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How to Become a Broadway Makeup Artist in 3 (Not-So) Easy Steps



There’s more than one way to make it on the Great White Way. Dorothy Peterson, who goes by Dotty, moved to New York from Florida nine years ago to pursue her dream a career on Broadway. Dotty had worked on and off with Lancome in the Sunshine State, and started with their brand in NYC. “This is a true statistic,” Dotty told Broadway Spin. “I worked at every department store in the city that had Lancome cosmetics, plus Sephora – every single one of them.” Here’s how she went from Bergdorf’s to Bette Midler’s dressing room.

Dorothy Peterson at the opening night of Frozen. Photo: Instagram, @dottydoesmakeup.

Dorothy Peterson at the opening night of Frozen. Photo: Instagram, @dottydoesmakeup.

Step 1: Hustle

Through Lancome, Dotty worked at fashion week for shows like Chris Benz and Monika Chiang, which “opened a lot of doors.” Simultaneously, she became the primary makeup artist for a friend’s opera company, which in turn led to more referrals and gigs. In other words, she hustled to build a stellar resume – but she still wasn’t on Broadway. She then found out she’d need to be in the union, and to be in the union, she’d need to know how to do special effects makeup. With the help of her boyfriend (kudos to that guy!), Dotty linked up with Stella Sensel, of Face Off fame. “She’s really awesome. She makes monsters,” Dotty gushed. “I can’t quite make monsters, but I can do some sick bruises!”

Step 2: Be Nice to Your Waitress

Then she hit a speedbump. “I interviewed for the union and I didn’t get in because I didn’t have film experience,” Dotty said. She was down, but not out – and the next day she received an offer to do special effects on a film. “I was like, ‘OK, a little late, but everything happens for a reason.’” Who hooked her up with that breakthrough moment? A waitress at an Italian restaurant Dotty frequented often… because this is New York and in New York your waitress might also be dating a film director who needed a special effects makeup artist for his next movie.

Dorothy Peterson at Bernadette Peters’ first performance of Hello, Dolly! Photo: Instagram, @dottydoesmakeup.

“I did a black eye on the lead character. It was a low-budget film and I had to do it in a Peter Pan bus with no lighting,” Dotty remembered. “I was super scared because it was my film for pay, but I even got to touch up Tatiana Ali, which was pretty cool.” During the shoot, Dotty befriended the key makeup artist, who then started kicking Dotty more gigs. She built up her resume even more until a contact (from Lancome, to bring it full-circle) introduced her to Bette Midler’s makeup artist shortly before it was announced that Midler was going to star in Hello Dolly! on Broadway.

Step 3: Strike While the Iron is Hot

Midler’s makeup artist asked Dotty if she’d be interested in being her swing (which is theater-talk for backup). “I was like, ‘Let me think umm yes,’” Dotty laughed. Despite not being in the union, Dotty managed to nab the post as the swing for both Bette Midler and Donna Murphy – who played the title role on Midler’s days off. It was Dotty’s first Broadway job, and it was a big one. ICYMI, Bette Midler and Donna Murphy are kind of a big deal.

Dorothy Peterson and Donna Murphy. Photo: Instagram, @dottydoesmakeup.

When the key makeup artist had to unexpectedly take time off, Dotty became Murphy’s official artist, and subbed in to do Midler’s makeup for 8 performances, including the one hours before she won her Tony. Dotty soon learned subtle backstage tricks – like quietly waving a brush in the air to signal to Murphy that she needed to stop socializing with whoever was in the dressing room and start to prepare. “You never really know what’s going to happen backstage, so you have to be ready for anything,” Dotty chimed, noting that Murphy’s dresser often resorted to waving the famous red dress at Murphy – like a matador – to cue her that it was time to change for the Harmonia Gardens scene.

Murphy described Dotty as a “kind and patient collaborator, and a sweetheart,” and credited her for helping to “find Dolly’s look.” That’s a pretty impressive shoutout, since Dolly’s look is Dolly in so many ways. Asked to sum up her journey to Broadway, Dotty said, “It’s a combination of talent, hard work, and who you know.”

Karine Mendonca and Christina Eskridge. Makeup by Dorothy Peterson.

Asked her go-to product, Dotty didn’t miss a beat: “Albolene cleanser,” she quipped. “It’s inexpensive and effective.” We’re going to go stock up right now.

Hello, Dolly! is playing through August 25 and tickets are in play through Broadway Roulette.