Living Her Dream

There's just one disadvantage to being the make-up artist for the successful NBC-TV series, "The West Wing." Eastport resident Barbara Lacy says she sees all of the scripts and the continuity tapes of what's already been shot, "so I have trouble watching the show---I know way ahead of time what's going to happen."

Lacy has been with the series since its inception 51/2 years ago, having worked with the producer of "The West Wing" in several of his earlier productions. Most viewers would agree when she says, "The show is good. It doesn't insult your intelligence. It [reveals] the inside workings of the government and humanizes the president."

Lacy, who als
o does make-up for Sen. Hillary Clinton and former President Bill Clinton, finds a certain irony to her work with the former residents of the White House and "The West Wing" series. She says, "I've done all Hillary's book and magazine covers from their first term and President Clinton's make-up for his testimony and speeches. That was all happening while I was doing "The West Wing." One particular time during a production meeting was very surreal. I had to leave the "fake" West Wing immediately [because I was called over] to the real West Wing!" Lacy adds, "It's funny---I'm behind the scenes where the prepping for a speech is very similar to an actor running his lines in the trailer---only one is real and the other is not."

Of the Clintons, "The West Wing" actors, and others she has worked with, Lacy says she feels privileged to know "these brilliant people, whether you agree with them or not. I have one-on-one conversations in an intimate setting where they let their hair down." Lacy says she has a great deal of respect for Hillary Clinton "who, since we each have one daughter, would occasionally give me advice. These personal conversations are something the rest of the crew is not getting." She continues to work with the Clintons in their New York home.

"The West Wing" is shot in two to three episodes, or inserts, once a quarter. Lacy says she knew it would be a great show, especially because of the energy between the actors. But, she says, the hours are long, difficult, stressful. She describes one winter weekend as particularly grueling. "We were snowed in [and shooting] at the Tidal Basin, where you can't set up any tents because it's a national park. But the snow [turned out to be] good because the scene in D.C. was actually [portraying] Chicago. The next morning, however, I was doing Elizabeth Dole's make-up, and I couldn't get to my car for a change of clothes."

The TV series sometimes requires work days as long as 20 hours for each episode. Lacy says, "The role of make-up artist is a test of physical endurance: how long you can stay awake, how cold you can get. All the exterior scenes are shot in D.C.; all the interior scenes are shot in L.A." Lacy describes "base camp" in D. C. as a "traveling caravan of big white RVs, land yachts as my husband calls them, for the actors, the production office, wardrobe, hair and make-up." She says what makes "The West Wing" different is that she works closely with the make-up artist on the West Coast, and "we're both doing the same people within a scene. It's really a challenge to make it appear seamless."

Lacy also works on films made in Baltimore "because Baltimore can mimic other cities, and it's much cheaper to shoot there. Washington, D.C., is loaded with red tape and permits so, typically, scenes are shot there to establish that they're in Washington---you can't fake D.C." Lacy explains the differences that determine her varied schedule: "A TV series is ongoing work, but a film takes two to three months to shoot, then it's over."

Although make-up is her business, Lacy says she has never been a big make-up wearer herself. "It was something I always did for friends. The art of it fascinated me." She says for her, "It began as beauty, working in salons. I did the Rodeo Drive scene, worked for Georgette Klinger and Vidal Sassoon, and then it just mushroomed. It's been an [evolution], from the beauty of make-up, to characters, effect, aging, and wounds."

The medium of Lacy's art has also grown from working with people to applying her skills with color and effect to inanimate objects. She says, "It started in my down time, to feed my creative soul. My husband needed a desk to hold his computer and scanner, something large, without being too deep. I had held on to a door [from the renovation of their house], and I just started decorating it with color. I thought, 'hmm...this could be interesting.' Then I started creating pieces, adding legs to old silverware boxes, for example." In time, Lacy opened a small retail shop called Posh on Maryland Avenue, with original furniture art and recycled art pieces made by various local and international artists. But, she says, "This is totally different from make-up as art. This is not to please anyone---director or actor. It's more just for my soul." Lacy's mother, "an artist in her own right," often tends the store.

It is not surprising that Lacy's creativity spills over into her home. Originally a church built in 1926 with a detached Sunday school structure built in 1885, the interior is one large, open space, without walls, warm, colorful and fun---or "eclectic and hodgepodge," as Lacy puts it, "where nothing goes unnoticed."

She and her husband, Brand Ginsburgh, have lived in the house since 1992 and continue to make improvements. "I like little homes," she says. "You really only live in two rooms. The rest is just space." There is a little more space in the house since Lacy's daughter Tara is attending art school in Florence, Italy. Lacy says now that her role as mom has diminished, she's "in the process of eliminating stuff---it becomes barnacles to me after a while."

Having just completed another marathon shoot for "The West Wing," Lacy says, "Work can be really crazy---two months on, two months off," so she comes home to "decompress." With perhaps a little more time for herself, Lacy has recently joined the effort to bring "Art Between the Creeks." Of her work and her art she says, "It's been a lot of hours, a lot of stress, but mostly a lot of fun. I think it's molded me creatively. I feel like I'm living my dream, rather than waiting for it to happen."

When not wearing one of her hats for Inside Annapolis Magazine, Carolyn Lee can be found paddling her kayak or working in her garden.


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