Mask Week

As I enjoy the practical side of this course I valued being able to spend a whole week designing and making a mask. We had a workshop where we made and wore basic paper bag masks that immediately made me feel invincible and express myself with my body rather than through facial expression. I was particularly interested in Mike Chase’s work at the mask symposium last year as I believe mask workshops can be used to support people as in his psychotherapy work.

Although I was used to using clay as I do pottery, I wasn’t used to moulding it around a model head and using it to create a face. I found the clay easy to manipulate which was an advantage as I attempted to figure out how to convey the shy facial expression I wanted for my character, an otter. At this stage we were advised by the practitioner Stephen Jon not to think too much about intricate detail as it wouldn’t show up later in the process. I therefore focused on making a large, bulbous nose and accentuated the cheeks, referring to otter photographs, as well as shaping the eyebrows to create a shy expression. We covered the design in foil and began the process of layering brown paper scraps on using a papier-mâché technique and a mixture of wallpaper paste and pva glue. I found the second layer, J-cloth scraps applied using wallpaper paste and filler, the easiest material to use. I did find the process laborious at times as we had to wait for each layer to dry however it gave me an idea of patience and time efficiency needed in this industry.

I found painting the masks the most satisfying experience because I was able to see my work come together. Stephen gave us a demonstration, painting his mask with subtle, natural tones such as raw umber and then highlighting areas with white. I tried applying his techniques to my own mask and enjoyed the contrasting effects a wet brush and dry brush created. We were able to showcase our mask at the end of the day, taking on the characteristics through our body to support the fixed mask expression. I liked that the half mask meant the actor’s mouth was showing to allow them to talk. Although I enjoyed the skills week, I would have liked to have had time to devise further with the masks in order to understand how they could be beneficial in a Forum theatre or drama therapy situation.


Tonic Theatre

Tonic Theatre is an organisation that aims to achieve greater gender equality across UK theatres across all roles. I went to a talk celebrating the work of the Tonic Theatre initiative at The Sam Wanamaker Theatre in London. I didn’t quite know what to expect, it was unusual for me to enter a theatre without seeing a performance. The candles were lit and 5 chairs laid out on stage for the chair and the speakers.tonic-thetare-celebrates

  • Lucy Kerbel, Tonic Theatre’s Director and chair of the event
  • Tanika Gupta, Writer for stage, screen and radio
  • Emma Rice, Artistic Director for Shakespeare’s Globe
  • Rachel Bown-Williams, Fight director and founder of RC-Annie
  • Ruth Cooper-Brown, Fight director and founder of RC-Annie

Emma Rice talked about directing. She said that there is no prescribed way but her approach is to create a playful environment in the rehearsal room so that the actors feel safe and the space is free.

“Fear is the greatest enemy”

She has received quite a lot of criticism in the press such as being called ‘loud’ and ‘opinionated’ which she responded with “Who says that to a man, I’m doing my job”. The criticism surrounding her directing seems to be implying that being loud and opinionated is inappropriate for a woman and it is worrying that critiques are fighting that freedom of speech and gender equality that is finally coming through.

The evening was refreshingly positive. The speakers encouraged young people who are interested in the theatre industry to strive for …

  • waking up and going to a job you love
  • doing something for the love of it not money
  • getting your foot in the door early on
  • not taking everything so personally, criticism etc.

And ultimately to enjoy growing up and the experiences that come with that.

RC-Annie is a dramatic violence company established by Rachel Bown-Williams and Ruth Cooper-Brown in 2005 who give training and fight direction to the entertainment industry. At the Tonic Theatre event they talked about creating a safe space with boundaries, taking the gender out of the action, so that the actors feel comfortable with the fight direction that they are being taught. Scenes can be violent or so out of character for an actor that they become uncomfortable so it’s important to provide support not only health and safety but this safe atmosphere as well.

As I studied the progression of gender equality in the industry for my independent research project last year and looked closely at the work Tonic Theatre instigated across UK theatres; I found the evening insightful. It was wonderful to hear from women working in different roles within the theatre industry and above all I took away the important message that you should be confident and in particular women in theatre need to

Stop apologising.



Handmade Theatre Company

Handmade Theatre company came to perform for a class of school children at the Waverley Theatre in Nottingham. I liked their philosophy of creating theatre outside the national curriculum and for families rather than just children because it allows children to engage with their families and with something new and exciting. They toured their performance ‘Flying the nest’ about birds this summer at various locations such as parks, art centres and festivals. Although we saw the performance in and enclosed space it was interesting to see how their performance could be shown in varying location due to their versatile set design.

The performers emerged from a wooden shed and began talking and singing with the children about birding, using instruments such as the recorder and the violin. The children were sat in willow nests in a semi-circle around the shed connected to it by washing lines transporting bird food to the nests. I could imagine this set in an outdoor environment because of the organic shapes of the willow and the natural look of not only the larger items of set but also the props and costume, for example, bird wings made out of patchwork fabric. Seeing this performance has helped me to consider the importance of audience and space when creating theatre and in particular theatre that needs to tour, perhaps in non-theatrical spaces.

As the name suggests this company had a handmade feel which I preferred to other young people’s theatre that can tend to use bright, bold colours to engage a younger audience. The Handmade Theatre company immersed the audience by asking them to look after a specific bird and feed it whilst also turning into specific birds through costume, puppetry and masks. I think the work this company creates will help to develop my own speculative design project that needs to tour in a school space for 10-12 year olds.


946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips

I got a flavour of the type of work Kneehigh creates from their version of The Beggar’s Opera, renamed Dead dog in a suitcase at Warwick’s art centre last year so I knew their latest production wouldn’t disappoint. I enjoyed reading Michael Morpurgo’s books as a child and I am a big advocate of Emma Rice’s directing vision so I was interested to see how they’d work together to adapt the novel into a play.

The performance was energetic and lively as expected. It’s a Kneehigh trait that the actors go that extra mile, dancing, playing instruments and using puppetry but I think this worked particularly well to engage a younger audience. The story is about a young girl living in Slapton sands, Devon during the second world war who is forced to move away from her home with her family and make way for troops meanwhile her cat Tips has gone missing. She befriends an evacuee and American troops who get enlisted in Slapton. I like how the puppets they used were different scales for example the cat and dog puppet were large whereas there was a tiny puppet of the troops in a car which was comical and let the audience use their imagination. The girl, Lily innocently pointed out the difference in her skin colour in contrast to the American troops which highlighted the era but also her acceptance. I like that kneehigh’s casting is colour blind and was also gender blind as a female played one of the troops.

I also liked how the stage design took small bits of information to represent the whole picture. Centre stage was a propellor attached to a platform to elevate the musicians and create the feeling of an aerocraft in wartime. The whole stage was made up of wooden planks in a circular form that was inspired by Cornelia Parker’s artwork ‘An exploded view’ and gave the feel of rural, farmland. My favourite design element was at the front of the stage where old, tin baths filled with water represented the sea and were used in a dramatic scene to show sinking ships at the D-day landings disaster. Small ships crashed into the tubs and set on fire whilst the action played out further upstage.

We attended an after show talk at the Birmingham Repertory where we were able to hear from the cast and director Emma Rice. It was insightful to hear about Rice’s vision of “Collective imagination” because she sees the company as an ensemble.