Category Archives: Creation Process

The Mask Maker

I’ve often found that people aren’t quite sure what I mean when I say I’m a mask maker. Chris Hatcher of Field Guide Films gives a terrific peek behind the curtains in this video.

The Mask Maker from Chris Hatcher on Vimeo.

 

The masks I’m making here are for the production of The Spider Queen by The NOLA Project, directed by Jon Greene. This original play was inspired in part by the sculpture of a spider by Louise Bourgeois  in NOMA’s Besthoff Sculpture Garden, where the play will be performed in May 2017.

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Louise Bourgeois, Spider, 1995, bronze; Besthoff Sculpture Garden, New Orleans. PHOTO: Celan Bouillet

 

Collaboration: Canby HS Dance Team

Hi! It’s been awhile. But for great reasons! I’ve been working on lots of projects in the last few months. Here’s a little about one of them.

The Project

Canby High has a team of about 25 dancers who participate in large dance competitions around the region. The dances are performed on a large gymnasium floor, with some sort of scenery specific to the concept of the piece. They have been working with choreographer James Healey for the past few years, and have made some stunning work. This last October, we began a conversation about masks they could wear… on the backs of their heads.

The Process

The concept had to do with shifting perception and multiple ways of seeing. So my goal was to conceive of a design that would come alive on the performer with all of the limbs moving slightly differently to how we are accustomed.

James shared some images and we talked about the feeling the masks should have. I sculpted with these emotions in mind, and also tried to capture the faces in a series of planes, slightly abstracting them.

We knew the rest of the design would be in blacks, grays, and whites, in keeping the conceptual element of one way vs. many ways. It was decided that I would form the masks, and the arts students at Canby would paint them using my advice.

 

The Performances

The dancers came into my studio early in the process to determine how the masks would need to be arranged to carry out the choreography. They were so much fun! And they were very excited about the  masks… which I think you can see in some of the photos below.

 

State Champs
OSAA State Dance/Drill Champions

Here are some videos of the final performances!

View 1
View 2

Tutti piani

 

Welcome to my first blog from Italia. In short, it’s amazing! The study is engrossing, the people wonderful, a wine costs just a couple euro.Because of difficultly in previous years of the workshop, we aren’t allowed to take many pictures during the workshop, so instead of lots of mask process photos, you’ll enjoy shots of everyday life, gorgeous scenery, and lovely people. I’m sharing a flat for the month with another student from New York, and across the hall are wonderful artists from Firenze and Toronto. There are also more students from Italy, Spain, Mexico and the US.

<INTERPOLATION> Why do cities names changes in different languages?  As in, why do we call Firenze “Florence”? It’s a proper name, not a random vocabulary word. Or  why do we call Venezia, “Venice”?or  Deutschland ,”Germany”? or Nippon “Japan”? I can imagine changing the spelling in your language to make the same sounds, but actually changing the name? It makes more sense to me to call places what they call themselves, but that’s not how languages and culture work apparently. Or is it? After briefly searching the internet, the reason for difference between endonyms (what you call yourself) and exonyms (what others call you) often stem from the evolution of language itself.  Firenze is the Italian derivation of the Latin Florentia, but Florence was the English derivation, and Florenz the German. So maybe we did try the spelling trick way back when, but the world changed and language didn’t. Still, why can’t we be on the same page about this?  </INTERPOLATION>

As I said, the work is interesting and challenging. There is often an interpreter, and when there is not, many  of the students are multilingual—so the ideas aren’t too difficult to grasp.  You can really see and feel the inheritance of trained sculptors in this work. It’s not just actors who make masks—it’s artists who bring their knowledge of materials, sculpting tools and processes and strong visual arts skills and concepts to the work of theatrical mask.

We have been doing studies in preparation for making  of the leather mask. The traditional forms didn’t use paint to help augment the shaping of light and form. Instead, they rely on the sculpting of panes in the mask to give a sense of volume and life to the performance object.

 

 

I find it really interesting to consider this idea. The planes reflect light. And the abstraction of the forms of a face into simpler planes also helps us project our own experience on to the mask. Puppets can work in much the same way. In Understanding Comics, the artist Scott McCloud noted that as a face is rendered in increasingly specific detail, the easier it is to regard that face as something outside of ourselves. But as a face is simplified in its depiction, the easier it is for the viewer to regard it with a feeling of identification… it becomes more of an Everyperson.

