Last week, Joyce Degenfelder received the 2013 recipient of the Gregory A. Falls Sustained Achievement Award as part of the ceremonies held at The Moore Theatre.
Degenfelder is one of those heroes of backstage work, well-known to actors, singers, and dancers in Seattle for the exquisite wigs and makeup designs that defined their look for a particular show.
She first came to Seattle to work for the Seattle Repertory Theatre in 1979 but quickly became the wigmaker for shows at Seattle Opera, Pacific Northwest Ballet, and dozens of theaters in the region. “I’ve worked on productions at Seattle Opera with Joyce for over a dozen years. Joyce’s hair and makeup designs complete the look for the singers, transforming them to Parisian artists, Spanish gypsies, mechanical dolls…the range of characters is endless. Her sense of color, proportion, and historic styles enable her to flatter each individual performer; she is a master of her craft,” said Susan Davis, costume shop manager for Seattle Opera.
Actor R. Hamilton Wright, himself a recipient of this award in 2012, said, “She has amazing skill with hair and wigs, of course, but she is so kind and patient. She has a terrific calming effect on what can be a very anxious thing for performers. Because of Joyce, thousands of performers have looked exactly right for the part they were playing; and many, many costume shops have been graced with her professionalism and genuine care for the craft.”
Degenfelder began her career in California as a student at Humboldt State University. “After applying and being accepted to Pacific Conservatory of Performing Arts in junior year of college at Humboldt State University, a professor called me into her office, along with a student who had previously worked at PCPA,” recalled Degenfelder. “This was to impress upon me the hard work and long hours of a summer theatre job. It seemed to me that she thought I wasn’t up to the challenges. Simply put, her words did not scare me off, I took her up on the challenge to succeed, and that turned out to be only the start.”
After college, she worked at the Oregon Shakespearean Festival as a wig assistant for three seasons, along with working at San Diego Opera in the off season. After being hired by the Seattle Repertory Theatre as wig master, she went on to work with Intiman Theatre, The Empty Space, The Bathhouse Theatre, Seattle Shakespeare Company, Book-It Repertory Theatre and The Flight Museum, and many other local groups. Outside of the region, her work has appeared at Colorado Shakespeare Festival, Alaska Repertory Theatre, American Players Theatre, many seasons with Milwaukee Repertory Theatre. In 1999-2000, she received the Arizona Award for Hair and Makeup Design for “As You Like It.”
Degenfelder also has shared her craft of making and styling wigs with the next generation of designers at Boston University, De Paul University, University of Washington and Carnegie-Mellon.
The Sustained Achievement Award committee seeks to honor those who have given years of service to the region’s theatres. The Gregory Awards are named in honor of Gregory A. Falls (1922-1997), a former chair of the UW School of Drama, who is often credited with creating Seattle’s vibrant theatre scene. Falls left the UW in 1971 to devote more time to ACT Theatre (which he had founded in 1965), though he stayed on as a part-time UW faculty member until 1976. He served as president of the National Theatre Conference and Washington Association of Theatre Artists. In 1994, Falls was inducted into the College of Fellows of the American Theatre.