Kyra Loubser is a Cape Town-based hair and makeup artist, stylist and beauty editor for Kuier Magazine. Initially entering the industry as a hairdresser, Kyra was introduced to the world of television with M-Net working as part of the styling team for the Miss Soweto Pageant. She then went on to be a part of the styling team for the Miss South Africa Pageant, which she considers to be a career-defining moment. Kyra was then approached by Idols winner, Karin Kortje to do her styling, hair and makeup which jumpstarted her career as a stylist, hair and makeup artist and saw her work expanding into theatre. This led to introductions to names such as Alistair Izobell and Kim Engelbrecht. About a year later, she was offered the position as Tracey Lange’s stylist for Bravo! on Kyknet. Kyra also spends her time mentoring and upskilling four ‘Kyra Fairies’ who have shown an interest and passion for the industry. Her work has spanned TV, film and theatre but it’s her latest project, which sees her designing and creating the makeup looks featured in Kinky Boots at the Fugard Theatre, that has everyone buzzing.
Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in the arts?
I think I’ve always been artistic. It runs in my family. My whole family has got an artistic side to them whether it’s in cooking or baking. My artistic side is not specific to what I do. I do all types of art and I enjoy all types of art. I don’t know if it was instilled in me but my mom always kept me very involved in little school projects. She was a primary school teacher, so she was always very good with her hands. I was destined to become an architect but that didn’t work out. When you were artistic in that time, this wasn’t considered to be a career. I’m from Elsie’s River. The arts weren’t considered to be a sustainable career. You always had to have something to fall back on.
Originally when you entered the industry, you were working specifically as a hairdresser. What was it that pulled you into the arts side of the industry?
The world was always exciting to me. I have always wanted to work in theatre. My mom took me to a production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s H.M.S Pinafore at the Baxter Theatre when I was about 11. I think it was still segregated at that time but I remember it being really beautiful. My brother was actually one of the sailors in the production. I used to lisp as a child and my mom used to say to me that if I can say ‘S,’ I’ll get a pair of riding boots and she’ll take me to the theatre. When I eventually said ‘S,’ I ended up at the theatre but I think it was more because my brother was a performer in it. Since then, I’ve always been exposed to theatre. You can imagine it was quite a moment for me at the Baxter when I worked with David Kramer and Alistair Izobell on a production. I was walking with David and I said, “I can’t believe I’m actually working here after being here as a child when it was segregated to now, actually working here and being from Elsie’s River.” It was an achievement on its own, I think. This wasn’t considered to be a career at all. It wasn’t heard of. It was academics. Even sports during that time wasn’t considered to be a career. You had to juggle both. I ended up studying Marketing but I always nurtured that other side of me and I always loved making people feel beautiful. I was always drawn to the magic of the theatre as a child and I’m still fascinated with it.
What was it that attracted you to Kinky Boots?
I was approached by the amazing Lamees [Albertus] who I had met through me working at the Baxter and I had done her makeup a few times. This is the first time I’m working with The Fugard on a production. She approached me and said, “This is for you.” I have been having so much fun because look who I’m working with! I’m working with unbelievable talented people.
What is an average day like for you?
I‘m a makeup artist and personal stylist [for] Tracey Lange. My day usually starts with her. She has a radio show at Kfm and immediately after the radio show, she does a show called Bravo! After I’ve done her makeup, I head over to my shop in Sea Point. We’ll have supplier meetings and that type of things, then I take time to write because I’m the beauty editor for Kuier Magazine as well. It’s a bi-weekly magazine, so I have to make sure there’s a new article every second week. From there, either I go round sourcing for whatever I’m doing and then I come to the theatre and then I’m with the Angels and everyone else upstairs making sure that everyone is sorted out and the looks and happening. I don’t come in every day. During the show, I’ll pop in and see if everyone is still keeping to how it was supposed to be.
What was your creation process around creating each individual look?
Essentially, what was happening, myself, Lamees, the director and everybody discussed the vision and the look for every artist and character in the show. Then I do their look and it gets approved and it’s an up and down process because it’s the lights and then the light goes on and suddenly it fades everything away. When that look is finalised, I then teach each character to do their own makeup. I make sure they have their little kits and everything. With Lamees, we make sure that we keep them updated. The Angels’ eyebrows were a work in progress. When I started doing makeup and studied at CPUT, I use nothing from that because you develop your own style. If I teach you to do your makeup, you’ll say, “Ok but I don’t like it this way. This way is easier.” Whatever works for you. We went through the proper way of doing everything and then there was their way of doing everything. The eyebrows for everyone was a bit of a challenge but we got them moulds to put on and they practised from there. Within a week, people were free handing. There is nothing in makeup that can’t be corrected. It was all about teaching technique. Because they are artistic as well, it was a fairly easy process, I must admit because they are fabulous. It was more about teaching technique and brush use and product use to make them comfortable in their own look. It’s still evolving. Every time I come up here there is something new. It’s amazing to see [the progress] from the time they started and they were so nervous. You need to have fun with makeup. It’s not the enemy.
In terms of designing the makeup looks for the show, were there any kind of unique challenges that presented themselves?