So with these simplified planes, perhaps it becomes more possible for the actor and the audience, together, bring the object to life.

 

Christo’s Floating Piers at Lago d’Iseo— a mask of space?

 

 

Hunting for solutions

Behind the Scenes: The King Stag

This show was produced at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, OR, and designed by Professor Michael Olich. I worked as the movement consultant for the actors and as an assistant designer/ builder of various mask and puppet items.

Seven months before the show would open, we met to share broad concepts, discuss exciting opportunities, and forecast potential hurdles. At this early point, it became clear that some things needed to be tried in a rough form to solidify the approach of the design.

Parrot puppet

One such element was the parrot. The first task was to figure out from where it would be manipulated. The parrot couldn’t be designed properly without that key information.

(click on each photo to see full size and captions)

After trying a few options, including operating it from above, the most feasible and satisfying conclusion was to puppeteer from the stage deck.

At first I thought I might have to trigger the flapping of the wings through a mechanism on the control rod, but using gravity to activate the foam wings was pretty satisfying.

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Stag & Bear Masks

The show was not cast until September, so many issues of scale had to be determined at that time. To know how big to make the mask, it was better to know the size of the body supporting that mask.

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The mask of the King Stag incorporates two kinds of rings: the upper are fixed, while the lower can turn. The little movements help incorpoate the mask to the actors body. Photo ©2015 Owen Carey

The best solution for both stag and bear characters was  a helmet mask—the stags were mounted on construction helmets, and the bear was, itself, a helmet.

I love how the planar design helps the mask transform in motion and contributes to the magic of the play.

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It was so interesting to build in this very mathematical way. The front of the face was drawn topographically, then measurements were transposed to help create an appropriate profie. Photo ©2015 Owen Carey

The Laughing Statue

The script requires an enchanted statue that comes to life and laughs at key moments in the story. The designer had a clear idea of the look of the statue and a general sense of intended scale early in the process. Once the part was cast, I could determine measurements that would allow the actor’s face to be seen and permit her arms to reach the control mechanisms.

Even then, it was a challenge! I was using many materials and adhesives that were relatively new to me, and doing so in a short amount of time. We would joke frequently about how every single solution created two new problems.  It was a relief to have the advice and help of both my friends in the puppetry community and also my collaborators on the show as I learned about making this statue.

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The magical statue aids King Deramo by laughing at the false affections of Smeraldina, his valet’s sister. Photo ©2015 Owen Carey

It’s amazing to me how much expression can be manifested with just a few movements. The only movements available to the actor were the flex in the statue’s hands and those of her own face, but she was able to find great levels and variety to play.

Click here to see all of the production photos.

A summer of puppetry & dance

I had an amazing summer of work, which has lead right into some great projects this fall. I have been so occupied with doing, I haven’t had much time to share.. so here are just a few quick highlights!

The Creation Story: Lincoln Center Education & Carmen DeLavallade

After taking part in a second summer of Lincoln Center Education’s Teaching Artist Training program this July, I had an excellent opportunity to put those new and exciting ideas directly in to practice. Working for LCE at the nearby Lincoln Square Neighborhood Center, I lead experiential workshops to introduce a group of seniors and a group of youth to the immense body of work of the late renaissance man Geoffrey Holder.

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Photo: Šara Stranovsky
Photo: Šara Stranovsky
Using found materials to create costumes. Photo: Šara Stranovsky
Looking one of Geoffrey Holder's pieces after making some art together. Photo: Šara Stranovsky
Looking one of Geoffrey Holder’s pieces after making some art together.
Photo: Šara Stranovsky

Then we moved on to the next phase of our work, in collaboration with the wonderful and imaginative Chris Green.  Chris designed a number of puppet images (based on the work of Holder) to be used in a performance of The Creation Story by Holder’s wife and longtime collaborator, Carmen DeLavallade. Working with Chris, Carmen, and her team, I engaged the students in finding the movement to bring each of these images to life.

