2015 True West Award: Man and Monster: Todd Debreceni and TJ Hogle

TJ Hogle and Todd Debreceni Town Hall Arts Center
Photos by Town Hall Arts Center and John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.


​Today’s recipient: Todd Debreceni and TJ Hogle
Town Hall Arts Center’s Young Frankenstein and Shrek

Today’s presenter: DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore

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By the time Shrek The Musical closes at the Town Hall Arts Center on Dec. 27, actor TJ Hogle will have spent nearly 100 hours this year just getting in and out of custom masks created for him by Denver’s master of the makeup arts, Todd Debreceni.

In an unusual Town Hall twist, Hogle was cast to play both the tap-dancing Monster who puts it on the Ritz in Young Frankenstein, followed by the stinky green ogre in Shrek. In both cases, directors Nick Sugar (Young Frankenstein) and Bob Wells (Shrek) turned to Debreceni for their monster-mashing.

A Monster quoteAnd Debreceni never does anything halfway. By the time Hogle takes to the stage in blue (or green) face, he’s not just wearing a Halloween mask. He is wearing a custom prosthetic that has been tailored to the size of his face, head and shoulders.

At first, it took about 90 minutes before every performance to fit Hogle into his Frankenstein makeup, and 30 minutes to get out of it after. His Shrek mask is less complicated, requiring 30 to 45 minutes before, and 20 after. As the runs have progressed, Debreceni and Town Hall costumer Terri Fong have innovated ways of streamlining the process to take less of the actor’s time.

Still, that’s a lot of time in the chair. And a certain amount of skin irritation is inevitable. Now, we’re not so sure Debreceni would be wise to irritate any part of a 6-foot-8 actor who specializes in playing monsters. But luckily for Debreceni, Hogle is a softie. He even agreed to have his head shaved to make the process easier. “His personality is so opposite of what you would expect from a person that size,” Debreceni said. “I think there is a lot of trust involved.”

Here’s just a cursory look at what it took for Debreceni to create Hogle’s Young Frankenstein alter ego:

  • Debreceni and his team first create a “life cast” (see video below), a replication of Hogle’s head that serves as a mold for the prosthetics that will fit Hogle’s face precisely.
  • Debreceni applies an astringent to Hogle’s face to clean away dirt and oils. This helps assure the adhesive to come will hold.
  • Debreceni dusts Hogle with zinc oxide – that’s the “anti” in your antiperspirant.
  • Debreceni applies a “barrier layer” called Top Guard – that’s a thin film glue primer between the skin and the adhesive to come. This step also helps control perspiration, which can undo a lot of a makeup man’s good work. In short: Never let them see you sweat.
  • Debreceni applies a tenacious adhesive called Pros-Aide to Hogle’s forehead.
  • Debreceni applies the custom-fit foam forehead prosthetic called a cowl. Debreceni has made about six of these base pieces hoping they will last through the run’s 36 performances.
  • “Stipples,” or tiny specks of latex, are then applied over Hogle’s entire face.
  • Hogle is covered in blue paint. And … showtime!

If that already seems like a rather unglamorous way to spend 90 minutes of your day, consider that because of space restrictions, Debreceni and Hogle have set up shop in the Town Hall Arts Center men’s room. (Talk about team players.) But in the name of all that is holy, they did insist one activity be banned at any time Hogle’s makeup is being prepared – and it has something to do with the No. 2.

Debreceni is pretty much the go-to ghoul guy in Denver. In 2008, he wrote the book that is now considered the how-to guide for the industry: Special Makeup Effects for Stage and Screen. Before starting his own effects business, his employers included TBS, 20th Century-Fox Television, Warner Brothers and Walt Disney Pictures. In addition to multiple stage and TV credits, Debreceni sculpted and molded wounds used in the 2013 Tom Hanks film Captain Phillips, and he is making the locally produced zombie web series After the Darklights look particularly creeptastic. Debreceni won 2006 and 2009 Denver Post Ovation Awards for his local stage work, and he got a head start on his Shrek routine last year working that musical with Seth Caikowski playing the ogre at BDT Stage in Boulder. He he is married to the multiple award-winning music director Donna Debreceni, also the Shrek music director.

TJ Hogle wins 2015 Henry Award
TJ Hogle won the Colorado Theatre Guild’s 2014 Henry Award for Outstanding Actor in a Musical for his performance in Breckenridge Backstage Theatre’s ‘I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change.’ Photo by Brian Landis Folkins.

Hogle is a Lakewood native who graduated from D’Evelyn High School and Fort Hays State University. He was the Henry Awards’ 2014 Outstanding Lead Actor in a Musical for his work in I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change at the Breckenridge Backstage Theatre.

Makeup on the scale that Debreceni dabbles in is uncommon for local live theatre, and as an art form, it does not yet get the same level of credit as acting or the other design arts. But for a musical like Young Frankenstein or Shrek, Debreceni thinks believable makeup is as essential as the lighting, set or costumes. “It’s an integral part in creating the world of the play,” he said. “Effective makeup helps to preserve the illusion, which is especially necessary in small theatres where the actors might come right up into your lap. We want to make it as believable as we can.”

But as much fun as it is to play in Debreceni’s sand box, he said his primary concern is always creating a comfortable, breathable mask that allows the actor the freedom to do his or her best work.

“In the end, it’s never about the makeup,” Debreceni said. “It’s always about the performer and the performance.”

As for working with Hogle, two big monster shows in a row might be it for now.

“I think he’s done with monsters for a while,” Debreceni said with a laugh. 

Watch this time-lapse video of the ‘Life Cast’ Todd Debreceni and crew made on the head and shoulders of actor TJ Hogle.

The True West Awards began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001. This year, DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore — along with additional voices from around the state — celebrate the entire local theatre community by recognizing 30 achievements from around the state over 30 days, without categories or nominations. Moore’s daily coverage of the DCPA and the Colorado theatre community can be found at MyDenverCenter.Org

Day 1: Rachel D. Graham
Day 2: BALLS! A Holiday Spectacular
Day 3: Creede Repertory Theatre’s 50th anniversary season
Day 4: Laurence Curry
Day 5: Bernie Cardell
Day 6: Susan Lyles
Day 7: John Jurcheck​
Day 8: Christopher L. Sheley
Day 9: DCPA Education’s ‘Shakespeare in the Parking Lot
Day 10: Man and Monster: Todd Debreceni and TJ Hogle
Day 11: Shauna Johnson
Day 12: Geoffrey Kent and Benjamin Bonenfant
Day 13: Sesugh Solomon Tor-Agbidye
Day 14: Keith Ewer
Day 15: Allison Watrous
Day 16: Jonathan Farwell
Day 17: Bob, Wendy and Missy Moore
Day 18: Emma Messenger
Day 19: Shannon McKinney
Day 20: Mary Louise Lee and Yasmine Hunter
Day 21: Charlie Miller and Emily Tarquin
Day 22: Scott Beyette
Day 23: Augustus Truhn
Day 24: Jimmy Bruenger
Day 25: The Masters of Props: Rob Costigan, Peki Pineda and Becky Toma
Day 26: Jalyn Courtenay Webb
Day 27: Andre Rodriguez
Day 28: Rebecca Remaly
Day 29: Mark Collins
Day 30: Phamaly Theatre Company’s Cabaret
Bonus: Donald R. Seawell

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