Tag Mask

Is this it?

This is a wonderful stop motion cartoon series that I just found out about a few days ago. But they were hugely popular in the 80s and 90s all over the world.

Thanks to its distinct lack of spoken dialogue, the show became popular throughout the world, being aired in nations that include Czechoslovakia (now Czech Republic and Slovakia), Sweden, Syria, Iraq, Poland, former Yugoslavia, Iceland, Denmark, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Brazil, Finland, Japan, Norway, Spain, Iran, Hungary, Jordan, South Africa, and South Korea. -Wikipedia

Ladies and Gentlemen, Pat and Mat

In this episode they are trying to make time for doing laundry but keep getting distracted by their crossword puzzles. It’s wonderful writing, really clear and clownish. And the detail of their world is really beautiful.

Something about Masks

Here is an impressive clip from a new music video that shows the drastic affect lighting has on a person’s face. It’s dizzying! The same face completely changes form just by the light swinging around. I wish it was in slow-mo to see the effect up close.

I got excited about the video because it reminded me of something I read about the best Japanese Noh masks. On the wall they appear expressionless but on a performer and in motion the the mask comes alive. Light catches a hidden plain or a dark edge and the mask smirks, twitches, or frowns. Feel where those angles are, and you start to understand what that mask is capable of.

Half Mask Commedy

A few weeks ago we performed a few public shows in half-masks. We had a photographer come, Stefano Borghi, and I just got the photos back. I’m happy to finally have something to share of the wild work I’ve been doing here the past months.

These first to are of me and my friend Anja Završnik in a piece we made called The Box or Identity Card. Rosie was expecting a nice vacation was stopped at the border by a very eager border agent. On the border the consequences are steep and decisions are made in an instant.

The night was full of tragic and funny short plays. A stolen crown, a dead cat, a deranged pizza man. This last photo is of the second piece I made with Cynthia Kneen, The High Wire. The mask work is over now and I’m on a two week vacation, when we all get back together we’ll jump into some of my favorite work from the first year, red nose clown. In the meantime, rest, relaxation, and anticipation!

Building a Half Mask

Last week we dug in, got our hands dirty and started to make our own half masks. It was a rewarding process, but it isn’t done yet. We’ll show our first performances with them tomorrow. Matteo mentioned that making these masks has an element of alchemy. The shape you form in the clay transfers from material to material, from plaster to paper, then it transforms the actor’s body and if it’s good, it will finally arrive to the audience. Even if you think it’s a really good one, you don’t know if your proposal in clay will sustain a performance until you play it.

Making a plaster cast of your face helps keep your proportions accurate.

Comedy or tragedy? I don’t know, but I think he’s a republican.

Now we’re midway though the second term at school. These weeks are all about performing in half face mask. How do you play this technically demanding form of theater while bringing intuitive ease that makes the performance interesting to see? Finding the body and voice of the mask, improvising from that place and building up a piece that is true. If you’re prepared and lucky it can generate very funny and touching work.

Jenine describes the work very well on her website:

Dramatic depth can be found in the action of simple every day things.  And it is in the action that the sentiment is revealed.  The action is seen through very strict action and reaction with your co-players.  A delicate dance of technique and sentiment – without one you don’t have the other.  Although more often than not we’ll forgive lack of technique over sentiment. As Matteo says without sentiment your mask is nothing more than paper mache and elastic.

Masks of the History Museum

While I was still in New York I had the pleasure of running through the American Natural History Museum looking at some of the beautiful masks tucked away in their collections. It’s an old fashioned museum in a lot of ways, and masks of the are displayed with almost no context, like butterflies on a pin-board. In one particularly bad display of Pacific Island masks one card read, “New Ireland.” Well, I thought, there is a New Ireland.


Today the low pile carpet and oak and glass cabinets make the Hall of the Northwest Coast Indians pretty shabby and unwelcoming but in his book The Way of the Masks, Claude Levi-Strauss described his experience of the hall with the first stanza of Charles Baudelaire’s poem Correspondences:

Nature is a temple in which living pillars
Sometimes give voice to confused words;
Man passes there through forests of symbols
Which look at him with understanding eyes.

Taken as objects behind glass the masks can seem meaningless, crude and lifeless. Their cards are unhelpful to the point of silliness. They all seem to read along the lines of: wooden mask, shaman’s mask, a mask is a pretend face etc. But with a little imagination and curiosity they start to come alive. Piercing stares, flapping, lolling tongues. Some even have mechanisms–hinges and pulleys–that can tear apart one face to reveal a face underneath. Not to mention the human bodies that must have played these masks, breathing through them and embodying every distorted and extreme detail.  Whoo!