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.