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March 03, 2005

Pictures of the Collage and Film Groups

Here are more photos:

The light side to Zoe Stroker:

The Chinese Peking Opera

This all looks so cool.
To my fellow Chorus girls: I recommend you look at the links pasted on the comments section about Thursday's session

There were lots of other pics I wanted to put on there but the website wouldn't let me. So you could try a Google Image search for 'peking opera face.' or even better search 'chinese peking opera'

Mask Research

The Balinese believe that living masks can provide inspiration for the wearer, whether a dancer or an actor. The plot of the play or dance comes from the mask. In other words, as the Balinese say, the mask "speaks".

Masks are used in dance and drama performances and are treated with a great deal of respect. They represent the faces of gods, heroes and revered persons. Masks are put on the head, the most sacred part of the body, and never on the ground.

As cultural objects they have been used throughout the world in all periods since the Stone Age and have been as varied in appearance as in their use and symbolism.

Social And Religious Uses:

Masks representing potentially harmful spirits were often used to keep a required balance of power or a traditional relationship of inherited positions within a culture. The forms of these masks invariably were prescribed by tradition, as were their uses. This type of mask was often associated with secret societies, especially in Africa, where the greatest range of types and functions can be found. They were also widely used among Oceanic peoples of the South Pacific and the American Indians and are even used in some of the folk rites still performed in Europe.

Masks have served an important role as a means of discipline and have been used to admonish women (relevant especially to our performance which is dealing with gender inequalities), children, and criminals. Common in China, Africa, Oceania, and North America, admonitory masks usually completely cover the features of the wearer. It is believed among some of the southern African tribes that the first mask was an admonitory one. A child, repeatedly told not to, persisted in following its mother to fetch water. To frighten and discipline the child, the mother painted a hideous face on the bottom of her water gourd.

Others say the mask was invented by a secret African society to escape recognition while punishing marauders. In New Britain, members of a secret terroristic society called the Dukduk appear in monstrous five-foot masks to police, to judge, and to execute offenders. Aggressive supernatural spirits of an almost demonic nature are represented by these masks, which are constructed from a variety of materials, usually including tapa, or bark cloth, and the pith of certain reeds. These materials are painted in brilliant colours, with brick red and acid green predominating.

In many cultures throughout the world, a judge wears a mask to protect him from future recriminations (as the Chorus, we are acting as sort of Judges or trying to tell the audience how to 'judge' to action on stage). In this instance, the mask represents a traditionally sanctioned spirit from the past who assumes responsibility for the decision levied on the culprit.

Rituals, often nocturnal, by members of secret societies wearing ancestor masks are reminders of the ancient sanction of their conduct. In many cultures, these masked ceremonials are intended to prevent miscreant acts and to maintain the circumscribed activities of the tribe. Along the Guinea coast of West Africa, for instance, many highly realistic masks represent ancestors who enjoyed specific cultural roles; the masks symbolize sanction and control when donned by the wearer.

Among some of the Dan and Ngere tribes of Liberia and Ivory Coast, ancestor masks with generic features act as intermediaries for the transmission of petitions or offerings of respect to the gods. These traditional ancestral emissaries exert by their spirit power a social control for the community.

Particularly among Oceanic peoples, American Indians, and the tribes of southern Africa, certain times of the year are set aside to honour spirits or ancestors. Among nonliterate peoples who cannot record their own histories, masked rituals act as an important link between past and present, giving a sense of historic continuity that strengthens their social bond. On these occasions, masks usually recognizable as dead chieftains, relatives, friends, or even foes are worn or exhibited. Gifts are made to the spirits incarnated in the masks, while in other instances dancers wearing stylized mourning masks perform the prescribed ceremony.

In western Melanesia, the ancestral ceremonial mask occurs in a great variety of forms and materials. The Sepik River area in north central New Guinea is the source of an extremely rich array of these mask forms mostly carved in wood, ranging from small faces to large fantastic forms with a variety of appendages affixed to the wood, including shell, fiber, animal skins, seed, flowers, and feathers. These masks are highly polychromed with earth colours of red and yellow, lime white, and charcoal black. They often represent supernatural spirits as well as ancestors and therefore have both a religious and a social significance.

