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From the front lines – Mask Edition

We spend a lot of time both in real life and in person complaining about lack of resources. “If only I had… I could…”

And while I’m tired of the conversation, it’s as pointless as me making dinner-date plans for when Natalie Portman comes to her senses, I understand the impulse.

But there’s a very real and very pernicious resource drain that we spend very few brain cycles on:

Hyphenation drain.

To recap: I am an actor by training.

For Orestes I will be playing Menelaus (poor misunderstand bloke), I am the technical director, set designer, master carpenter, prop master, master electrician, and producer.

So which one of those jobs do you think I’m doing to the best of my ability? I’m nowhere near alone in this. How many of our soon-to-be-great directors are busy making rickety platforms right now? how many actors are building props?

This isn’t a plea for pity, my value to an indie theater company is exactly that I can do all of those things, and I think that there’s a lot to be said for Doing for Yourself According to Your Means.

But the global reality of this talent overextension means that there are a lot of people in the system who will never reach their full potential in their chosen focus even if they manage survive burn out.

I’d be lying if I said I had a solution, but it bears thinking on.

I will be off book, as soon as tonight… and I promise that I can string two sentences together. 

There has been some interest in the masks that I’m building for the Furies for Orestes so I’ll take this vanity lap to talk about them a little. Please note that they are only at about 90% completion as pictured. They will receive some additional paint treatment to make them pop from stage as opposed to from 18 inches, and they will be mounted on poles that vary in length from 3-6 feet depending on actor preference.


First the “masks” aren’t going to be worn, they’re going to be manipulated sort of like puppets. The actors playing the Furies double as Orestes family and we were concerned about the ease of transitions between one and the other. So after a few iterations of mask designs that were meant to be worn but transition friendly we ran with an idea brought to us by Friend-of-Cambiare Liz Fisher about masks on sticks. We ran with it. Not EXACTLY as described, but in spirit.   

The masks aren’t aren’t strictly anthropomorphic. Orestes is “hounded by these visions”, he “see his horrors” but they aren’t specific. In myth and legend the Furies are mostly gorgon analogs, but that’s pretty dull. So I ran with the key production phrase, Decay, and the personalities of the characters the Furies were doubling and just sort of winged it.

Iphigenia (above) was informed by this image and by the art over at Phantasmaphile. The face will be finished by charring the edges of the doll face, adding porcelain doll lips, lacquering the face, adding some smudges of dirt to add texture to the face, and lightening the branches to raise contrast and make them more easily seen from stage.


Klytaimnestra is a compromise. She was intended to have that metal lattice work as faux-gorgon hair with the leaves working through it, but that looked like crap (more specifically it looked a lot like an android Grace Slick – NOT the intended effect). So we went a bit more minimalist.  This mask will see the addition of dirt on the face for texture, shading and highlight to better delineate the features of the face from a distance and quite naturally, blood pouring from the gaping sockets on her face.


This is a terrible picture of the Agamemnon mask, forgive me. Where the other masks were based on wig forms, this was based on a skull that I’ve had since my days with Darwin’s Waiting Room in Portsmouth, New Hampshire in 98-99. What is unclear in the picture is that mixed in with the vines and the leaves are a variety of electric cords and cables (and Christmas lights), modern detritus being eroded as nature reclaims it. This mask will receive added texture (the flat black doesn’t work) highlights and shadows like the others to pick up features from a distance and possibly additional cords and cables depending on their visibility

So there you have it. Working models of the mask we will be using for Orestes. Good seats still available.

Men of few affectations are the best men…

Tonight I saw Robert Faires’ one-man presentation of Henry V.

Mr. Faires’ among the many bullets on his résumé is the arts editor of the Austin Chronicle, Austin’s very own alt-weekly, and as such is a major critical gatekeeper in town. I will keep the critique of his performance brief – it’s not my point here – and say that there is nothing so reassuring as knowing that your gatekeepers are theatremakers of the highest order themselves.

The performance has some of the trappings of one-man-showdom that I dislike, but they are easily overcome by Mr. Faires’ likeability and the (always useful) fact that the man simply breathes the verse. It made the evening easy and enjoyable. If you’re in Austin you owe it to yourself to see it.

But, as I said not my point.

Kris Joseph and Simon Ogden railed recently against the preciousness of theatremakers (even some not named Patti Lupone) and the religion of decorum in our playhouses. While I personally would have asked for ground slightly more to the middle of what those fine upstanding gentlemen asked for, they’re not wrong: and here’s my point.

There was nothing precious or pretentious at all about the evening of theatre that Mr. Faires and his director, Catherine Weidner, presented. On arriving at the OffCenter and receiving my complimentary champagne (apparently there was some sort of Federal holiday on) I was informed that I would be seated. This is odd for our fringe spaces, but what the hell… not my show. I waited. And Robert greeted me and showed me to a seat of his choosing.

On setting out to perform a one man version of Henry V, Mr. Faires wasn’t pacing out back trying to find his inner Dionysus, cramming scene 4, or opening his 4th chakra, he was personally greeting and seating all 60 of his guests.

Did he then run out back to compose himself 10 minutes before curtain? No. He simply stepped on stage, surrounded by 20 of those guests, adjusted his props and began when his lights shifted.

It was a piece that could have been told in a bar by as expert a storyteller as Mr. Faires. Simply a gathering of friends who asked for that one story about the time Harry went to France.

That my friends is what we should strive for in the aura around our storytelling, that personal touch. That will curtail the feeling of entitlement on both sides that enables the behavior that we bitch about at the bar and keeps them from showing up in the first place. Stop building a monolith to yourself in every production and performance. You may have a gift. You’re not it.

Mind the difference. 

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I need for you to sit down. What I’m going to say is shocking, and may ultimately be disillusioning for many of you.

I am not now, nor have I ever been, one of the cool kids.

I know. I know. Take a minute.

When we first start talking to a cast in the first handful of rehearsals I always expect to be found out. I expect them to roll their eyes and suck it up for the 6 weeks they’re stuck with us. So it’s always a mild surprise when they don’t storm out and declare us frauds and go tell all their friends at a Cool Party somewhere.

We’ve had the first three rehearsals now for Orestes. We‘ve talked both here and on Twitter about how talented they are (Go see Helen and Orestes in Black Snow if you don’t believe me!) but what you can’t always tell at auditions is how smart a group is. You can read each person’s intelligence, but that doesn’t always translate into a group dynamic.

Folks? This cast is on it and from the gun they owned this script.

We asked that they help clarify Will’s adaptation to make it as crisp and clear as possible. They jumped in and started kicking the tires immediately.

Last night we arrived at the 6h (and penultimate) design for the use of the Furies masks as they began exploring the movement, vocalization, and groupthink of the Triune Destroyer.

Despite my lethargy and That Look on my face, I can’t being to tell you how invigorating it is to know that these 7 people have our backs.

28 days till magic time.