?

Log in

No account? Create an account

Peter Rogers's Blog
Artist-in-Residence at Chez Firth

Wednesday (12/12/12) 4:49pm - ... wherein Peter posts his notes from the mask workshop.

Steve Jarand taught a mask-improv workshop from 12/7/12-12/9/12 at the Hideout Theatre.

These are my notes from the workshop.

Some Warm-Ups We Did

* Name warm-up
        * Sound off with everybody's names, then:
        1. Person A starts
        2. A walks towards B
        3. A mentions the name of C
        4. B walks towards C
        5. Goto 2
        * Do it too fast; screw up
                * Try it with eliminations
* Person A & person B are onstage
        * Person A is in a chair
        * B says a line of gibberish 
        * A responds with gibberish
        * Both leave together
        * Just make simple choices
                * The audience will fill in the gaps of specifics
                * Gibberish keeps the scene from feeling overspecified.
        * Try a neutral opening with a *huge* reaction.
                * Then try a huge reaction *to* the huge reaction.
                * Try a pre-chosen reaction.
                        * Still make sure it's the line that 'causes' your reaction.
                                * i.e. the line that you hear has to cause it.
                        * Try *two* pre-chosen reactions.
                                * Note that the scene still mostly works.
                * You can pick a difficult/subtle emotion/reaction.
                        * If so, be sure to go big.
                                * ... and be willing to screw up.
        * Make the reactions happen very quickly
                * This is more immediate to the audience
                * This gives you less time to intellectually process
                        * (... and self-edit.)
        * Pre-picking the reactions makes for better scenes.
                * This devalues talent.
                * It's not picking the 'right' reaction that matters.
* "Popcorn"
        * Everyone get in a circle
        * When you feel 'hot enough', just do a little hop and say "pop!"
        * If > 1 person "pops" simultaneously... they do something.
                * This can be decided on a per-game basis.
* Half-language stories.
        * Partner up with somebody who kinda-sorta knows language X.
        * His partner should not know X at all.
        * #1 tells a story in X.
        * #2 shares the story.
                * i.e., jump in when the person dries up.
        * Use body language etc. to convey the story.
        * #2 should let his gibberish/fake X be guided by #1's real (or mostly-real) X.
* Play catch
        * Move around the space
        * If you miss, the *thrower* gets eliminated.
                * "The blind guy wins! Again!"
        * If you play safe, try playing dangerously, & vice versa.
                * Generally, always try playing a game opposite to how you play it.
* Word-at-a-time story
        * Three people in a line
        * Person in the center (#2) plays with #1
        * If anything goes wrong, #1 switches to #3.
        * Back'n'forth -- you always have the 'out' of the other person.
        * If things go wrong, blame the other person.
                * "If failure can be happy, why not blame?"
        * Recall that the story can be independent of the fun involved in performance.
                * A great story can result from a meh performance.
                * A fun performance can create a crap story.
                        * (This is the far more common case.)
        * You can do the same structure w/r/t speak-in-one-voice
                * Have high standards in this variation
                        * If something goes slow and stumbly, *switch*
                                * ... i.e. *whenever* you think it isn't amazing.
                        * Do *not* wait politely to complete a thought or concept.
* "Yes, let's" with departures.
        * Do it with several simultaneous groups.
        * If you leave your group, *join another group*. :)
* Zombie
        1. Person A is the zombie.
        2. A walks towards B
        3. B makes eye contact with C
        4. C says the name of D
        5. Goto 1, with A walking towards D
        * If A catches B, B is now the zombie
                * And B walks towards *C*, the person who didn't 'save' him
* Norwegian "3 things"
        * Just say all three with no interruption
        * Then afterwards, everyone says, "Three Things!"
                * Say it in a Norwegian accent.
* Viskey Mixer
        * Like whoosh-bang-pow.
        * To send it counterclockwise, say "Viskey Mixer!"
        * To send it clockwise, say "Lange Schlange!"
        * To reverse it, say "Meß Wechsler!"
        * You can clap directionally to "Pow"
        * If you laugh, then you have to run around the circle.
* House/Creature/Tornado.
        * Get into groups of three
                * Two people raise their arms and touch fingers to form a house.
                * A third forms a 'creature' that lives in the house.
        * There are one or two people left out.
        * The remainders can call one of three things:
                * "House": the remainders + all house-people move to be parts of other houses.
                * "Creature": the remainders + all creature-people move to be creatures in other houses.
                * "Tornado": everyone changes position to new creatures & houses.
        * Note that for any of these, one or two people will be left out.
                * Those people become the remainders/callers for the next round.
* Making faces:
        * You're all at a dinner party
        * You're all making faces at people behind their backs
        * If you get caught, you're eliminated.
* Clapping.
        * Everyone gets in a circle.
        * Learn this clapping rhythm.
                * (Here it is in music notation -- thanks Emily!)
        * Then, each person has one beat.
                * Depending on where you are in the sequence, you either:
                        1. Clap.
                        2. Double-clap.
                        3. Rest.
        * Try doing the same thing, but walking around the space.
                * Instead of going in a proscribed sequence, you *pass* the clap to the next person.
        * Try doing the same thing, except with double-claps split out to two people in sequence.
                * i.e., you do one of the following:
                        1. Clap.
                        2. The first half of a double-clap.
                        3. The second half of a double-clap.
                        4. Rest.
                        * We never managed this.
                                * It is probably impossible.
* Circle up, make an expression simultaneously.
* Trade back and forth, moving-bodies-ing each other.
* Scenes with three-word sentences.
        * No sentence fragments.
        * Try to be correct; enjoy the struggle.
                * We don't care about whether you succeed.
                * We just want to see a spirited struggle.
        * Move on to one-word sentences.
                * It's hard to be natural here.
                * Physicality helps.
                        * Just use the one-word sentences to clarify what's already happening.
        * Difficulty with a game tends to send us negative.
                * So: fight that.