Members of secret societies usually conduct the rituals of initiation, when a young man is instructed in his future role as an adult and is acquainted with the rules controlling the social stability of the tribe. Totem and spiritualistic masks are donned by the elders at these ceremonies. Sometimes the masks used are reserved only for initiations. Among the most impressive of the initiation masks are the exquisitely carved human faces of west coast African Negro tribes.

In western and central Congo (Kinshasa), in Africa, large, colourful helmetlike masks are used as a masquerading device when the youth emerges from the initiation area and is introduced to the villagers as an adult of the tribe. After a lengthy ordeal of teaching and initiation rites, for instance, a youth of the Pende tribe appears in a distinctive colourful mask indicative of his new role as an adult. The mask is later cast aside and replaced by a small ivory duplicate, worn as a charm against misfortune and as a symbol of his manhood.

Believing everything in nature to possess a spirit, man found authority for himself and his family by identifying with a specific nonhuman spirit. He adopted an object of nature; then he mythologically traced his ancestry back to the chosen object; he preempted the animal as the emblem of himself and his clan. This is the practice of totem, which consolidates family pride and distinguishes social lines. Masks are made to house the totem spirit. The totem ancestor is believed actually to materialize in its mask; thus masks are of the utmost importance in securing protection and bringing comfort to the totem clan.

The Papuans of New Guinea build mammoth masks called hevehe, attaining 20 feet in height. They are constructed of a palm wood armature covered in bark cloth; geometric designs are stitched on with painted cane strips. These fantastic man–animal masks are given a frightening aspect. When they emerge from the men's secret clubhouse, they serve to protect the members of the clan.

The so-called “totem” pole of the Alaskan and British Columbian Indian fulfills the same function. The African totem mask is often carved from ebony or other hard woods, designed with graceful lines and showing a highly polished surface. Animal masks, their features elongated and beautifully formalized, are common in western Africa. Dried grass, woven palm fibers, coconuts, and shells, as well as wood are employed in the masks of New Guinea, New Ireland, and New Caledonia. Represented are fanciful birds, fishes, and animals with distorted or exaggerated features.

The high priest and medicine man, or the shaman, frequently had his own very powerful totem, in whose mask he could exorcise evil spirits, punish enemies, locate game or fish, predict the weather, and, most importantly, cure disease.

The Northwest Coast Indians of North America in particular devised mechanical masks with movable parts to reveal a second face—generally a human image. Believing that the human spirit could take animal form and vice versa, the makers of these masks fused man and bird or man and animal into one mask. Some of these articulating masks acted out entire legends as their parts moved.

This research has enhanced our creative process greatly. Not only have I been inspired by the beautiful designs on a more aesthetic, 'shallow' level but I also feel the cultural and historical importance that masks have. I will keep this in mind when on stage, now I am aware that I am a part (albeit a tiny part) of a great tradition of story telling.

After Show Party?

How are we going to celebrate our performances? It would be nice if we could have a mini-social or something briefly on Friday? Obviously, before we all go off to our End Of Term celebrations…

My love of masks and face paint and our Installation Medea Project…

A few weeks ago I would have pretty much turned off at the sound of the word 'mask'. Yes, they are interesting and have always appreciated a good bit of mask, but they now thrill me an embarrassingly large amount. Although I have been in love with The Labyrinth and all of Jim Henson's other projects for as long as I can possibly remember, I have never really researched or made any masks. Oh but I am so in love with our little creations.

Today Diddams and I were talking about how the visual aspects of live theatre really thrill us. Colour, textures, scenery, costume, make-up: these are the things that really get me going and are the reasons that I think theatre is so unique. That is why I was so pleased to be putting together an ‘installation’ style piece, the audience can really get close to all of our little portions of the performance… the film, the collage/artwork, the video clips of children… it is all genuinely brilliant and I feel very fortunate to be able to work with such a talented collection of people.

Thanks to Annisa for the mask info, I agree that the Noh masks are very beautiful and did come into our research quite a bit, I hope that is evident when you see them… my housemate just asked if we were playing ghosts so hopefully others can appreciate their 'ethereal' qualities.

In the future I hope to play with face paint more and progress on to full body paint. I doubt we can get any into our current piece but – my oh my – if we could then I wouldn't be able to control my excitement.

