UNCSA alumni tress to impress: Amelia Brown and Harley Haberman's journey to Broadway’s “Camelot”

Amelia Brown (D&P ’22) and Harley Haberman (D&P ’20) have a lot in common: they both grew up mesmerized by the hair and makeup in performances, they both attended the Wig & Makeup Design program at UNCSA, and they both landed dream jobs on Lerner and Loewe’s “Camelot.” 

In between shows at the Lincoln Center, the two recent graduates spoke about their discovery of the craft, their time at UNCSA and the excitement of working on the alumni-fueled Broadway production.

The beginning

Brown grew up dancing, and she loved it. But it wasn’t the pirouettes and assemblés that captivated her — Brown’s favorite part of every dance competition was the hair and makeup. By the time she was finishing high school, she knew she’d found her calling: It clicked that she wanted to pursue hair and makeup professionally as she watched the Tony Awards performance of “Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812.” “I remember seeing the hair and just knowing this was what I had to do,” she says. “It was this level of beautiful and weird and it felt like it suited me. It all fell into place at that moment, and I’ve never looked back.”

For Haberman, it was watching live theater. He grew up on the West Coast, thousands of miles from Broadway, but caught a touring show once a year. “Seeing shows like ‘Wicked’ or ‘Cats,’ where someone’s flying in front of you, I think that is when it all clicked for me that theater and live entertainment is really the ‘it,’” he remembers. And for Haberman, the pinnacle of that “it” was the hair and wigs — he fell in love with them at a young age. By high school, he was studying theater and teaching himself through YouTube how to build wigs.

A program like no other

For someone who wants to learn wigs and makeup, UNCSA is a natural choice: it houses one of the world's top global entertainment design and production schools, offers 100,000 square feet of state-of-the-art production space and provides countless opportunities to work on actual productions. And it has an additional allure — instead of lumping design and production courses under a generalist degree, the School of Design and Production (D&P) offers specialized programs in every aspect of modern stagecraft, including a renowned Wig & Makeup Design program. It didn’t take long for either Brown or Haberman to find their way there.

Behind the scenes of "Heathers: The Musical." / Photo: Wayne ReichBehind the scenes of "Heathers: The Musical." / Photo: Wayne ReichA section of the Wig & Makeup Design studio. / Photo: Wayne ReichA section of the Wig & Makeup Design studio. / Photo: Wayne Reich

“One of the things about UNCSA that is so special, especially when you’re focusing on wig and makeup design, is there’s not a lot of universities that offer that,” says Brown. “It is such a unique opportunity; you get four years to sit down and hone this skill.” Ventilation, styling, makeup, prosthetics – students learn every aspect of wig and makeup design in the program, one of the only of its kind.

Meanwhile, both she and Haberman were equipped with a foundation of knowledge through first- and second-year curriculum on a full array of industry skills. “The opportunity in my first year to do other disciplines in D&P like costumes, lighting and set building really gave me a much more well-rounded appreciation,” says Haberman. Now, in production meetings, he can listen to what the other designers and creatives are saying and be able to understand them, leading to deeper conversations and collaborations — an ability that he says has distinguished him in the field.

Working together

And then there’s the cross-conservatory collaboration. D&P works with the Schools of Dance, Drama and Film and the A.J. Fletcher Opera Institute to create professional productions. From Brown’s experience being the wig and makeup designer on a fourth-year film circling around drag queens (“Stomping Grounds”) to Haberman designing life-like hair and tattoos for a riveting devised theater piece (“Still Life with Rocket”), the two creatives had inter-disciplinary opportunities that afforded them a unique — and highly desirable — perspective.  

Characters perform in "Still Life with Rocket," scene designed by Nadir Bey, Taja Seafus and Erin Ashbaugh. / Photo: Peter Mueller  Characters perform in "Still Life with Rocket," scene designed by Nadir Bey, Taja Seafus and Erin Ashbaugh. / Photo: Peter Mueller  Kobe McKelvey as Bex in the short film Stomping Grounds, directed by Sylvia Massey. Wig and makeup design by Amelia Brown.Wig worn by Kobe McKelvey to portray Bex in the short film, Stomping Grounds, styled by Jenn Somers. Wig and makeup designer Amelia Brown. / Photo: Amelia Brown.Aphrodite Armstrong as Rosy Cheeks in the short film Stomping Grounds, directed by Sylvia Massey. Wig and makeup design by Amelia Brown.Wig worn by Aphrodite Armstrong to portray Rosy Cheeks in the short film, Stomping Grounds. Styled by Amelia Brown and Kenzie Biundo. / Photo: Amelia Brown.

“Being able to have an educated conversation with someone who doesn’t necessarily do what we do for the industry is huge,” says Brown. “Theater, film, whatever you may be doing, arts are generally a very collaborative industry. You have to be able to talk to other people and have an understanding outside of what you do. UNCSA really set us up for that.”

In short, the Wig & Makeup Design program would well prepare Brown and Haberman for careers in the industry. But first, they both had to make a few mistakes.