Building ensemble with the cast. Photo: Šara Stranovsky
Building ensemble with the cast.
Photo: Šara Stranovsky
A bear mask I made from a sieve. Photo: Lucy Gram
A bear mask I made from a sieve.
Photo: Lucy Gram
Photo: Šara Stranovsky
Exploring the movement possibilities with the students. Photo: Šara Stranovsky
Photo: Šara Stranovsky
Students did research to find the best way to bring the pinwheel paper cup bird puppets to life. They determined the criteria for success, and we used that information to coach them for the final performance. Photo: Šara Stranovsky
In rehearsal! Photo: Lucy Gram
In rehearsal!
Photo: Lucy Gram
What is the nature of a rainbow? How does it move? How does it feel? Photo: Šara Stranovsky
Researching the performative nature of a rainbow: How does it move? How does it feel?
Photo: Šara Stranovsky
Photo: Šara Stranovsky
Glittery fish puppets. Photo: Šara Stranovsky
Taking a rest from flight. Photo: Šara Stranovsky
Taking a rest from flight. Photo: Šara Stranovsky
Photo: Lucy Gram
Carmen DeLavallade, surrounded by birds, flowers, and the sun at the Damrosch Park Amphitheatre. Photo: Lucy Gram
 Photo: Šara Stranovsky
In just one week, our ensemble did so much! Here’s a shot from the performance of The Creation Story. Photo: Šara Stranovsky
Chris and I with Carmen after the performance. Photo: Lucy Gram
Chris and I with the generous and legendary Carmen DeLavallade after the performance.
Photo: Lucy Gram
The youth perform a post show bird attack! Okay, I egged them on a little :)
The youth staging a post-show bird attack!
Okay, I egged them on a little 🙂

Hagoromo: Wendy Whelan at BAM

Right after that project, I was lucky enough to continue working with Chris as  a rehearsal puppeteer in the early stages of development of Hagoromo. The show, premiering at the BAM Next Wave Festival in November 2015, is a huge collaborative undertaking. It stars Wendy Whelan, former principal dancer at the New York City Ballet, and features musicians, puppets, a mezzo-soprano, tenor, and a large chorus. Check out the NY Times article!

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Discovering the way for three people to move as one being.
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The first steps are… literally that. We had to uncover the way to do a basic walk before we could learn to dance.

The story is adaptation of a Japanese Noh play. For this multidisciplinary opera, there are two life-size  puppets based on body casts of the incredibly talented Wendy Whelan. Our initial job was to work out the kinks.

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Both doing and watching are necessary to learn how to successfully bring a puppet to life.
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The dance of the puppeteers is a separate, but equally interesting, dance to that of the puppet itself.
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Wendy and Chris discussing the fine points of puppet capability. Many of our rehearsal discoveries lead to small tweaks in the design.
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And then we dance again!

Find out more about the Hagoromo performance and process through this excellent resource on the BAM website.

And watch a video of me with Catherine Gowl and Pepper Fajans as we puppeteer in a mirror exercise with Wendy Whelan.

It's a small puppet world! One of the other awesoem rehearsal puppeteers, Katie Melby, had previously performed with my talented sister-in-law, Katie Kaufmann, in the Twin Cities!
It’s a small puppet world! One of the other awesome rehearsal puppeteers, Katie Melby, had previously performed with my talented sister-in-law, Katie Kaufmann, in the Twin Cities!

Fish Puppets

This summer I was hired by a production company in New York City to make five large fish puppets. This is their story.

Prototype

The puppets needed were to be operated outdoors by a single person over the course of a few days. I needed to find a lightweight solution that could respond to wind and other variations in weather.

I started with the idea of using conical tomato cages as the base for the body.
I started with the idea of using conical tomato cages as the base for the body. Also pictured: Bill.

The build time was short, and I only had a week to make a prototype before heading to New York for other work. I asked Bill Holznagel, an excellent builder and performer for Tears of Joy and his own company Signal Light (if you live in Portland and haven’t seen their show Playtime with Pete and Randy, do yourself a favor).

An emphasis was put on the desired “flowiness” of the puppets by the client. In an earlier test, I’d looked to find that element with a combination of materials and performance. It’s show here in shadow, ’cause when you’re videoing your self, you make sacrfices.

