Rip Away This Mask

By Cynthia Wands

ANTIGONE

I wonder how the pandemic is going to affect how we experience being an audience again?

Even with the vaccines in place, and appropriate social distancing, what will the sound of someone coughing – long, difficult, raspy coughing – how will that sound effect an audience, a performance, a performer? What if some of the audience members continue to wear masks, and some don’t? What if we’re actually sitting right next to someone, in front of someone, in back of someone?

How will we see one another when we no longer wear masks in public? I know right now I’m resigned to this weird world of not seeing anyone’s nose or mouth or chin when we meet in public. It’s all eyes and eyebrows. Are they smiling? Am I smiling? Do I look like a worried hamster? I try to articulate, and choose words with a lot of force, but it’s seems like an underwater world of muffled talk.

Years ago, many years ago, I was in a production of ANTIGONE, where we all wore masks that might have looked like a great idea in the design phase of the production. The masks covered everything on our face, except our chin. This was not a great idea.

Here is a picture of me, strangely positioned as I look towards the heavens. I can’t remember how I got up from this posture. I do remember thinking during the run of this production, “At least I’ll never have to wear a mask in public again.”

Masks, not like what we’re wearing today, in ANTIGONE

The masks made you feel like you were a chess piece moved around on an ancient Greek chess board. Wearing the mask, you could only see straight ahead, with no peripheral vision. And the structure of the mask placed a lot of pressure on your nose and cheekbones, so everyone had a distinctly nasal voice. Plus you couldn’t open your mouth very wide.

Even standing right next to another actor, you could have a hard time understanding what they were saying.

“Wolf sinks tweed suffers – something something – pink weave suffered nuff for the cursive edible purse.”

Yes. That is what it sounded like. And the text itself was straight forward:

“You would think that we had already suffered enough for the curse on Oedipus.”

That’s what masks can do to you with Greek tragedy.

So here we are years later, and we are wearing masks in public. They aren’t as bad as the ANTIGONE masks.

Another ANTIGONE

I look forward to the day when we won’t have to wear masks because of this pandemic. I want to be able to appreciate the days when we can laugh, and sing and cry and shout in public because we can.

I wonder how that will inform our writing, how free we’ll be to write characters that have faces that are uncovered and voices unrestrained. I look forward to what other women will write about in the days ahead. I’ll see you in the future.

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