It could be a cathedral’s confessional booth, this makeup room in a hallway alcove in the basement of the Birch North Park Theatre. And makeup artist Pam Stompoly-Ericson is a captive audience for the complaints, gossip and excited buzz actors murmur while she sponges and brushes gobs of color onto their faces.

I spent an hour and a half backstage last night in the nook as Stompoly-Ericson transformed street-clothed actors into the characters driving the comic opera The Barber of Seville: Emily Douglass into Rosina, Walter DuMelle into an old, silly Dr. Bartolo and Scott Gregory into Figaro.

“To me, when you just put a bare face on stage, they have, like, two little dark holes and a mouth,” she says. “They have no features. So what we do is we just put back everything that the lights take away.”

Just before 6 p.m., while Stompoly-Ericson works on Douglass, her makeup partner works on Mary Boles, playing Berta. The other actors trickle in, stopping by on their way to their dressing rooms. Each enters as if onto a stage, taking a moment to utter some pithy greeting as if no event in this night should just happen without their acknowledging it aloud.

Stompoly-Ericson, the woman behind the costumes they’ll wear, the makeup they’ll bear and the wigs they’ll don, rolls her eyes.

“We have our share of drama,” she says.

Since she first apprenticed with San Diego Opera nearly 30 years, Stompoly-Ericson has become one of San Diego’s chief makeup artists and costume designers.

She plays a niche role. There are “zillions” of makeup artists in San Diego, she said, but the ranks of those actually working in local theaters and making money are much smaller: “Two dozen, three dozen, tops.”

Stompoly-Ericson has been running makeup at the Lyric at the Birch for more than 20 years. She also does principal artist makeup at San Diego Opera and runs her family’s business, The Costume Shop, around the corner in North Park.

For a costume shop owner, this current production’s proximity to the busiest season of the year — Hallowe’en — proved stressful. She still made one-third of the principal characters’ costumes from scratch, but rented some others and tweaked older costumes from other productions.

Originally, Stompoly-Ericson wanted to be a singer herself, but couldn’t get over her stage fright. She took a class in makeup and costumes and fell in love. Now she sends a bit of herself in the wigs, makeup and costumes.

“Oh, I’m on stage with ’em, but I get to stay back here.”

Watch NBC 7/39 this afternoon at 4:30 p.m. to catch Stompoly-Ericson at work this week’s installment of Behind the Scene TV. I’ll post the clip here as soon as it’s available.

I’m the arts editor for VOSD. Have an idea for something I should write about San Diego’s arts scene? Please contact me directly at or 619.325.0531. You can also follow me on Twitter: @kellyrbennett.

Kelly Bennett

Kelly Bennett is a former staff writer for Voice of San Diego.

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