The only challenge that we faced was the severity of it. Generally, when people look in the mirror and you do your makeup, you kind of do what you see and what you are working with. If I tell you to draw a black line around your face, it’s going to look extremely harsh and you are going to try and tone it down because visually, in that light, it looks severe but when you get to the stage and they put on a light and light you, it’s gone. It was a big challenge for some of them that have dragged before or that have been playing with drag queen makeup, to kind of looking like a girl to looking like a drag queen because they are not supposed to look like women. We want them to look severe. That was the only challenge, to get them to buy into what we are seeing from the audience because it can look clownish. And then working with the lights. Red light is the enemy of makeup because it takes away blusher and everything. The minute the light is red or pink on the face, everything is gone. Even the contour and everything is very severe because of the lighting. In some lighting, it looks a bit harsh but we had to find a medium of where it works well. If you are sitting in the front row, it needs to look the same as the person sitting right on the top. I think that was the main challenge.
I’m not sure if you are allowed to talk about this but in terms of the makeup in the show, Earl Gregory who plays ‘Lola’, changes from ‘Lola’ to ‘Simon’ sometimes very quickly and I’m sure that involves incredibly fast makeup changes. How are you able to do that?
That was quite a process. We had prosthetic eyebrows, we had different shapes of eyebrows in the original trials and eventually, it got to a point where we felt that he was feminine enough to pull off a certain eyebrow. He wears a certain eyebrow and a certain makeup and he knows how to project his face. When he is male, even with the eyelashes on, his eye will be like that and whatever is on the lid will be hidden away. When he plays Lola, his eyebrows will lift and you’ll see the colour behind the lashes. Besides maybe a lipstick change and add cheek or down cheek, everything else stays the same. It’s face animation that works together with makeup style for him. We’ve given him a glitzy colour under the crease and he knows how to work his face. I’ve worked with amazing artists throughout the years but my heart was with these Angles and Lola. Besides the fact that they are phenomenal people, I think I still get a bit emotional when I talk about them because they are really special. When I tell people about the show and about the makeup and everything, I think people initially just think, “Oh… drag queens.” When the Angels come on, you see drag queens and then the next minute it goes to a complete level and I don’t think you are just seeing drag queens anymore, you are taken into another world which is really special to me. As a makeup artist, it’s important to nurture. This is my happy place. It’s a talent that you’ve been given. I’ve always told people that whatever your talent is, if you do what your passion is and you make use of your talents that God has given you, you will always be happy.
What are the differences in creating and designing makeup for theatre vs film and TV?
The makeup is completely different because the lighting is completely different and visually it’s also completely different. When we do a TV project, we have to consider so many different aspects and it’s the more natural way of bringing it across. You are dealing with a lot of people who are playing themselves. You are not creating a character for them, you are making them look the best version of themselves. I’m not a heavy makeup artist. I like people to look natural. Movies are also different. Depending on what you are doing, I’d say they are a lot more natural because they rely a lot on looking the part. It depends what the character is, obviously, but you don’t want superheroes to look like they are wearing makeup or anything. They need to look rugged. It’s just a different style, whereas I always say that theatre is the start of makeup. Traditionally, women weren’t allowed to play roles in theatre. It all started off with men and that is, I think, where characters were being forged because the lighting was so bad that they had to bring all of that out. I think contour and everything came from them and not from the Kardashians.
I read in your biography that you have pioneered your own mentorship program. I would love to hear a little bit more about that?
It started off with me not having enough hands to cover work so I had to get people to come in. Some of them are trained makeup artists and a lot of them are self-trained makeup artists. I believe it makes no difference. If you have the talent, all I’m teaching you is technique. I learn so much from them as well because you know the youngsters are still in the shop. I’m old school, I’ve got the old products and everything. As much as they think they are learning from me, I also learn from them. I also pass on a lot of work to them and it creates a platform for them to say that they are working with all these different people. They are very special to me as well. I’m like a mommy, I think. A lot of them find their paths and they go away and then I get another one in but it’s fine because you have to walk your own path. We tried to make it a little bit more substantial but my lack of interest in paperwork is going to be my downfall. When you talk about mentorship or sponsoring someone or even starting a school, think about the admin. Unfortunately, that’s just a big part of it.
In the context of your career, what is something you are most proud of?
I think getting there in this industry. Being a person of colour and still getting there. It hasn’t been an easy road. Sometimes I still sit in amazement. I can’t pinpoint an exact moment because every job that I take on is special. I will say, however, that the Angels and the gorgeous drag queens that I’m working with now are amazing and they are amazing people. When I think of drag queens back in the day, that was a sort of underground. I look at them, now, it’s amazing. I also work on a show called Tussen Ons and I will tell you this, I never, as a coloured girl in Elsie’s River, ever thought that I would be working on a show with the likes of Zelda la Grange, two media moguls which are Kay Karriem and Ingrid Jones and then Success Lekabe and Tracey Lange. I don’t think that there is a single thing that I can say, “This is the proudest moment.” They have all been great. You should celebrate every little achievement that you have in life. There are a lot of proud moments.
Who are some South African women in the arts that inspire you?
Marlene le Roux, who has overcome so much and she is still going places. Sharleen Surtie-Richards is an amazing person. Tracey Lange is a constant inspiration to me. One of my favourite divas is, of course, Karin Kortje. I’ve walked a very long path with her. She is also an amazing story and continues to amaze. There was a group of girls that I worked with with David Kramer; Edith Plaatjies and Aleshia Solomons. They are the most amazing singers and performers. Those are people who I really came a long way with. They were there from the beginning. Karin was my first theatre production. It was called This is My Life. Tracey is my everything and I continue to learn so much. I support her, she supports me and we are a dynamic team. With Karin as well. When Karin opens her mouth, I am blown away. I’ve also worked a lot with Mynie Grové. What an amazing person! I’ve never in my life met anybody like her. She is a light.
You can follow Kyra on Instagram.
All photos were taken at the Fugard Theatre on July 17th 2019.