August 21, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

What do Lady Gaga’s posse, the cast of Wicked, and the Oscar-winning actress Ellen Burstyn have in common? Melanie Smith.

Smith cuts and styles a mean head of hair. And she wields a makeup brush with the bravado of a swashbuckling pirate. Any client who sits in a chair at her salon, The Cutting Room, can tell you as much.

But it’s Smith’s work beyond the chair that a creative spirit finds a second wind…and soars.

The stylist’s most recent after-hours gig as a (tongue twister alert!) wig-wrangler with Wicked had her juggling over 30 heads of hair—and the actors who wore them—in a dizzying series of dozens of costume changes all throughout that Broadway blockbuster’s Omaha run.

“It’s kind of ironic that I studied in southern California and did find at least a little bit of work out there,” Smith says, “but all of my important jobs came when I returned to Omaha.”

Jobs like taking the role of key hair stylist for Alexander Payne’s Nebraska (2013). Or working with Burstyn and others on the Country Club neighborhood set of Nik Fackler’s Lovely, Still (2008). Or eating dust on a gravel road in rural Sarpy County for the filming of Lady Gaga’s “You and I”
(2011) video.

“I don’t know if I would ever want to be on stage or in a film,” says Smith. “I’m pretty happy to be running around in the dark [in the wings of a theater] or being just off camera with all my gear. The crew is a link in the chain that makes these productions go. We’re creating art of our own, it’s just that we do it behind the scenes.”

And the Lady Gaga video shoot? The crew, Smith explains, was instructed to be on the lookout for crashers and all were advised to report anyone who looked “strange.”

“Think about that for a minute,” Smith chuckles. “Strange? It’s a Lady Gaga video shoot! Tons of professional artists everywhere you look. It was like strange central in the same way that any gathering of that many artists was going to mean some pretty interesting people-watching.”

Never one to rest when there are new creative outlets to explore, Smith has been passionately honing her skills in photography.

“I’m not allowed to talk about it yet in print,” she says of a cone of silence that was lifted just before this magazine went to press, “but my photography is about to be published in a magazine. Is that something you want to talk about?”

Depends. Which magazine?

“Rolling Stone.”

Yes, Melanie, we should talk. We should definitely talk.

Follow the artist at melanierosesmith.com.

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