Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Behind the mask

So I'm rehearsing this new show...

(how's that for an introduction? Hello. Long time, no blog.)

... and it's been, for the most part, fun and challenging. It's based on some Native American folklore and I play both a Bear (dying of radiation poisoning... hey, I said BASED) and a prophetic Loon. Both characters require the wearing of ginormous woven masks, which are beautiful to behold and rather painful to wear. The thing about acting with masks is that you lose what is one of the most powerful acting tools: your face. You have to show what is happening through your body and the position of your (now ginormous) head. Small movements don't read, particularly in relation to your head, so all movements have to become bigger, cleaner, and more precise. You have to remember to keep your mask visible to the audience. Your voice has to portray more emotion and energy, and get past the mask.

Did I mention that the masks are ginormous? And stick out a foot or so past our mouths? And are made of sound absorbing raffia and bark? And we can barely see out of them, and have little idea what exactly is happening around us?
(my areas of vision are out the mouth, and through a band of mesh that runs between the eyes, below the ears. Peripheral vision is non existent)

So we have some challenges.

Oh, and we're performing outside. In Detroit. So we are competing with birds and wind and traffic noises and helicopters and people riding by on the their bikes talking loudly into their blue tooth devices (I assume. Either that or this woman was carrying on a really boring and rational discussion with herself. Loudly.).

I have some experience working with masks, although admittedly not of this size, so I am familiar with the changes that need to be made to accommodate this different style of performance. Simply putting on a mask makes a performance far more presentational. The stuff that works in other shows will. not. work. when you put on a mask. We have a good director and are working with a professor from the University of Michigan who specializes in mask work and comedic movement (it's a comedy. did I mention that? I'm dying of radiation in an updated Native American folktale that is billed as a physical comedy. It's kind of hard to explain).

So, yeah. I'm working on this show. I'm enjoying the challenge and the people I'm working with. We open in 10 days.

We've been doing a lot of our rehearsing inside, but last night did some work outside, which of course brought a lot of the areas where we are weak into strong focus. I found it exhilarating to be outside and add in this extra element of what will be our show conditions, and found myself getting louder, bigger, cleaner, etc. I found that it rose the bar for me, and I worked to meet it. Not perfectly, for sure, but we still have 10 days.

The director seemed to recognize this, too - that I was working to meet those challenges. But it led to this really awkward moment during the notes at the end of the rehearsal. A moment where she quietly pointed out that we all need to be more cohesive and on the same page. She asked how we could achieve that. There was silence. I think everyone was having a bit of a hard time figuring out just what she was asking. I said that we should all have similar energy levels. She nodded. Pause. There was some mention of my Loon, and how "big" she is. Pause. I comment that I make her really huge and over dramatic because I see her as this crazy (loony! get it?) prophetic character. but I could tone it down if need be. The director shakes her head and says, no, the Loon IS the drama queen. Pause. Then she asks the other actors how they might be able to be more cohesive with Loon.

Ah. So basically she is giving me a compliment... saying that I have the right idea with the style and energy. And wanting the other actors to match it. But she wants them to come to that conclusion (it's not like she hasn't been trying to get them to be bigger and cleaner all along).

So I feel good... like I'm doing something right. Yay me! But also a bit guilty. Like I'm being used to point out other people's weaknesses. It's not the first time it's happened to me in a show. It always feels weird. It takes away from the joy of doing something right.

Have you ever felt this way? Proud of what you're doing right, but almost guilty that others aren't getting it the way you are, and badly that you're being used as the example of what to do? The cast is a team, and we all look better when everyone meets the high bar. It's very strange being that bar.

As if being a bear and a loon wasn't strange enough.


Magpie said...


I'm just imagining the whole scene.

De said...

Wow! It sounds incredible! But not the "being the bar" part. That has happened to me - most recently at a job where no one else cared. Hope that's not the case with the cast and it comes together. Congratulations on having an acting job!

kayerj said...

Sounds like a challenge--but you can pull it off.

Kyla said...

I'm killing the curve in Sociology and my professor ALWAYS makes it known. I love busting the curve, but hate that everyone else knows it is me! LOL.

Break a leg!!

Kat said...

Haha! Yes. That is kind of an awkward moment, isn't it? "Everyone be more like PM!" At least I think she was trying to be gentle about it. ;)
Holy masks! How do you even hold your head up with that thing on?

Glad to hear from you again!

Unknown said...

WOW! Talk about a challenge. That sounds amazing. And how cool that you "got it," all on your own. Don't be amazed. Embrace your awesomeness.

MARY G said...

Yes, has happened to me. I turn bright red and sweat.
It sounds like a fascinating production. And I love the way you are reading it.
You know, in Canada our dollar is loonie.