General Advice About Masks

* Try to talk about the mask in the third person.
* It's good to step out of the mask work as soon as it feels fake.
        * This is not a "fake it 'til you make it" practice.
        * It's more like music: "practicing it wrong just gets you ingrained in doing it wrong".
* Masks are a good tool for going simple & obvious.
        * Masks know so little, that they have only the most obvious options.
        * Also, the audience *knows* that the mask has no knowledge.
                * So the audience, too, expects maximum obviousness.
        * Even a *strong* non-mask character can't walk onto a stage and say of the audience, "What? Why are all these people sitting here?"
                * A mask can do that.
                * A mask can be *that* obvious.
* It adds some pressure, putting on "mask scenes" in front of the class-as-audience.
        * But then, we want the 'show' aspect of the mask.
        * We want that shared experience for the mask's development.
* Eating/drinking = problematic for masks, but possible.
        * Kissing also poses technical difficulties.
* Humans shall never get too chummy with masks.
        * Masks should always be 'other'
                * They should always rebel against norms.
* Try exploring the outdoors with masks.
* Other versions of masks:
        * The half-masks are 'trance masks'.
                * It's the strongest version of mask-work, where you don't settle for anything less than amazing work.
                        * If the audience vibe feels wrong, you don't even bring out the masks in the first place.
        * You can do other kinds of masks that go to other levels.
                * Some styles of mask-work are partially you, partially the mask.
                        * Such masks do not start childlike the way trance masks do.
                * Do not use your trance masks for other purposes.
                        * It is *only* used for being that character.
        * You can start with other types of other 'masks'
                * Just a nose, or glasses, or various forms of partial masks.
                * And don't confuse this with trance work.
* Having props and set-pieces handy helps with mask-work.
        * Not to mention improv in general.
* Keep thinking of the masks as things separate from yourself.
* Can we integrate mask work into training/shows?
        * It's a weird thing to bring into theater or any sort.
        * Many people are reluctant to use it.
        * This course should make it clear how they *could* fit.
        * If you bring in any mask, it'll "do something in the mind of the audience" that makes the show seem justified.
        * Full masks are a bit easier to pick up without training.
                * Thus, easier to throw into shows.
        * Nobody seems to be connecting trance/possession/tribal masks to modern theater.
                * If anything, there's a tiny bit of symbolic work.
                * Using it for improv = relatively new.
                        * This is done by Loose Moose, a handful of folks in Europe.
* The audience only cares that the mask doesn't *die*.
        * It's okay for the mask to dislike/reject things.
                * So long as it doesn't fade away, we're cool.
        * If a mask is 'alive', it also means we're glad the mask is here.
                * If we-the-audience are not glad the mask is here, the mask might as well be dead.
* Even if you yourself don't find a mask that lives, it means something if others in your community do
        * You were part of that effort
        * That effort helps masks in the AIC move forward generally.


