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Wearing a mask:
Handling: masks are expensive. Only leather masks are virtually indestructible; all others (wood, papier-mache, latex) are fragile and deserve careful handling to avoid chipping or cracking the face, or, spoiling paintwork. Treat a Mask with respect.
Never put a Mask face down on a surface.
Shoeing a mask (ie putting on): Turn away from your audience – only reveal the mask when you are ready. Put yr face into the mask (to provide support – critical with latex/papier-mache), rather than tugging the elastic/ties over the head and snapping the mask onto your face. Adjust so that it’s comfortable/secure. Then turn to your audience.
Remember to breathe!
Working with a Mask
It’s a stylized form of theatre. The Mask is only ‘on’ when it is seen by the audience. Switch a Mask ‘off ‘ by looking at the floor, or turning away from the audience.
You need to repeatedly ‘clock’ the audience – share the Mask’s reaction to an event with a direct look to the audience. I see a coin. (Ah! A coin) A gold coin (Hah! I’m rich!)
Less is more. Inexperienced Mask performers forget that ‘the Mask wears you’ and often ‘do’ too much. (‘I want to show you what a good actor I am.’) Do nothing. Let the Mask do the work. Do nothing but look – the Mask is alive! Watch powerful speakers, leaders – they don’t twitch, fidget or play with their hair. Stillness creates power (and vice versa!)
In a good Mask, every strong emotion has its opposite (the bully mask can also be afraid.) Explore this duality (see the conceal/reveal note above.)
What is the Mask’s Status? Where are you vis-à-vis the other Mask? More or less important? How much more/less? How does that affect your physical relationship – how close do you get/allow them to get?
Remember the principle of isolation. Move one part of your body at a time. It creates focus and therefore impact. The head turns (the Mask gazes!) A foot beats (the Mask is impatient.)
If the Mask were an animal, what creature/bird would it be? (Pantalone the chicken, il Capitano the peacock.) Explore this in terms of movement, gesture.
In pair/group work, creating focus is an issue because there are no vocal clues (hearing audiences naturally watch the character who speaks.) Rule of thumb: main character faces audience, others give focus to/look at the main character. This requires considerable rehearsal because of the (often) poor peripheral vision of the Mask. Rehearse (out of Mask) stating every moment/thought. Eg MASK A: I am the focus. I see the coin. I clock it. Suddenly I am alarmed. I look at you. I give you the focus. (MASK B takes up the narration until they return the focus to MASK A.)
Why do people wear masks?
To hide their identity (robbers, Spiderman)
To reveal their identity (Batman) So masks have a duality (hide/reveal!) which is at the core of their fascination.
To make themselves larger than life (people far away can see essential features clearly. Think Pavarotti’s eyebrows!) In Western theatre, Masks began in huge Greek amphitheatres which required large performances.
To play demons, gods, animals, supernatural / non-human beings.
This is the origin of all masks. The hunter donning the bear’s head/skin to deceive (to get close enough to kill) or to impersonate (in a dance/ritual of blessing, or to assume the bear’s powers.)
To help play the opposite gender (eg Noh onnegata roles – no actresses allowed)
To enable fast changes (3 ancient Greek actors playing many/several roles)
A Mask is a device
to drive the spirit
out of the body
in order that
it may be possessed
by the spirit of the Mask.