Mask & Puppet Artistic Statement
My training and research has approached performance from a physical and external point of departure for performers, directors, and devising. What are the external stimulating forces that help create and define dynamic character, movement, drives, and story? At the London International School for Performing Arts (LISPA), the pedagogical approach of Jacques Lecoq focused on the body and using masks to train artists to devise a very physical style of storytelling. My work uses and extends this mask work to synthesize direct connections to more traditional inner and psychological character preparation and performance techniques such as Stanislavski, Meisner, and Adler. My work opens up the understanding of what a mask is to include not only what one wears on the face, but costume, make-up, words, music, objects, and puppets - anything that provokes or stimulates the actor into action. In my work in the classroom, I use masks and movement to help train performers and directors to better and more communicate fully as artists and storytellers. As a director and performer I often use masks and puppetry to elevate moments, themes, or symbols within a story. Even if there are no masks or puppets ultimately appearing on stage, I will often integrate mask techniques into the rehearsal process to open discoveries, to become more physical and therefore balanced in storytelling, or to explore and build character.
My belief is that an actor begins with their own self as the basis for character creation. As they apply analyzed characteristics and choices of a role, the character, although still deeply rooted in self, begins to separate from the performer. The further the character emerges from the actor's own self, the more the performer and audience can gain perspective and insight into this character's world and choices. A mask is the physical evidence of that character gaining distance from the performer. For my work, puppetry removes the character even further. It is a continuum that ranges from a performer playing themselves, unmasked, to the farthest a mask or puppet can be removed in time and space from the performer. That is to say, animation and digital motion-capture techniques fall somewhere on the outer edges, but well within, what my work explores as manifestation of self and character in story.
As a mask designer and builder, I approach the creation of these objects from the point of view that they must provoke both the wearer and the audience, and help animate and elevate storytelling.
Overall Design Process & Approach
Like any design technique, there are some general approaches I take to creating masks and puppets for use in a production, classroom, or project.
Select and consider source material or goals for using mask or puppetry. This can be for the enhancement or study of character, the highlighting of a particular theme, or the specific training or process needs of an actor or class. If the masks or puppets are intended for another director or teacher, I will consult with them and explore their intent for using the objects.
Research and Analysis. I begin with a full character and story analysis. I will then turn to study traditional masks and puppetry in variouos cultures, along with contemporary techniques and materials that match mask and puppetry styles, movement techniques, aesthetics, or human or animal qualities to illuminate aspects of their intended use as it relates to the character and story.
Design and test options. Depending on the intended product, I will generally begin an initial design phase with sketches, in pencil or in digital format, sculptures in clay, wood, or foam, or digitized 3D scans and mesh builds. If there are other directors, actors, or designers involved, I will consult with them fluidly throughout the design phase. I will use photos, measurements, and sometimes life-mask molds of performers to build up characters based on their own specific physical traits.
Build. I use a range of techniques and methods to create masks and puppets. I will carve wood or foam more often for puppetry. I use leather, paper mache, neoprene, and latex for mask work and puppets. Often the material choice is dictated by how heavy the item can be, how it needs to move or be manipulated, how many people are manipulating it, how long the performance or class will be, and even temperature sometimes affects material choice. Often many molds are made of various mask sculpts to enable multiple copies of an object to be made. Recently, I have been using 3D printers to print out parts designed or scanned into the computer. This allows me the flexibility of changing size, materials, and making small models and dynamic adjustments more frequently.
Test and finish: Often I create mock-ups in faster materials (paper-mache, foam, cardboard) to give to the performers, directors, and teachers something early on in the process to try on and play with. There is much collaboration as well with costume and lighting designers to understand color pallettes, lighting, levels of reflection, and relative distance and angle of audience.Based on observation and feedback, I will then make adjustments and finish the objects through various painting, airbrush, staining and sealing techniques.
Mask & Puppet Training
London International School of Performing Arts(UK)
International School of Commedia dell’Arte (Reggio Emiglia, Italy)
L’École de Mime (Montreal, Canada)
International Personal Clown Training (Boulder, CO)
Humber College Puppetry Intensive (Toronto, ON, Canada)
Mask & Puppet Work
Mask & Puppet Samples
Servant of Two Masters
This piece synthesized traditional Commedia dell'arte broad physical style with anachronistic elements of today to connect the humor more directly to the audience. The aesthetic of the piece borrowed from Steam Punk costuming, colors, and scenic elements.
Fifteen performance masks were designed and built, synthesizing elements of the actors' faces, traditional Commedia stock character elements, and our Steam Punk world. The masks needed to reflect and stretch elements of age, status and gender to allow flexible casting and inspire young actors to make big bold physical choices. To ease time and cost constraints, the masks were made from paper mache. In addition to the performance masks, a series of rehearsal masks were used, some made specifically for this process, to help train the actors to use masks and work in this broad comedic style.