Today’s session was possibly the most productive, this may be due to the thirteen glorious hours of sleep I had last night that was chock-full of dreams about masks and face painting.

We completed the masks:

We also worked on the harmonies for the songs we will be singing/humming. Inspired by some of the harmonies/songs on Brian Wilson’s "Smile": link [click on the sample of ‘Our Prayer’ to hear what I am going on about] we tried out a melody that Anna taught us. It is a haunting tune that sounds fantastic in the acoustics of the masks, they work as little caves or microphones.

We also chose the lines that we will be saying. We picked the text from a very old translation, which I feel gives the piece even more of an otherworldly quality. One of the major advantages of using ‘ye olde English’ is the contrast it will have against the very modern dialogue in the film project.

“When the hand knows what it dares,
When thine eyes look into theirs,
Shalt thou keep thy tears unblended
Thy dividing of the slain?
These be deeds Not for thee:
These be things that cannot be!
Thy babes – though thine hardihood be fell,
‘twill be well!”

Many people will have seen Anna walking around campus with a blue face today, as Diddams and I played with her face a lot.

I was rather pleased with the finished product, as I feel the unveiling will be beautiful. However, we need to be more focused and not just make it up as we go along. I spent a bit of time sketching this afternoon, just trying to get a few designs for the chorus’ faces:

Here are a few possible patterns that we could paint on faces, these are little segments of some paintings I’ve done:

I particularly like sun and moon imagery. In my sketches above, I have tried to incorporate the sun, here is how it looks on paper when using paint. I hope to recreate this on someone’s face.

I’d also really like to paint some veins onto the skin, or vines growing across the skin. This is a bit of a crap photo, but hopefully you can make out what I mean:

All feedback is welcome, any suggestions for patterns or designs for face painting would be nice. As for the future of our masks, I think we will add some string/ripped up rope to them for hair, we will then make our hair big and messy and tie the rope in with our own hair to give us a savage wild-woman effect.

March 01, 2005

Installation Group: Listen Up

More mask fun was had today, six masks have been skillfully cut by Diddams and we gave them noses this afternoon.

Tomorrow we will cut out eyes and then paint them white.

At the moment we plan to outline the eyes with black and maybe a dash of green or blue.

This is actually a bit comical looking, hopefully we will get them to look far more beautiful/poignant/sinister etc.

We would all really like to talk to the rest of the group again so that we can discuss the idea of everyone having masks in more depth. Please come and take some masks and make them, we are all so very sick of papier mache…

February 26, 2005

A Successful and Exciting Session (with photographic evidence)

As blogged by others, I feel that Friday's session was very productive and thrilling. Although I kept pretty quiet, I found the ideas buzzing and gliding round the studio most wonderful.

I have recently been told that everyone will be wearing masks now, great initiative but we might need a little mask making help. Diddams and I will be running a papier-mache day on Sunday, so come along and be useful either in B Block ground floor kitchen or Whitefields 9 from about midday onwards.

Sorry the pictures are so blurry, but everyone was so animated it was hard to get a clear image.

February 25, 2005

Stage Plan

This is for everyone in our group, especially the people who couldn't be there on friday (hope it helps).

February 24, 2005



We have spent our second Thursday of this project covered in wallpaper paste and hundreds of little ripped up pieces of newspaper. Our –currently– embryonic papier maché masks are hanging somewhere in Rootes like little redundant foetuses in a laboratory.

We’ve been researching classical Greek tragedy masks. We like their simplicity and the anonymity that they allow the performer.

Personally, however, I am more drawn to the beauty and vibrancy of Balinese masks. Basically, I just love them. I feel that a modern performance can benefit more from a more colourful mask style. The masks of Ancient Greece had practical uses (for being seen by thousands of people in enormous theatrons) as well as the symbolism which a modern audience can appreciate. We, however, don’t have the problem of enormous audiences and can therefore play around with colour and style. I want to make our performance as visually stimulating as possible; I hope to create a series of wonderful and wondrous moments that stimulate the audience’s senses – through sight and sound in particular.

My suggestion would be to remove the masks at some point in the performance to reveal intricate designs on our faces, lovely patterns and vibrant colours compared to the simplistic white masks. Don't know what this symbolises but I think it would look cool as hell.

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