A safe space to fail

The best advice Brown ever got was that UNCSA was “a safe place to fail.” In her program, students were responsible for every aspect of a project, from conception to execution. They could take the concepts they’d learn, the pieces they’d practiced, and apply them in real-time to an actual production – and they were given ample space to do so.

“The teachers are there as a watchful eye and to help guide you,” Haberman recalls, “but they do allow you to fall and make a mistake.” Haberman and Brown learned what to do if a design doesn't turn out as they envisioned or a wig isn't done in time. “They teach you how to fix problems because that’s an important real-world skill,” Brown adds. “They let you mess up at school, so you know how to handle these things.”

For Haberman, the independence to do his own thinking on a project was a critical life skill he learned at UNCSA, empowering him once he started working in the industry. It was a skill he also helped others to learn: the very first show Brown worked on at UNCSA was “Spring Awakening,” for which Haberman was the designer. Despite it being Brown’s first show, Haberman gave her trust and responsibility. “He handed me a beard and said, ‘you can do this, build it,’” Brown remembers. “He had so much trust in me, which helped me feel confident moving forward.”

UNCSA students prepare for Spring Awakening.Amelia Brown applies makeup for a performer in Spring Awakening.Amelia Brown applies makeup for a performer in Spring Awakening.The performance of Spring Awakening at UNCSA.

At UNCSA, Brown and Haberman learned more than just the art of their craft — they learned how to ensure the show goes on, whatever the obstacle. For Brown, this problem-solving ability was about to become extremely useful.

Launching a career

It’s one thing to build wigs in a professional studio space. It’s another entirely to build them in a hotel lobby — a reality Brown discovered first-hand. In the spring before graduation, Brown was offered a position as assistant supervisor on the national tour of “Cats.” It was an incredible opportunity, exactly the type of position she hoped to find once she graduated. There was only one problem: Brown was still in school, in the middle of her last semester.

Wig & Makeup faculty worked with Brown, enabling her to pursue the position on “Cats.” She took her classes remotely while on the road, building wigs for her final projects anywhere she had the space. “What other schools would you find that will do that and make that happen,” asks Brown. “That is a unique UNCSA experience for sure, and I am so grateful because it jump started my career.”

Zach Bravo as Rum Tum Tugger in Cats and Amelia Brown.Aiden Pressel as Macavity in Cats and Amelia Brown.Lexy Bittner as Cassandra in Cats and Amelia Brown.

Brown was a semester ahead but in good company — the job placement rate for students in the Wig & Makeup Design program is currently 92% within a month of graduation; the remaining 8% typically are either continuing their studies or choosing to take time off. Haberman had been experiencing this first-hand — since graduating, he’d been the associate hair, wig and makeup designer for two Tony-award-winning productions, “The Skin of Our Teeth” and “A Christmas Carol,” as well as numerous other gigs.

Meanwhile, Brown was rising to the challenge of working her first professional job while finishing her degree. She successfully completed both, graduating from UNCSA and launching her career. After those accomplishments, there was only one logical next step and it was lined with bright lights, neon signs and theaters: Broadway.

King Arthur’s hair

Brown’s very first thought when she booked “Camelot” was simply pure joy. It was not only her Broadway debut but the realization of a dream she’d had since she was 16. “I was overjoyed,” she remembers. “Just thrilled, I couldn’t believe it was happening.”

As the hairstylist for “Camelot,” Brown was in familiar territory. On her first day on set, she met with fellow alumnus Alex Howard (D&P ’20), the show’s hair and wig supervisor. “We came in and just sort of set up the space to function for us,” she says. “It felt like I was creating a home in a Broadway theater for the first time.” Of course, Haberman's presence as the associate hair and wig designer was part of that homey feeling. Though it wasn’t his first Broadway production, he was still thrilled and beyond excited to do a musical at Lincoln Center.

On opening night, Haberman, Brown and Howard watched as the curtains rose to reveal King Arthur’s perfectly styled hair, the elegant locks of Phillipa Soo’s Guenevere and Lancelot’s knightly beard. “It felt like a culmination of so many dreams and desires I’ve had for years and years,” recalls Brown. “To sit there and look around, knowing your name is in the playbill and seeing these people you’ve admired be on stage, is just really, truly rewarding.”

“It was amazing,” adds Haberman. “I was fortunate enough to bring my best friend Natalie, who is also an alum. Being able to show her something that so many people from UNCSA have worked on and put their heart into really meant the world to me.”

Truly an alumni-fueled production, "Camelot" boasted not only UNCSA graduates behind the scenes but on the stage as well — alumnus Matias De La Flor (Drama ‘22) was part of the production’s ensemble and as Lancelot du Lac’s understudy and alumnus Paul Whitty (Drama ‘02) was Dap, ensemble, and the understudy for Sir Lionel and Merlyn/Pellinore. 

This summer, Brown’s love of hair and makeup came full circle when the cast of “Camelot” performed the show’s greatest hits at the 2023 Tony Awards. Somewhere, someone was watching that performance, realizing their future was in the arts — and Brown and Haberman, alongside Howard, De La Flor and Whitty, were there to make it possible. 

September 08, 2023