To approach this piece as director, I’d chose to use an all-female cast, where the women play the male roles and the female roles are played by puppets. The female actors took on Machiavelli’s voice as a consideration of actual male behavior. The puppets were the only “women” characters on stage, and as they were puppeted by women dressed as men, they fulfilled a sort of circular symbolism of “women are puppeted” versus “they really hold all of the strings” acting with men’s progress in obtaining their goals.
Three puppets, fulfilling the three women archtypes of mother, virgin, and prostitute were built, with very exaggerated female forms to emphasize how they are seen by the masculine society. The puppets were built to be manipulated by 2-3 actors at a time with their form, size, weight, and materials reflecting Japanese Bunraku traditions. This project used 3D scans of the puppeteers' faces to construct the faces of the puppets, to make a more direct physical mask/character connection between the manipulated and the manipulators. The heads, hands, and feet were constructed digitally and printed using various materials in a 3D printer. The body, legs, arms, and various mechanisms and joints were carved from wood and foam. Mock-ups were made for testing in rehearsal. The Costume designer also made certain requests of flexibility, size, and form to help build costumes on the puppets. Painting and hair were added for realistic and exaggerated expression and aesthetic.
In addition, since the women characters do not appear until many pages and minutes into the play, various shadow play scenes were incorporated to introduce the puppet characters and transition their diminutive stature and assembled presence into the story more fluidly.
My approach to this play considered power and the illusion of power. How do people lose power and try to regain it? To explore this theme, every character was considered to be under the manipulation of someone, puppeted while on the island. Each puppeted character wore a unique mask to manifest the metaphor, and to elevate the actions of their character as their choices are out of their control. The two characters lowest in status, Stephano and Trinculo, were represented by puppets, as a manifestation of their total lack of free choice. As characters regained free will and power, they lost their masks.
Mask and Puppet Design
Masks for all of the human characters were made from paper mache, designed to look like leather, and cover 1/4 of the face of the actor. Each mask will incorporate age, nationality, and gender of the charactes, to allow for flexible casting.
The character of Ariel was divided among three elements: water, wind, and fire. Fire was played by a male actor, air by a woman, and water by a chorus of youths. The masks were identical with color differences. They are light and cover the whole face.
Caliban wore a full face mask that reflects earthy, rooty, low and dirty status. Played by a female actor, the mask contained masculine elements.
The two puppets were large enough to play outdoors. They were made from textiles with taped/foil heads and features. Theywere made light, to be more easily manipulated by only one actor each. They were designed to feel low, comical, and elevated to a Commedia style.
(becoming) Hue Man
An original one-man puppet, clown and media play about MASK-ulinities.
Puppet & Mask Design
Hue Man: a wooden puppet, combining Japanese Bunraku and American tabletop puppet techniques. The protagonist of the story. Needs to project child-like innocence, eagerness, and express delight. Needs to be manipulated by one puppeteer and travel. Needs to be able to wear several masks, light up in the eyes and groin, and be easily assembled as the puppet "grows" within the performance. Made of wood, foam, paper mache, lighting and joint mechanisms.
3 Masks to represent traditional and accepted masculinities: Real Man (square jaw, facial hair, manliness), Gentle Man(the artist), Safe Man (the intellectual). Made of neoprene.
3 hand puppets to illustrate the masculinities: Each puppet should reflect the characteristics of each mask. They should light up from within. Made from paper mache, textiles, and flashlights
Shadow Puppetry: a series of projections and practical cardboard puppets to create a metaphorical story of a caterpillar transforming into a butterfly after eating flowers. The scene is shown twice, once with blue flowers and blue butterfly, the second time with flowers and butterfly of various colors.
2 blue clown noses: Worn by Hue Man and his father/companion to represent their more fluid choice of masculinity mask.
A live puppet film, using miniature puppets and studio, in classic horror cinema style, inspired by the myth of Slender Man.
Made using many stop-motion techniques, there are two puppets: A girl and S.Lenderman. Each are made using Sculpey, wood, and craft materials. The girl needs to be manipulated from above and should convey a simple and sympathetic toughness. She is violently seeking revenge. S. Lenderman should move in a creepy way and be able to blend into the woods or shadows. He is long, lean, and expressionless.
Each of the puppets will be manipulated through a "Suitcase Studio" comprised of miniature versions of the girl's bedroom, a playground, a house exterior, and the woods. The puppets should be able to be manipulated from different angles depending on the scene and camera location.