In today’s society, it isn’t difficult to imagine women in positions of power: entrepreneurs, CEOs, district attorneys, governors, senators and more. However, back in the early 1900s, that was an almost unheard-of occurrence.
The musical, “War Paint,” highlights the rivalry between two of the makeup industries most influential women, Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubenstein. These two ruthless women blazed a trail in the beauty industry and were leaps and bounds ahead of their time.
Julie Noonan, assistant professor of the theatre department, sees the musical as a great opportunity to educate the audience with a story of female empowerment that’s based on historical figures.
“There’s a power dynamic of these women, and historically, they were quite short,” said Noonan. “We think of powerful men, very tall, and that they lead the pack, and these were quite in stature, small women, but they were queens of their universes.”
Tracy Bell, who plays Elizabeth Arden, was able to reflect on the positive and negative aspects of Arden’s role in the industry and how she could relate to her.
“She’s very passionate about what she does. She has built her company from the ground up, so I relate to her in striving for greatness and everything, but overall I don’t think she is the nicest lady, so I don’t really relate to that,” said Bell. “She doesn’t give credit where credit is due, and I’m not about that, but I get it. She just wanted everyone to view her as the strong woman she is, which is cool.”
Taylor Molt, who plays Helena Rubenstein, Arden’s rival, also was able to highlight the strengths and weaknesses of her character and how she could relate to her.
“She’s a lot different than me. We come from different cultures, and obviously she has lots of money, and I’m a broke college student,” said Molt. “But the way she thinks, no one’s going to tell her what to do. So, more than relating to her, I would like to be like that…she does things so effortlessly…We do have a lot of differences, but I do look up to her in a lot of different ways.”
Noonan noted that the height difference is played up a little bit in the show between the male and female characters as well, which she thinks is kind of fun, “We see who’s running things and who’s not running things,” said Noonan. “And how we perceive the world visually and it doesn’t always match up with that.”
Noonan hopes that the musical will help people realize who helped to start the trend of makeup. That these women helped to shape our perspective of what beauty is and how long that perspective really has been around.
“It’s not just today. It’s not just 20 years ago. It happened a long time ago. We’ve always been thinking of what it means to be beautiful,” said Noonan. “How then, do we look at ourselves, and what have both men and women done to shape that? How we shape our image for everyone or create standards for others.”
Though the show highlights strong female figures and the beauty industry, Noonan says it’s geared toward anyone, “These are women that are business leaders. They did things that all sorts of businesspeople do,” said Noonan. “They create their own legacy really. They tell stories that aren’t always true, and some of them that are, and so they’re really about making the world move around them, and that’s really for anyone.”
Shelby Rank, one of the set managers, also mentions how the musical doesn’t sugar-coat how tough women in the industry had to be at that time, “It does not hide anything about the main characters,” said Rank. “Some of the things that they [Arden and Rubenstein] did weren’t great and the musical doesn’t hide that.”
Besides the historical value of the show, Noonan said the sound will surprise people. “We have some fabulous voices in the show that everyday surprise me,” said Noonan “and I go ‘wow that’s going to blow them away.’”
Rank echoed how great she thought the soundtrack was, “I really love the music,” said Rank. “There are a few songs. Face to Face, Pink and Forever Beautiful, I think, are three of my favorite songs, because the lyrics in them are just so beautiful.”
On the way home Noonan wants the audience to think back and say, “did that really happen?”
“Some of it did, but some of it for dramatic affect is fictionalized, but most of it is real,” said Noonan. “So, to be able to go ‘wow I did know that they really existed and that they did those things at that time’ and maybe to think ‘wow I didn’t know that they helped to shape the cosmetic industry.’”
Bell would like the audience to leave knowing, “That women are powerful and can be the leaders of their company despite the challenges that they face in society,” said Bell. “They can take charge and they are every bit as good as men and demand to be treated equally.”
The impact Molt would like to leave on the audience is also a similar one.
“In the world we live in today, with everything that’s going on, and stuff like this is still going on and this happened 50 years ago, more than 50 years ago. It’s really sad to see people are still having these struggles,” said Molt. “Taylor Swift released a song called ‘The Man’ which is literally the same premises of ‘If I’d been a man’ in this show, about these women from a long time ago, so I’m like why is Taylor Swift at the top of her game [like these women were], and we are still having these problems and to make people see that’s still a problem.”
For students, faculty and the community that would like to attend, Noonan wanted to highlight that ticketing is a little bit different for this this show. All the proceeds will go to help the students who are traveling to Scotland, spring and summer 2020.
“We don’t have an admission price, per say,” said Noonan. “But we have a recommended donation of $10 – you can always give more, but if you can’t afford $10, they will of course let you in. They want you to see the show.”
Students will take the proceeds to Edinburgh, Scotland, where they will be performing a show at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe spring 2020. The musical will be at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 8,9,15 and 16 and at 2 p.m. Nov. 17. The production is in the Andrew J. and Georgia Neese Gray Theatre on campus.
Edited by Jessica Galvin, Adam White and Jason Morrison.