Half-Mask Work

* Our rehearsal space has no full-length mirrors.
        * You try to focus on your body 'disappearing' so that you're just aiming at losing yourself in the mask.
        * Loss-of-self is a strong component here.
* For this workshop, we'll use human half-masks.
        * Human (as opposed to monster) masks are more vulnerable.
        * Almost all of them have eyes, with holes to see through.
                * Obviously, you'll want those to line up.
        * Most have an upper lip.
                * This allows for more integration with your face.
                * Typically you'll tuck your upper lip into the mask's lip.
* We'll lay out the masks.
        * Then go up and pick a mask that inspires you.
        * Pick one that's comfortable.
        * Treat them as powerful and special things.
* Basic introductory mask exercise:
        * Put on a mask
        * Wait
                * The teacher might make some adjustments
        * Be shown it in a mirror
        * Make your lower face match the mask
        * Immediately make a sound.
                * "It really wants to make a sound."
        * The teacher will tell you when to stop.
                * Stop when the teacher says so.
        * Take off the mask.
        * "See the face, make the face, find the sound."
        * If you pick a second mask later, maybe aim for a different type of experience.
                * Try to avoid having a single "mask state".
        * Note that once your mask *finds* a sound, it needn't be *locked* to that sound.
                * Keep exploring.  Keep evolving.  Keep discovering.
                * That said, if the sound disappears, then the character tends to die.
* We can go in several directions from this simple observe/noise start...
        * The mask-character can interact with props.
        * Or be given costumes.
        * Or deal with other people.
                * At first, they might be other people who speak in gibberish.
        * Or deal with other masked characters.
        * Or deal with the outside world.
        * After a while, you can try giving a mask basic language lessons.
                * Try teaching it one word, then perhaps two.
                * Maybe another, more-established mask character tries to teach it lessons.
* Throughout this work, the teacher keeps dangerous things from happening.
* Whatever you do, we're still just aiming for *moments* when the mask 'takes over'
        * No need for further ambition just yet
        * It takes a while to get to the 'several minutes as a mask' state.
* If you're in a scene with a mask, just respond to the truth of what you perceive in a mask character.
        * This gives the mask a lot to work with
* As you *direct* these mask exercises:
        * Give neutral offers 'til they pick a direction.
                * Then, support that direction.
        * Sometimes mirror their noises.
        * Sometimes, avoid giving them what they want.
                * Sometimes they feed on adversity.
        * It's the directors' job to keep the mask safe
                * Keep adding stimuli to keep the mask alive
        * As a directors, be careful not to use words the mask might not know.
                * At that point, the *performer* may process/respond to the words.
                * Instead, just use single words and miming.
                        * Or prompt the mask to imitate you.
* Note the difference between "The mask knows this!" and "I *think* the mask *should* know this."
        * ... both as a performer and as an audience member.
* The natural tendency with masks is to 'work' to bring them alive.
        * You don't need to strain like that.
                * It would read as false.
        * Subtle work with the mask will still scan.
* Half-mask work *can* be just "you doing what you feel inhibited to do in daily life"
        * But it's more powerful when it's otherworldly/left-field.
        * Ideally, it's not "the essence of me is put into this mask."
                * It's more "uh... I dunno where this guy came from."
* If you start to think/lose the mask character...
        * ... just make the characteristic noise, only *bigger*
        * ... and try to forget everything.
* Beyond single words:
        * "Seed" the mask's performance.
        * Get the performer to repeat a short line or two of poetry several times right before the mask goes on.
        * Then, prompt the mask with phonemes as necessary.
        * If the performance starts to feel forced on ingenuine, end the performance.
* Try doing a "Speech academy" with teaching the half masks words.
* Mask instructions:
        1. "See the face"
        2. "The mouth changes to match the face."
        3. "The mask makes a sound."
                * *Not* "*You* make a sound"
        * Give these instructions with strength and authority.
        * Wait a moment.
                * "Nothing nothing, then it's on, full strength."
                * Show the back of the mirror first.
                        * This lets them figure out if the mirror is lined up correctly.
                        * They can adjust as necessary.
                * Then show the mask itself suddenly, using a hand mirror.
                        * Ideally, the hand mirror only reflects the face.
        * Sometimes, Steve would repeat the mask's sound back at the performer.
                * (... presumably, to help reinforce it.)
        * If the sound goes away during the scene, you can do another "hit" of the mirror.
        * Always keep the mirror close by, should the mask ask for it.
* Playing short scenes with masks.
        * Simple, three-line scenes.
        * Run through it several times, just getting the lines down.
                * Do at least one take that's "good acting".
        * Then do them as masks.
        * Note that the masks may not know what the lines even *mean*
* Assume that your mask knows less than it does.
        * Question whether every new thing 'works' for your mask.
        * Just assuming that your mask does what it 'should' do next ends up weakening that choice.
        * Keeping them pure, even if it's at a low level, is of value to the audience.
                * Even if they don't talk, if they're a breath of fresh air, that's good.
        * Signs of fakeness:
                * Lack of sound; change of quality of the sound.
                * Outside reactions (from class or audience)
                        * So: don't give fake support.
                        * If something feels fake, don't fake enthusiasm for it.

