Claire with a Mask Outside, July 2014
Many years ago I was in a production of ANTIGONE that made all the actors perform wearing full face masks – a nightmare for diction and a weird foray in acting without a face to express a performance.
I remember lots of drooling and sweating and mumbling behind those masks. I couldn’t wear to tear it off after the show and bang it on the dressing room table, a certain enemy for being understood on stage.
But I also remember the eyes of the other performers during the show – how much electricity was shared in the gaze with one another. Often times their eyes looked like wild animal eyes, blazing out of a dead mask on their face. I don’t know what the audience got out of that performance, but I hated doing it.
Years later, I saw TANTALUS, by the Royal Shakespeare Company, and those actors were also asked to wear full face masks in performance. I understood every word the actors said (some with a plummy British accent) and the mask work was amazing. I loved seeing it. And I know that most of the actors in that production hated their masks too.
I was reminded of that memory of TANTALUS when my niece Claire wore a couple of masks this past weekend; she loved hiding/posing/playing with them. And I loved the visual of her bright blue eyes peeking behind the mask. I’m rethinking what masks are in performance.
Robert Petkoff as Achilles in TANTALUS, with the Royal Shakespeare Company, an amazing performance behind the mask.