Monday, March 28, 2011

The Art Behind the Mask

We are deep into the rehearsal process for Curio's next production, "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead," a darkly comedic look into the psyches of two of the minor characters in Shakespeare's "Hamlet," written by the brilliant Tom Stoppard. Many of the actors double as members of the King of Denmark's court and members of the traveling group of players that comes to entertain the court. Director, Liz Carlson, has made the wonderful choice of having the players be a troupe of Commedia dell'Arte actors, which means: MASKS! MOVEMENT! WORKSHOPS!

This week we were fortunate enough to have Brendon Gawel of Philadelphia's Ombelico Mask Ensemble come to lead us in a Commedia workshop, reviewing the stock characters and their quirks with us. It was fascinating, fun and exhausting. I think we all realized just how many leg muscles are used in maintaining the basic Commedia stance, let alone are required for any sort of movement through space!

The plaster half-masks we will be using in performance are still under construction and will, hopefully, be ready for use in rehearsal by the end of this week.

Here, Brian McCann, who plays the role of the Player, is being fitted for his mask by artistic director, Paul Kuhn (Paul wears many hats at Curio, including set designer and constructor... but more on the set later.)

Facial hair had to be protected by vaseline and tape so that the strips of plaster wouldn't stick to the face, making removal of the hardened mask a painful process. As it was, it required only a scrunching of the facial muscles to pop the mold off. The twenty minutes it took for the soft strips to harden on the face were incredibly relaxing, at least for me, and I found myself naturally using my hands and arms to express myself as I waited for the process to be complete.

I can't wait to post an update with photos of the fully-molded and painted Commedia masks!

Until next time,

-Jennifer Summerfield
(Gertrude/Commedia actor)

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