Making Faces Theatre
The journey so far….
An interview written by Sarah Anne with Founder of Making Faces Theatre, Vicky Wright.
What motivated you to create Making Faces Theatre?
From 2011 to 2014, I spent a formative three years training at Helikos Theatre school in Italy. The school, which was created and led by Giovanni Fusetti taught me about Jacques Lecoq’s physical theatre.
Our studies combined physical theatre and the understanding of the body through therapeutic analysis and physical training disciplines. We explored body based approaches of learning such as martial arts, acrobatics, gestalt psychotherapy, shamanism, breath work and body energetics from Wilhelm Reich and Alexander Lowen. Alongside the physical learning, It was during this time that I trained in mask making with Matteo Destro.
What motivated you to create Making Faces theatre?
When I returned to UK, a real ambition to share this incredible work with the theatre world and beyond had been sparked within me. The exploration of physical theatre through the medium of mask had shown me what transformative power they hold. Masks are an incredible tool for developing characters and telling a story, and the act of putting a mask on can transform an individual, a performer and an observer.
The catalyst for continuing this exploration of mask work happened during a one week residency in Invererne, Scotland, where a group of performers, artists and musicians gathered together to test ideas for new projects. It was here I saw the power of mask to captivate and transform.
Travelling in the minibus back to London at the end of the residency and surrounded by my fellow artists, a seed of an idea entered my head – to experiment in making masks direct from peoples faces. A few weeks later, with their support, we made it happen, and the first new mask set developed for Making Faces Theatre was born.
What were two of the most valuable lessons you learnt during your time training in Florence?
The first is crescendo. When developing new work, there has to a be crescendo within all pieces; a heightening of energy through the piece creating a natural arch. It is within the natural cycle of all systems. If the improvisation doesn’t build, it dies. It is one of the key essences of creating great work.
The second is to find the theme; this is key in improvisation & devising. If we really look out for it, there will be a whisper of the main theme within the first minute of being on stage. At first it comes as a whisper and the art of the performer is to identify & follow it.
Why and how does mask making inspire you?
My main joy of mask making is that it’s literally like opening a Christmas present. I don’t know how the mask will play or move until it is worn. When creating a mask, I can see it and have ideas about it but it’s only by wearing it that the full information emerges and we can visibly see how it interacts, and that is pretty exciting.
I’ve created some masks and the preconceived ideas can be radically different from the final character. A few years ago I created a mask inspired by John Cleese’s face, (I have to confess it’s only inspired by, it’s not a doppleganger!). Looking at the mask, it looks angular and ugly. If you wear the mask however, it is the most confident, dominant, bold and beautiful character around. Seriously, if anyone is feeling shy and nervous, come over and wear that mask and it will transform your life in an instant. It is a wild mask.
What’s inspired you to call your company Making Faces theatre?
Firstly, the double meaning of ‘making faces’. There’s the practical aspect to mask, but there’s also the joy in life of being ridiculous and trying anything, and the freedom expression can bring. It’s like jumping into another person shoes, it is a pretty epic practice to understanding and experiencing the world.
When and why did you create the Evolution Project?
The first idea for the Evolution Project formed back in Italy, when I saw a mask being worn on the top of the head within the studio. This mask was normally worn on the front of the face but on top of the head it opened up whole layer of movement.
Alongside this, over the last decade I’ve worked within postural therapy and I’ve witnessed how we use our body and the impact that certain movements and patterns can have on our anatomy
One of the greatest findings from this work was that as modern humans, we lose awareness of the back of our body. We are highly eye dominated and as a result, we lead with our heads and move our heads forward; this can create postural constrictions and stress. What intrigued me were the layers of movement and ‘ghost patterns’ (e.g. that lizard crawl) which are still present in our anatomy today. I knew that the application of mask could unlock and explore these potentials further.
What is one of your funnest (or funniest!) memories from this project?
It has to be seeing someone in a huge fish mask whizzing across the floor on a skateboard. The fish mask helps us explore the sideways undulation through the spine, but take a fish out of water, and how do you move. This is something we came up against in some of the research workshops, how to transpose the fish and create the illusion of the fish on stage. Through the workshops we explored many ways of bringing the fish to life and creating the slow suspensory movements on land, as a legged human.
In the land of creativity, there is no box.
What is one of the challenges you faced and overcame during this project?
In making the fish mask, it was important for the mask to come down over the shoulders as fish don’t have necks! This meant the mask itself had to be pretty large and so I had to find a material that could facilitate this, whilst being lightweight enough to wear comfortably. I had to think carefully about the adaptation and the intentional restriction of movement for the performer (to mirror the lack of neck movement) and material which led me to use fibreglass for this particular mask.
On average, how long does it take to create a mask from start to finish!
From start to finish, it takes around four weeks. This can be dependant on deadlines however… at the quickest, the process can be escalated to five days but that is with no sleep and a slight loss of sanity.
Could you give us an overview of what this process entails?
First off, it’s important to create a clay sculpted form of the animal. Within this project, I was working from fossil data and developed a method of creating the fossil in clay scaled to the right proportions. After adding in the soft tissue and external musculature in clay, I could then cast, paper mache and lastly paint it. Some masks required fibreglass for their structures, so this would add an additional stage and consideration to the process.
Was there a particular theme you observed when people put the masks on?
The opportunity to work with a number of groups enabled me to identify patterns of movement common across the board. It was interesting to see how people interacted with the mask. I noticed that when the mammal mask was presented (particularly to school groups) the students would gravitate towards it and were much more tactile with it compared to the fish mask.
What’s one of the coolest facts you know about evolution?
All dinosaurs had fur and feathers! This is pretty cool, considering that most depictions in art and popular culture is of a reptilian type body. Another interesting discovery is related to a fossil I’m working with now (a squirrel like mammal) that doesn’t possess the eyebrow bone. This bone keeps the position of the eye when we chew, so any animal that existed in the evolutionary tree prior to the formation of this bone, has an eye that moves up and down whilst chewing. Imagine if this was the case for modern humans today!