Weehawken Resident talks about his Career and First Big Break on Broadway
Â By Sally Deering
A member of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, David Santana of Weehawken can make anyone camera-ready no matter how difficult the challenge. Thatâ€™s his profession: Hair & Make-up Designer for Broadway, film and TV.
Santana currently does hair & make-up for the hit TV shows, GOTHAM and BLACKLIST. His work is featured in the films RUN ALL NIGHT, A VERY MURRAY CHRISTMAS, TIME OUT OF MIND., and URGE, and TVs A GIFTED MAN starring Patrick Wilson. He also appears in the documentary RENT: THE FINAL DAYS ON BROADWAY. It was his work designing hair and make-up for RENT that took Santana from non-union gigs like music videos and indie films to A-List projects with stars like Leonardo DiCaprio, Susan Sarandon, and Patrick Wilson.
It all began back in the early 1990s when Santana was asked to work without pay for a then unknown musical that was going Off Broadway. The show was RENT, a rock musical about life in the early 90s on the Lower East Side that reflected the culture of the times, and shared insights into the impact of the AIDS epidemic.
â€œI read the script, fell completely in love and said yesâ€ Santana remembers. â€œThey told me they were going to start at the New York Theater Workshop and see if it takes off. I remember signing a contract that said I would get paid if it goes to Broadway. Then it won the Pulitzer Prize.â€
Altogether, Santana spent 13 years with RENT both on Broadway and supervising the hair and makeup design for tours.
â€œIt toured all over the world,â€ Santana says. â€œI was hired to keep the design and create that look of the times: the braids, dreadlocks, extensions.â€
After RENT, Santana did other Broadway plays and musicals including ALL MY SONS, THE ICEMAN COMETH, and BOOK OF MORMON.
â€œNow Iâ€™m doing only film and TV,â€ Santana says. â€œIâ€™m working on GOTHAM these days. Itâ€™s very creative and very fun.â€
Santana doesnâ€™t like to play favorites, but he admits one of his favorite actors to work with is Patrick Wilson, the star of A GIFTED MAN.
Â â€œHeâ€™s awesome,â€ Santana says. â€œHeâ€™s a respectful gentleman, a family man. There was a mutual respect between us; he allowed me to do my job well.â€
Santana spends long days on set â€“ 14-16 hours — making actors look their parts.Â He has to be on set two hours before the crew, which means sometimes being on set at 3 or 4 am.
Hair and make-up styles for theater, film and TV are very different from each other, Santana says.
â€œWith the theater you exaggerate everything, no tight little details,â€ Santana says, â€œyou gotta do Madame Butterfly. Film is less. HD picks up every single detail. Itâ€™s nude and natural. It should be realistic.â€
There have been some career challenges like the time Santana worked on the boxing film, LIGHTS OUT and had to jump in and out of the ring after each take.
â€œThere was (fake) blood everywhere,â€ Santana says. â€œThat was a hard show because physically it was demanding.â€
Santana says he loves what he does and sometimes it surprises him that his creative dream came true.
â€œComing from a poor family, I felt like there was no light at the end of the tunnel,â€ Santana says. â€œFor that door to open, to be blessed, I never thought that would happen to me — and itâ€™s still happening. I just got word that a show I did, THE BREAKS, on VHI about 1990 Hip-Hop culture just got picked up. Hopefully, theyâ€™ll film in New York.â€
No matter where his career takes him, Santanaâ€™s feelings about his first big break will always be heartfelt.
â€œRENT was Godâ€™s gift to me,â€ Santana says. â€œIt changed my life.â€