Some early  variations of fabric choices and fin designs.
Some early variations of fabric choices and fin designs.
Every puppet has certain elements that serve to create it's personality and reflect emotion. The opening mouth and the eyes proved to be very important
Every puppet has certain elements that serve to create it’s personality and reflect emotion. The opening mouth and the eyes proved to be very important
These puppets were intended to interact with people at a large party, so  it was necessary to test the scale (no pun intended).
These puppets were intended to interact with people at a large party, so it was necessary to test the scale (no pun intended).
Finalizing the Design

In New York, I worked with my friend Sam Hill, a fellow mask maker and sculptor, to finish the build. We worked in studio in Greenpoint to figure out the final details.

My first note was to make the fish bigger.
My first note was to make the fish bigger. It’s close to 6′ from mouth to tail.
It took awhile to get the tail to stabilize.
It took awhile to get the tail to stabilize.
Trying out some scale patterns.
Trying out some scale patterns.
Cutting lots of fabric.
Cutting lots of fabric.
Fish factory
Fish factory
Attaching the scales required strategy. We still needed to be able to access various parts of the puppet during construction and throughout its life.
Attaching the scales required strategy. We still needed to be able to access various parts of the puppet during construction and throughout its life.
The puppet needed to have a strong eye that could potentially let light pass through.
The puppet needed to have a strong eye that could potentially let light pass through.
Testing for optimal position: one that would reveal a sense of character and a clarity of focus.
Testing for optimal position: one that would reveal a sense of character and a clarity of focus.
Finishing the attachment of the gold lamé  around the mouth. It was a thirsty sort of day.
Finishing the attachment of the gold lamé around the mouth. It was a thirsty sort of day.
A few more tests…

We took the first puppet out to see  how it moved in the outdoors.  You can tell from the video noise that it was  windy day.

But we also got to interact with curious passersby, which was an unexpected benefit :)
But we also got to interact with curious passersby, which was an unexpected benefit 🙂
Many times during the tests, I had to watch to catch all the details I wanted to adjust. It was fun to finally get to be a puppeteer too.
Many times during the tests, I had to watch to catch all the details I wanted to adjust. It was fun to finally get to be a puppeteer too.
Checking the puppet at the studio at sunset.
Checking the puppet at the studio at sunset. That’s a happy fish.
The school awaits pickup.
The school awaits pickup.

Birds and Bugs

Owl Over the Moon

Opera-matic, a collaborative arts group in Chicago, contacted me this last spring to make a mask for The Moon on the Lagoon, The community performance featured lullabies and the faces people find in the moon. What a cool idea!

I was sent this image for initial inspiration.
I was sent this image by a group in Chicago commissioning an owl mask.

Part of designing the mask is figuring how it will align with and/or cover the performer’s face. The producers knew they wanted the mouth of the performer available, so I approached it much like a three-quarter character mask.

Sculpting happened quite quickly on this project because the mask was needed quickly.
Sculpting happened quite quickly on this project because the mask was needed quickly.
I knew the image of the performer in the mask would be projected onto a surface, so I wanted to be sure to include various amounts of relief in the sculpture.
I knew the image of the performer in the mask would be projected onto a surface, so I wanted to be sure to include various amounts of relief in the sculpture.
For this project, I used an underpainting technique for highlight and shadow. I started adding tones for the feathers after.
For this project, I used an underpainting technique for highlight and shadow. I started adding tones for the feathers after.
The initial painting treatment. Though I liked it by the light of day, it seemed like it might be too dark for the context in which it would be performed.
The initial painting treatment. Though I liked it by the light of day, it seemed like it might be too dark for the context in which it would be performed.
Luckily, the idea of underpainting continued as I lightened the tone with additional layers of feathers. It ended looking nice and complex.
Luckily, the idea of underpainting continued as I lightened the tone with additional layers of feathers. It ended looking nice and complex.
The mask projected on the image of the moon in Humboldt Park, Chicago. Photo ©2015 Kelly Peloza
The mask projected on the image of the moon in Humboldt Park, Chicago.
Photo ©2015 Kelly Peloza
The production team had their own discoveries. The found that they wanted more eye movement than anticipated, and adjusted the eyes accordingly.  Photo ©2015 Kelly Peloza
The production team had their own discoveries. The found that they wanted more eye movement than anticipated, and adjusted the eyes accordingly.
Photo ©2015 Kelly Peloza
Photo ©2015 Kelly Peloza
Photo ©2015 Kelly Peloza
Variations on a Mantis

Inspiration and discovery continue throughout the process of making. Those moments are my favorite in my process. These inspirations can manifest in an accident, through a coincidence of timing, etc.

