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Black Plague Magic Woman

Teacher brings Hollywood makeup effects to Fisher Middle School's Medieval Faire.

Last Monday at , everyone in the seventh grade was dying to get the black plague. The school was holding its annual Medieval Faire and for the eighth consecutive year, math teacher Celeste Gitthens, and her husband Loren, both former Hollywood makeup artists, offered a Black Plague makeup effects workshop. 

Since students had been studying the Middle Ages in history, they knew that more than 40 million Europeans died from the catastrophe and in a mere five days after becoming infected, you were a goner. Mrs. Gitthens was game to recreate the advanced symptoms, including rotting flesh and blood-seeping veins, in all their gory glory. “I want you to walk out of here looking so gross people will gag,” she told the class.

Since the plague started off feeling like the flu or a bad cold, first up was creating dark circles under the eyes. “Look for the natural shadows and use a light touch,” coached Mrs. Gitthens, clearly a pro having contoured Johnny Depp’s chiseled cheekbones back when she worked for MTV.

Armed with mirrors and Dixie cups filled with Q-tips dipped in oil-based stage makeup, 21 boys and four girls went to town. “Ooh, you’re looking really tired and thin,” continued Mrs. Gitthens. “That’s okay. Pucker up like you’re kissing a puppy and apply the beige-y color to your lips so they look super dry and cracked.”

Next up were puss-filled neck goiters. “Make them irregular and the shape and size of a quarter,” advised Mr. Gitthens, who demonstrated all the techniques on a student volunteer. Earlier Mrs. Gitthens had told the class that she and her hubby met when they were working in L.A. He had just sculpted the gorilla feet for “Gorillas in the Mist” and whisked her to the movie premiere on their first date.  

Mrs. Gitthens told the class that since they didn’t have Kleenex with aloe back in medieval times, dabbing the brick-red color in and around their nostrils was a must. 

“Yours looks good,” exclaimed one admiring plague victim to his neighbor. “You look like you’ve had five million bloody noses!”

Keeping an eye on the clock, Mrs. Gitthens covered the subtleties of bruising and made the rounds with a maroon-colored goop to create oozing sores. Finally it was time for the piece de resistance—minty fresh mouth blood. The students gargled the liquid. Teeth stained and mouths awash in crimson, they resembled tweenage “True Blood” vampires fresh from a kill.

When the plague victims looked sufficiently ghastly, Mrs. Gitthens sent them off with a smile and a wave. “Goodbye disgusting dead people!”

One boy lingered behind. “Can I have some more of the edible mouth blood?” he asked, ruby red trickling out of his braces. “It’s addicting.”

“Don’t you have jazz band next?” asked Mrs. Gitthens.

“Yes,” he shrugged coyly. “I was hoping to scare the band.”

“And what instrument do you play? ”

“The trumpet.”

“Oh, I think you’re good,” she laughed.

Bet she didn’t indulge Johnny Depp with more guyliner either.

Check out Kim Ratcliff and Chigiy Binell's blog, laughingattheground.com.

Chigiy Binell October 20, 2011 at 06:23 PM
I love this article. It was fun to participate turning perfectly healthy kids into dying mid-evil villagers. We are so lucky to have Ms. Gitthens. I find her life and career path extremely interesting.
Kim Ratcliff October 21, 2011 at 01:31 AM
Thanks for commenting, Chigiy. And thank you for the expert job you did on my face.

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