The Addams Family is heading into its second weekend, and one of the people working hard to keep the cast looking their best and creepiest on stage is eighteen-year-old makeup artist Abbie Shaffer, of Jefferson. Shaffer, who also draws, airbrushes, works in graphic design at A-Tech, and enjoys horseback riding, says she was about eleven years old when she created her first special makeup effect.
“My mother was doing this party with a carnival theme and had a set of face paints. I found it one day and thought, ‘I wonder if I can mess with this and see what I can do.’ I took it and made this really cool-looking road rash on my cousin’s back. Then I started wondering how I could expand that.”
Shaffer is a fan of the SyFy show Face Off, where special effects artists square off against each other, creating all manner of creatures in makeup, prosthetics, and body paint: “It’s so cool to see characters come to life on stage.” She says it’s not uncommon for her to practice her effects on herself if she doesn’t have another model.
Her taste in effects definitely runs to the ghoulish end of the spectrum, bringing to life characters and creatures from horror and dark fantasy. “I am not a beauty makeup artist – the more blood, the better. I cosplayed as Abaddon from Supernatural for a Comic Con. I had stitches across my throat and blood down the front of me – it was great.” That attraction to all things macabre drew her to the role of makeup artist for the G.B. Community Theatre production of Sweeney Todd: the Demon Barber of Fleet Street last January – the first show she worked on at the arts center. Since then she’s worked on shows including Shrek at Edgewood High School, as well as creating original characters for other events.
Her current work on The Addams Family has been an enjoyable challenge. It takes her approximately an hour to finish the makeup effects for the entire cast, with Fester (Derek Lebzelter) and Lurch (Emery Colvin and Fred Robsel) requiring the most time and attention: “I have to paint [Fester’s] entire head, and make sure he doesn’t look patchy under the stage lights. And I wanted Lurch to look like an old-school zombie.”
Shaffer also credits cast members Michele Jones and John Norton with their assistance on makeup, with special thanks to the show’s director: “I have to thank Christy Seymour for letting me do makeup at the arts center. It’s helped me grow as a person. I’ve gotten my name out there and have been requested to do shows in other places, as well. I wouldn’t have been able to do any of that without her.”
Shaffer is giving serious consideration to the possibility of pursuing special effects makeup as a career, though she is also considering work as a conceptual artist in the video game design industry. Whatever future she chooses, she finds satisfaction in the work she’s doing right now: “My art goes on stage. When people applaud, I can take a part of that for myself. I made that.”
Catch Abbie Shaffer’s handiwork in The Addams Family at the Ashtabula Arts Center, October 28-30 and November 4-6.