The first version of this mask was made for the Grand Guignolers company in Los Angeles. It was to be human in scale, which directed my choice about how to create visibility for the actor.

Coy. So coy. Just a like a mantis.
Coy. So coy. Just a like a mantis.
Though difficult to see here, the exoskeleton is textured with small brushstrokes to add life to the painting under stage lights.

This amazing insect was so inspiring, it started appearing in other projects, like the shadow puppet show bugged, created with Rollin Carlson.

An exploratory image from the making of "bugged"—like so many images, it didn't make it into the show.
An exploratory image from the making of “bugged”—like so many images, it didn’t make it into the show.

Working in shadow encourages an essentialization of form. It’s interesting to look back and see which elements carry on and evolve through the various iterations. After this further exploration of this form through puppetry, I realized wasn’t quite satisfied with the silhouette. I jumped at the chance to improve it with my next commission for the insect.

Round 2: blocking in a sculpture for a new version.
Round 2: blocking in a sculpture for a new version.
Refining the sculpture
Refining the sculpture
I had to cut off part of the clay  mandibles to accomplish the papier-mache. They were made separately and joined once the cast had been pulled from the clay.
I had to cut off part of the clay mandibles to accomplish the papier-mache. They were made separately and joined once the cast had been pulled from the clay.
This praying mantis has a special paint on the eyes—a gold mixed with a green—to create an iridescence to the eyes.
This praying mantis has more texture on the eyes than the exoskeleton. It also has a special paint on the eyes to create a feeling of iridescence.

I refined the eye hole to be even more incorporated in the geometry of the sculpture. The next time I had the opportunity  to work on this mask, I played around a little with color. Research images guided my thoughts.

A variation from the previous sculpture. The eyes were further refined and smoothed with paper clay.
A variation from the previous sculpture. Research provided additional ideas fro coloring. The eyes were further refined and smoothed with paper clay.
For the eyes on this version, I began with a sponge technique to break up the flatness of the red. On top of that, I used a stencil technique to suggest the segmentation of the eyes.
For the eyes on this version, I began with a sponge technique to break up the flatness of the red. On top of that, I used a stencil technique to suggest the segmentation of the eyes.

I’ve learned great things each time about this he next time I work on this mask, I want to explore greater width. Here are all the versions so far:

Side by side
Side by side
In this silhouette, the mask is almost three times as wide as the human head!
In this silhouette, the mask is almost three times as wide as the human head!

So. Epic.

The Epic Project

Inspired by the study of mythology by Joseph Campbell (a favorite of mine too!), as well as theatre creators Ariane Mnouchkine, Jacques Lecoq, Peter Brook, and Complicite, Professor Stephanie Roberts is leading an exciting collaboration between UMKC Theatre and  the UMKC Conservatory IMP Ensemble.

The working title is The Epic Project. It is a three year endeavor to weave contemporary and classic stories into an epic narrative suited to our times. The actors have been devising for nearly two years already. I was invited to be a part of that exploration this last February.

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As a part of their exploration of character and archetype, I worked with the actors to create animal-spirit masks.  The inspiration for this work came in part from old mask and mummer traditions from Europe and also from animal and spirit masks from around the world.  I asked the students to engage with familiar objects and new materials as they uncovered the spirit of the animal within.

Enough chatter. Here are some pictures!

Initial experiments

A new mouth for Josh.
Joshua uses a basket to create a mouth.
An experimental mask made by Edwin.  It's made of wax paper and captures the movement and essence of a different material.
An experimental mask made by Edwin. It’s made of wax paper and captures the movement and essence of a different material.
We then tried making animal masks using only one material: cardboard.
We then tried making animal masks using only one material: cardboard.
Making a mask not only requires choice of material, but constant check-ins along the way.
Making a mask not only requires choice of material, but constant check-ins along the way.
Masks aren't complete until the performer's body is added. We used this as a way to check in on our work as we built.
Masks aren’t complete until the performer’s body is added. We used this as a way to check in on our work as we built.