               
               

Full-Mask Work

* Note that full-masks are completely different from half-masks.
        * Totally different disciplines.
* When setting up the mask, avoid any clear edge between the mask and your face.
        * This requires 'dressing' the mask, using accessories to hide the mask's borders.
        * Usually we want to set up the mask with the actor facing upstage.
* We don't use the mirror this time around.
        * Sometimes you look at the mask and let it 'sink in'
        * Sometimes we just do it blind.
                * There are different benefits to each.
        * Unlike a half-mask character, which is unformed, a full-mask can show up full-formed as a grown-up, intelligent, adult.
* We don't talk with the mask on
        * Instead focus on discovering the mask character.
        * If there are any real problems...
                * Don't deal with them by talking
                * If you really must, turn upstage and remove the mask.
* Blind mask work
        1. take your best guess at the mask's personality.
        2. try the opposite
        3. Let #2 slowly turn into #1
        4. Let it bounce back to #2
        5. Play with going back and forth
        * "Mask and countermask"
                * Every mask contains both "x" and "not x"
                * "Every demon mask contains an angel."
                * Countering the obvious traits of the expression often provides a measure of psychological complexity.
* We like seeing full-masks in an 'unresolved' state.
        * i.e. confused, surprised, unable to deal, etc.
        * "Kept on its toes."
        * More interesting than it knowing what it's doing.
        * Often, the mask 'lives' the most when it's *in between* 'doing' things.
        * When Steve directs a mask character, "I keep undercutting what they think they know."
* You can play with offering the full face, and then retracting it (going to profile or facing upstage)
        * "You get my face -- now you don't -- now you do."
        * This includes 'takes' to the audience.
        * You should judge this by feeling what the audience wants.
                * And do this moment-to-moment.
                * i.e., don't formulate a rule and follow it.
                        * Keep sensing what the audience wants, moment-to-moment.
                * Think "dolphin training".
* Dolphin training works well with full masks.
        * Esp. because the mask conceals the frustration.
        * And seeing a frustrated mask = hilarity.
        * Setting impossible tasks for dolphin training is hilarious.
        * It gives the mask a real objective.
                * It gives the character honesty.
                * Bring this reality to scenework.
* A lot of full-mask ideas apply to non-mask work.
        * You can let your face go a bit dead.
        * You can let the audience do some of the work of interpreting your action.
* You want to more strictly budget your actions.
        * Don't do five things when one will do.
        * You need to separate the actions into units.
        * There need to be pauses *between* the units.
        * You'll usually want to *share* every unit with the audience.
* Rely more on physicality.
        * Rely less on situations where you want to talk, but can't.
                * That sort of restriction feels arbitrary.
                        * And unrelated to the situation.
* Feel free to hold a pose or a look 'til the next thing comes.
* If you feel panicked about what to do next....
        * Don't try to *communicate* your way out of it.
        * Just feel what you're feeling
                * Settle into the emotion
                * The audience will contextualize it within the scene.
        * Then, eventually, you'll do some simple object to work through it.
* Spacework is okay in a pinch.
        * But generally avoid it.
                * That said, if the audience is digging it, go with it.
                * What the audience is responding to is still always paramount.
        * Or, if there's an object in your scene, make it an object with power.
        * Often a good start to a mask scene is to put one prop onstage.
* Some full masks do not do 'frenetic' very well.
        * Again, check in with the audience.
                * See what works.
* Full masks are silent work
        * Ergo, it works to think in pictures.
* For directing full-mask work:
        * Think cleanly and simply
        * Provide meaningful/inspiring *context*.
                * e.g., "He's never had a friend."
* Costuming choices can provide half the setup for a scene.
        * Ergo, it's good to have costumes/hats kicking around.
        * Differences in bodies can do that, too.
* Keep things simple.
        * Dead simple.
        * Only add something if it *needs* to be added.
        * Masks can do slice-of-life scenes.
                * They don't need plot.
* Full masks often fall into slower tempi than half-masks.
        * But they don't *have* to.

