Back to Blog List

WAO Ghost Spotlight with Virginia Hawdon

As we delight in the gradual return to live performance, now is the perfect time to explore how exciting opera moments begin with those behind the scenes. From beautiful ballrooms to quirky cardboard constructions, we want to shine a spotlight on our creatives working in the Ghost Light to bring the magic of opera to you. Connect with your state opera company on an intimate level and dive into the preparation, research and ingenuity required to pull a production together.

This week, hear from Hair and Wigs expert Virginia Hawdon on her experience juggling sourcing and time constraints for The Telephone, the lengthy but exhilarating lead up to productions, and her secrets for success backstage.

1. Tell us about your experience working on hair and wigs for The Telephone – how does it compare to live opera? Were there any new requirements or pressure points?

I was thrilled to work on The Telephone and to be part of the creative process. The lead up was similar to preparing for a live production: discussing designs, looks, changes of the characters in the story line, and the period it was set in.

The difference came with film providing a much closer view of the artists than the audience would see in the theatre. Hence a softer, more natural approach was called for.

I was able to use Lucy’s and Ben’s own hair. Pam required a wig due to her character’s design. The option of purchasing or making a wig was not possible due to the timeframe and restrictions of the pandemic period. The wig would not have been delivered on time.

Tyler (Hill), the designer, was flexible and grateful for what I could come up with. I was able to source a wig from my collection, which I coloured and styled into the desired look.

2. How important do you think it is to find new ways to produce opera during this time and beyond?

These times have forced change, and with new concepts and approaches WAO have continued to deliver to audiences, opening opportunities for people to engage with and experience opera. I think this is wonderful.

3. What challenges and opportunities did this period present? What did working in the “ghost light” mean for you?

This period has been challenging as a freelance artist in the entertainment industry. I was excited to be part of this production, as I look forward to all opera seasons when they come around.

I juggle work between theatre, opera, ballet, film, and a hairdressing business. I have taken the opportunity during this period to make some new wigs for my stock.

4. What preparation goes into creating the hairstyles and wigs for an opera? How do you combine research and creativity?

Leading up to an opera, the preparation for a production may commence weeks beforehand, from sourcing, making and styling wigs. I study the designs given to me; research the period, storyline and the production’s contents.

I enjoy this process immensely and do this from my home salon. The wigs are then brought into the theatre and set up. From there, the styles of wigs and hair are adjusted accordingly if need be, with input of designer, director and performer (whilst still leaving room for my own creative license).

5. Do you have any ‘backstage secrets’ you can share?

Having a good team, working fast, carrying the tools you need on you, and creating and following a plot always equals success whilst working backstage.

6. How will you be spending your days now that restrictions are relaxed?

It has not affected my personal life and interests a great deal. The lack of work and slower pace has filled my days with many creative projects. Although, I am looking forward to more work opportunities and travel.

Also, to be able to kiss and hug people again, which is true to my roots.

7. What excites you most about working on live events again?

I am looking forward to large productions resuming and workflow increasing. The preparation and lead up to a production excites me the most.


Be sure not to miss The Telephone – with Hair and Wigs by Virginia Hawdon, this digital opera production is available via West Australian Opera’s YouTube Channel



Originating from France, Virginia came to Australia with her family at the age of seven. Her early training as a hairdresser launched her career and began her journey towards wigs and makeup in theatre arts, beginning with Madame Butterfly in the early nineties. She has since worked on over one hundred productions in the roles of Hair, Wigs and Makeup, in opera, ballet, theatre, musical theatre and film.

Some of her highlights have included:

Opera: The Barber of Seville, La Fanciulla, The Pearl Fishers, The Tales of Hoffman, La Bohème, The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, The Magic Flute, Aida, Sweeney Todd, and Macbeth.

Ballet: Dangerous Liaisons, Alice in Wonderland, Swan Lake, and The Great Gatsby.

Theatre: A Murder is Announced, The Turning, Equus, and A Streetcar Named Desire.

Musical Theatre: Les Misérables international tour, Mary Poppins, Jersey Boys, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Aladdin, Wicked, Grease, Dirty Dancing, Mamma Mia, We Will Rock You and Singing in the Rain.

Film: Thunderstruck, The Great Escape, Blame, Desert Rats, An Accidental Solider, The War That Changed Us, Looking for Grace, Bad Girls, 3 Summers, H is for Happiness and The Furnace.