Digging further into materials

What we're working with.
What we’re working with.

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Uncovering the animal spirit

We did many experiments with materials and forms, then took what we learned and started making the mask for each actor.

The actors made a ball of paper the size of their head and attached it to the armature stand. This helps them size the mask correctly.
The actors made a ball of paper the size of their head and attached it to the armature stand. This helps them size the mask correctly.

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On the second to last day of our process, Julie Denesha from KCUR came and interviewed some of the actors. Check out her amazing photos here.

Mariem/Mosquito Photo: Julie Denesha
Mariem/Mosquito
Photo: Julie Denesha

See the work-in-action!

Come see the workshop performance in this phase of the Epic Project in Studio 116 at UMKC’s Performing Arts Center (4949 Cherry St.)  Previews run from Friday Mar 6-8th and runs Mar 11-15th. Shows at 7:30 with the exception of Mar 15th at 2:00pm.

Seating is very limited so please reserve your FREE tix at 816-235-2782.

Support live, collaborative theatre!

Devising mask theater

thesnowstormHoping for a Remount in Fall 2015!

Over the course of the last three years, I’ve had the great pleasure to work with Many Hats Collaboration’s Jessica Wallenfels and Eric Nordin (and a slew of other talented artists) on the development of an original work of dance theater, The Snowstorm.  It’s been a great journey, and I want to share a little of that process with you in this post.

Beginnings

Creating original work requires a lot of skills, in addition to having a vision for the show. Among these are communication, collaboration, being present, creative problem solving, flexibility, comfort with ambiguity, etc. The process was always a pleasure—largely due to the talents and leadership of Wallenfels and Nordin—and it also took us in many directions.

I played a couple of roles throughout. Initially, I worked as an actor to help develop physical vocabulary for some of the key scenes. Through this process, Wallenfels was able to get a sense of what it would take to tell a clear story through movement set against the music of Rachmaninoff.

Placeholder masks were used the 2013 workshop. We were trying to determine if masks were the right fit  for the show.
The Hawk, the Bear, and the Hen in rehearsal for the 2013 workshop at Portland Actors Conservatory. One of these actors was eventually cast in the 2015 production.

A year or so later, after many such experiments, a short evening of scenes was presented. One of the things we were trying to determine was if masks were a good fit for the show. Since it was just a test, we used placeholder masks that approximated the feeling of each of the masked characters.

We found we weren’t sure if masks were the best solution. Early in 2014, Jessica and I met to discuss our thoughts on the approach. I had just returned from Bali—and Jessica had been there herself, years earlier—so we thought we could also explore shadow puppets.

Fox tries to free the chicken
Fox tries to free the Hen
Shadow Bear!
Shadow Bear!
Hawk of Darkness
Hawk of Darkness

I decided to create a shadow puppet show that used the same two pieces of music in the first scene of The Snowstorm. I performed it with a second puppeteer for a Puppet Slam produced by Beady Little Eyes last spring. After more discussion, we decided that the shadows would likely be too difficult to see clearly in the thrust stage at the CoHo. We held on to the possibility of using both masks and puppets as we began to meet with the entire production team.

The patterns are all from various Russian folk patterns. Though I didn't pursue this further, the final wolf mask does have some textural similarity.
Though I didn’t pursue this further, the final wolf mask does have some textural similarity.
The surface treatment is  borrowed from various Russian folk patterns.
The surface treatment is borrowed from various Russian folk patterns.
I was considering a variety of materials to make the masks, including fabric.
Fabric was one material I considered using for the mask.
In an early iteration, all the masks were face masks.
In an early iteration, all the masks were face masks.

