I did a short mask class teaser session yesterday (a mask class workshop, if you will). We worked with larval mask and hats, and then with found masks (gas masks).
For the larval exercise, we just stood in the mask, looking at the room. Afterwords, we left the mask and got feedback. There were four of us and three larval masks. The first of us to go chose a mask with a huge jaw and tiny eyes – a very simple mask at first.
His presence onstage totally changed. I noticed every small motion of his shoulders, the way his torso moved. The mask seemed at once curious, small, and lowly. It reminded me of popeye or of a small child. I could not get the idea of the sailor out of my head when looking at the mask. Furthermore, the eyes- two small cut out circles – enthralled me. They were such small dots but they stared so deep.
The mask I chose looked something like the clown Violator from Spawn (for those comic fans out there). When I had finished with my mask work, my peers reviewed me. They felt that the mask seemed to create a very sad character. I remember that one of the eyeholes dug into my actual eyesocket a bit, forcing me to view the world lopsidedly. My breathing really changed inside the mask (after all, one does need to breath heavier inside a mask).
Our last two members chose the same larval mask – one with a jutting forehead and a small slit for a mouth.
The first wearer was a girl, a good friend of mine who I knew to be a very responsible person. What was interesting was that her mask was very angry at first, very threatening. When she looked around the space and tilted the mask up, I saw a great deal of curiosity in it, and then when she came back to look at the audience, the mask was no longer angry in a threatening manner, but tight-lipped: it knew something we wanted to know but it wouldn’t tell us.
After she remove the mask, she told us that the mask pressed against her mouth, making her breath through her nose: an interesting correlation to the tight-lipped emotion the mask portrayed on her.
The second wearer was a boy, taller than the girl, who I knew to be something of a quiet but fun-loving sort. On him, the same larval mask was simply distant, like a teenager at a funeral: It was taking in everything around it in a detached manner. As the mask looked around, it became more bemused and interested in the world around it, and returned to look at us in a sort of stupor, like one taking in information but not fully processing it.
What really hit me was how different this same mask was on two people.
Next, we worked with found masks, in the form of gas-masks. We partnered up for this exercise, myself and the jaw-larva wearer going together. I chose a circular one to see what it might help me convey. Our instructor told us to be aliens – everything around us was new and strange. We were to begin sleeping and awaken to find ourselves in a new world.
So we did. And everything was very new: the lights, the piping of the batons, the room, and a staircase. What I found fascinating was my partner’s body – I figured if we were alien’s we weren’t human, so the human form would seem strange to us. After watching him move about for a bit, I decided to try motions similar to his. I looked at my own hand, then at my ‘legs’ and my ‘feet’ and then I ‘stood.’ This felt crazy, like I was rising up on top of gears and pistons, coming up from a great depth and emerging. My partner touched the back of his head after our instructor said something and I thought we had to end the excercise, so I remove my mask, only to realize my partner was still in mask, still in the scene. I had become an audience member trapped onstage. So I sat and watched him until he finished.
After our exercise, my peers pointed out that I had stood with a posture which I had never had before, I seemed to be a lot bigger, to have a much larger presence. That being said, we (as aliens) had seemed to be children to the audience, and our instructor asked us that the next time we did mask work to remember to look at the audience in order to pull them in.
It was crazy looking at alternative ways of viewing both as an actor and as an audience member. It really opened my mind up to the idea of masks!