MAN IN THE MIRROR-  Backstage with David Santana, Hair & Makeup Designer for Stage & Screen

Weehawken Resident talks about his Career and First Big Break on Broadway

 By Sally Deering

David Santana
A-List Hair & Make-Up Designer David Santana

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. That’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.

Playbill of Rent 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.

“I read the script, fell completely in love and said yes” Santana remembers. “They 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.”

Altogether, Santana spent 13 years with RENT both on Broadway and supervising the hair and makeup design for tours.

“It toured all over the world,” Santana says. “I was hired to keep the design and create that look of the times: the braids, dreadlocks, extensions.”

After RENT, Santana did other Broadway plays and musicals including ALL MY SONS, THE ICEMAN COMETH, and BOOK OF MORMON.

“Now I’m doing only film and TV,” Santana says. “I’m working on GOTHAM these days. It’s very creative and very fun.”

Santana doesn’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.

 “He’s awesome,” Santana says. “He’s a respectful gentleman, a family man. There was a mutual respect between us; he allowed me to do my job well.”

Santana spends long days on set – 14-16 hours — making actors look their parts.  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.

“With the theater you exaggerate everything, no tight little details,” Santana says, “you gotta do Madame Butterfly. Film is less. HD picks up every single detail. It’s nude and natural. It should be realistic.”

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.

“There was (fake) blood everywhere,” Santana says. “That was a hard show because physically it was demanding.”

Santana says he loves what he does and sometimes it surprises him that his creative dream came true.

“Coming from a poor family, I felt like there was no light at the end of the tunnel,” Santana says. “For that door to open, to be blessed, I never thought that would happen to me — and it’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, they’ll film in New York.”

No matter where his career takes him, Santana’s feelings about his first big break will always be heartfelt.

“RENT was God’s gift to me,” Santana says. “It changed my life.”


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