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UC alumna wigs out

Cara Hannah Sullivan is wigmaker to the stars

by Amanda Hughes

It took a Sarah Palin wig for Cara Hannah Sullivan to get into actress Tina Fey's hair.

The University of Cincinnati alumna is a wigmaker and hairdresser for NBC's Saturday Night Live, where she creates hairstyles in their Emmy Award-winning hair studio. For this small-town girl, though, it was one college class that began her journey from Bethel, Ohio, to the bright lights of New York City.

While a student at UC Clermont, Sullivan, Cler '97, MFA (CCM) '02, thought she wanted to study business. She signed up for a theater class as an elective, though, and "I knew this was the world I wanted to live in," she says.

After receiving her associate's degree from Clermont in 1997, Sullivan went on to earn a bachelor's degree in theater design and production from Northern Kentucky University before returning to UC to complete a master's in theatrical hair and makeup design in the College-Conservatory of Music.

From there, she designed wigs and hair for Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park and the Utah Shakespearean Festival. However, it wasn't too long before she got the itch to head for a larger stage. She applied to be an NBC intern, but instead landed a gig as the assistant wig supervisor for the Tony Award-winning musical "The Producers" -- a job she interviewed for over the phone in a U-Hahl, en route to New York.

Since then, Sullivan has worked several Broadway shows, including "The Phantom of the Opera," "Les Miserables" and "Spamalot." Her work also was featured in Will Ferrell's latest comedy special, "You're Welcome, America: A Final Evening with George W. Bush."

It's the high-energy environment of SNL, though, that she thrives on. In one day, she can go from fitting the Obama wig for actor Fred Armisen to fashioning a mohawk for comedian Rachel Dratch in a skit mocking "America's Next Top Model." In fact, the controlled chaos began her very first day on the job.

"It was a quick-change between scenes, and I had to get (comedian) Andy Sandberg out of an alien costume and into an impersonation of actress Juliette Lewis. The costume got stuck, and he's yelling, 'get it off, get if off,'" Sullivan laughs.

Her days are long -- upwards of 40 hours and 100 wigs in just four days each week -- but for Sullivan, it is a dream job.

"Working in TV, it's instant gratification, and your work lasts forever," she says. "I never thought I'd be where I am today coming from Bethel, Ohio, but like my husband says, I was 'a country girl with a big-city heart.'"

2011 Update: Sullivan was nominated for (but did not win) a 2011 Emmy award as one of the members of a hairstyling team for the Saturday Night Live episode hosted by Anne Hathaway.