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.
* 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.
* 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.
* 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.
* 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.