green, call Christa Kaimimoku-Wong. She is the makeup supervisor, a.k.a. the official greenifier, for the long-running Broadway production of Wicked, which recently celebrated its 20th anniversary at the Gershwin Theatre.
Hawaiian native Kaimimoku-Wong, who was also part of the recent Wicked panel at New York Comic Con at the Javits Center, studied illustration and painting but discovered her passion for makeup after participating in the performing arts. Following her move to Manhattan, the makeup artist has worked in TV and film, at Fashion Week, and on Broadway, where she joined the Wicked team in 2015.
In the interview below for the Playbill series How Did I Get Here—spotlighting not only actors, but directors, designers, musicians, and others who work on and off the stage to create the magic that is live theatre—Kaimimoku-Wong shares her journey from painter to Wicked makeup supervisor and how the show saved her life.
What drew you to makeup design/supervision?
Christa Kaimimoku-Wong: To be honest, there wasn’t one thing in particular that drew me to a makeup design/supervisor role. I’ve always had a passion for character-based makeup and the art of telling a story. In 2014, I was asked to design the makeup for The Illusionists on Broadway, and it was exciting. I would love to design more in the future if the right opportunity presents itself.
In 2015, I had the privilege of being asked by the current supervisor at the time, Craig Jessup, to swing at Wicked and eventually take over the makeup supervisor position in 2021. As a swing, I was able to learn the ins and outs of what the job requirements are, so it was a smooth transition.
Where did you train/study?
I’ve been drawing and painting my whole life, which I believe plays an essential role in the art of makeup application. Through fine art, I was able to learn color theory, blending, and lighting. I tell every aspiring makeup artist to take art classes over spending thousands of dollars on makeup school.
When I was 15, I started working at a glamour shots studio at my local mall. That is where I learned the proper application of makeup for photo shoots. At the same time, I was active in the performing arts in school, so that is how I developed my theatrical makeup skills. I also think it’s helpful that I was able to experience theatrical makeup while performing so when actors have concerns, I can relate and help them easily.
I also worked at MAC Cosmetics for 11 years. During this time, I was able to work with and meet some of the best makeup artists in the world. I was able to study and watch their technique, and even sometimes having them critique my work. MAC also taught me how to be a presenter, verbally and visually, in telling the story of makeup. I am grateful for my time with MAC and all of the people I met along the way.
Was there a teacher/instructor who was particularly impactful/helpful? What made this person stand out?
This is a hard question because I’ve had the privilege of working with the best artists in this industry. Every artist I’ve ever worked with has been impactful or helpful at some point in my career. But to name a few, all of my MAC retail artist family, the MAC Senior Artists, Craig Jessup, Kabuki, and Joe Dulude.
Can you detail the nightly duties of a makeup supervisor? Do you work on other actors in the show or only Elphaba?
Depending on the show time, I need to be at the theatre an hour-and-a-half before to begin my show prep. During this time, I am delivering animal masks, prepping facial hair with Topstick, and painting/repairing masks as needed. At half-hour is when I head up to the principal hallway to begin greening Elphaba.
Are you able to be creative with the makeup or is it standard for the production?
Out of respect to the makeup designer, Joe Dulude, I do not make creative changes. Respecting his vision is crucial in honoring the designer’s expertise and vision for the show. The beauty of being in a show that has been on this long is we’re constantly getting new faces to work with. This is when Joe is able to get creative because not every actress has the same features or skin color.
Tell me about a time you almost gave up but didn’t.
When I moved to New York in 2011, I hit the pavement dropping off my resume to every MAC Cosmetics location in the city. I must’ve dropped off 20 resumes, and after a month of no callbacks, I only had a couple hundred dollars in savings left and on the brink of giving up. It was hard to accept that I may have to move back home and give up this dream.
By some miracle, the next day I had two callbacks at the same time, and the rest is history.
What do you consider your big break?
I would consider getting the makeup swing position at Wicked my big break. When I started swinging, it was a blessing because I was in a very dark place mentally due to my day job. I was questioning my purpose and place in this industry. The supervisor at the time, Craig Jessup, saved me, and I owe so much to him. He saw something in me and took a chance. This is the biggest production I have been a part of so far, and it has definitely helped to get my name and work exposed to a larger audience.
What advice would you give your younger self or anyone starting out?
I would tell anyone starting out to stay focused on your craft, speak up for yourself, and be humble. I don’t have a huge social media following, and I don’t care because the majority of the work I book has come from word of mouth. People will always remember experiences and feelings, good and bad, so make sure you are authentic and stand out respectfully. I am living proof talent and kindness will take you far.
What is your proudest achievement as a makeup supervisor?
My proudest achievement was doing the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade with Wicked in 2021. I was supposed to have an assistant, but due to circumstances beyond my control, it fell through. I only found out a few hours before my 5 AM call time. I remember giving myself a pep talk prior, mentally preparing that I needed to look over the entire ensemble while doing Glinda and Elphaba’s makeup.
I was running around 34th Street like a crazy woman making sure everyone looked good. After
the performance, I was exhausted mentally and spiritually, and our
former company manager Susan Sampliner came up to me and said, “You
should be extremely proud of yourself—you did good.” That meant
everything to me. So, whenever I am having a hard day on the job, I look back at that time and tell myself, “You got this.”