               

Mask-Making

* It's more difficult to make human masks
        * It's easier to make weird/arbitrary 'monster masks'
        * Aim for realistic flesh tones.
        * Add actual human touches, like hair.
* Very clear eyes...
        * ... pull in the audience's attention
        * ... cover the performers' eyes
                * You don't have to work hard at *integrating* the eyes
        * Steve inserts ping-pong ball eyes
                * This makes the eyeballs smooth
                        * ... so they lack the porous/rough/possibly-saggy feel of the clay 'skin'.
        * Consider adding lids to the eyes.
* Lots of hair on the mask can get in the way
        * Usually that's where you want to put...
                * Your own hair
                * Hats
                * Etc.
        * (But a fringe of hair is okay.)
* Most of these masks are made from Aquaplast
        * It's a medical material for splinting.
        * It becomes pliable/stretchable in boiling water.
        * It takes ~1 min to cool down and re-harden.
        * Honestly, it could hold paint better.
                * "You usually have to sand it a bit before painting."
        * It comes in different thicknesses.
* We should do research on using 3D fabricators.
        * But in that case, you'll want to work hard to make the mask imperfect.
                * e.g., not completely symmetrical.
* Technology aside...
        * Keep the childish *craft* of it in mind.
        * Stay playful.
        * And using materials connected to the earth makes sense in a sort of tribal/organic way.
* Contact cement is good for attaching things to the mask.
        * Hot glue doesn't stick well.
                * It tends to pop off.
* "Fun fur" is useful for hair/beards. 
        * Again, you don't want single-color flatness.
                * You want imperfection/variegation.
                * Try to buy Fun Fur that has a variety of related colors.
                * If worse comes to worst, you can then paint the Fun Fur.
* You'll want to cut a slit in each side of the mask for the elastic to attach through.
        * Loop the elastic through, and then sew it in place.
* You'll want a backpack clasp for the elastic, so wearers can adjust it.
        * Ideally, it's a simple clasp that lets them adjust it without looking.
        * Wearers will want to wear the elastic high.
                * It should pull the mask *upwards*.
                * That will help you hook your upper lip into the mask.
* You'll need to make a lot of masks before you make good ones.
        * And you can always mess with bad masks to make them better.
* Female masks -- feminine masks -- are damned hard to make.
        * Messy masks go masculine by default.
        * But we have to *try* to make feminine masks.
                * Because we want feminine characters.
* Steve has a web site with more information and pictures.


Miscellaneous Notes

* The cover of Impro features trance-mask work
        * The Waif, her friend, and Big-Nose
* At Loose Moose, they keep lots of stuff backstage.
* Gibberish shouldn't be too repetitive.
        * Phonemes should vary, as they do in language.
        * Words should be "word-sized".
* Improv requires a lot of sensitivity to whatever the other improvisors are thinking/feeling/etc.
        * (And so, I suppose, does conversation.)
        * You want to engage this same sensitivity when performing with someone in a full mask.
                * (Of course, I'm crap at this in real life, so: hmm.)
        * The audience is always discovering this subtle, interpretive stuff.
                * And they are always experts at it.
                        * So you can let them discover material on their own.        
                                * You get a level of engagement that's kind of like gaming.
* In Africa, there are folks with whips to keep the masks safe from the audience.
        * i.e. whip the audience back
        * This maintains the power of the mask.
* You can always find a distancing technique to keep the audience from feeling weird about a story.
        * In film, the context (it's a film) is itself a distancing technique
        * Improv audiences rarely expect dark material.
                * Distancing becomes difficult in that environment.
        * Maybe the mask is itself a distancing context.
* Note to self: buy Kookaburra black licorice, because it is awesome.

Tags: ,
Mood: [mood icon] contemplative · Music: none
Previous Entry Share Next Entry