Researching the various animals in the story came next. Through our meetings, we had decided to go with masks. I tried to find a design concept that would serve the multiple needs of this particular production: a fantastical quality, a handmade look, and an ease of movement were among these needs. As I was working in India, I  would make sketches and email them back to the production team so that all of our designs could work well together. Nothing was feeling like it hit the mark, so I tried to think of other ways to solve the problem. Finally,  drawing on my recent experiences making a peacock mask for Maya, I proposed using a kind of helmet mask for the showThis option promised an interesting transformation onstage and seemed exciting to build.

The actor sees through a stylized opening in the mask.
The actor sees through a stylized opening in the mask.
The actor puts the mask on like a hat.
The actor puts the mask on like a hat.

Preparing for rehearsal

Typically, I prefer to provide the finished mask at first rehearsal. I feel this way because it allows the actors (who may have no experience performing with masks) to get used to the different performance style they will need to employ. With this show, we knew we wanted to have a little more flexibility and room for discovery. So with the design we thought we wanted in mind, I generated some rehearsal masks to give the actors a sense of what it would mean to perform in the masks.

Hawk's rehearsal piece gave us both a way to test the scale of the mask.
Hawk’s rehearsal piece gave us both a way to test the scale of the mask.
I made these cartooned masks from cardboard and bike tire.
I made these cartooned masks from cardboard and bike tire…
... and a simple head ring.
… and a simple head ring.

With the information from the rehearsal room, I was soon ready to sculpt. The discoveries did not really end there, which is really the fun of the whole thing!

Weighing options on the sculpture of the wolf.
Weighing options on the sculpture of the Wolf.
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Hawk gets his glare on.
I used different colors of paper mache to help the actors see the image of the character before it was painted—but we liked the handmade quality so much we kept it!
I used different colors of paper maché to help the actors see the image of the character before it was painted—but we liked the handmade quality so much we kept it!
For the wolf, I used a more varied color palette and texture.
For the Wolf, I used a more varied color palette and texture.
Rehearsing with the real masks provided lots of information about lighting, movement, and comfort. This is a lot of foam, which I later disguised with black broadcloth.
Rehearsing with the real masks provided lots of information about lighting, movement, and comfort. This is a lot of foam, which I later disguised with black broadcloth.

The Final Masks

The actors brought the masks to life beautifully! (Shadows still appear in the play, even though they are not the primary element. Knowing the process, it’s interesting to me to see how all of the different artistic impulses eventually found their place in the show.) Here are a few shots from the performance.

Beth Thompson as Bear. Photo: John Rudoff
Beth Thompson as Bear. Photo: John Rudoff
Eric Nordin (pianist) and Jamie Rea (Swan). Photo: Brud Giles
Eric Nordin (pianist) and Jamie Rea (Swan).
Photo: Brud Giles
(L to R): Beth Thompson as Bear, Elisha Henig as Fox, Brian Demar Jones as Hawk, and Kira Batcheller as Hen.
(L to R): Beth Thompson as Bear, Elisha Henig as Fox, Brian Demar Jones as Hawk, and Kira Batcheller as Hen.

Triangle Technology

You may have seen this video circling around:

Among its charms are the masks four of the dancers wear. One thing that caught my eye was the texture of the face. It reminded me of Buckminster Fuller, actually, and geodesic domes. Granted, I know only a little little bit about geodesics, but the visual similarity is interesting.

Inside of a (rather comfy)  geodesic dome temporarily set up in Portland in 2013.
Inside of a (rather comfy) geodesic dome temporarily set up in Portland in 2013.
Spaceship Earth at EPCOT, a geodesic sphere
Spaceship Earth at EPCOT, a geodesic sphere
Wireframe Self Portrait

I followed my curiosity to the homepage of the designer Eric Testroete. Eric works often as a game designer, but also has had some side projects, including this self portrait mask from 2009.

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Here’s a look at some of his process. (Reposted with permission from http://www.testroete.com)

There are over one hundred triangles making up this face
There are over one hundred triangles making up this face
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I often find myself using bits of skills from other disciplines when making masks. This image reminds me of flat patterning for sewing.

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Mirror, Mirror
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Mask Self Portrait, 2011.

testroete-mirror-2Eric used a similar construction technique to create this mirrored mask. I am always curious about how a mask plays in time and space, with the energy of a human beneath it, so I am really glad he posted this video it in use. And who doesn’t love a good walk in the woods?