Monday, May 9, 2011

The Cards

Angellica & Her Entourage

We decided early on that Angellica and her entourage should have a matching mask theme. Liz suggested card suits and I ran with the idea. It made so much sense to me.

Angellica, the courtesan who's just fallen in love, is the Heart.
Moretta, the madame who's only concern is money, is the Diamond.
Biskey & Sebastian, the muscle, are the very phallic Club and Spade.

In addition to the fitting categorizations, the woman are the red suits and the men are the black.

The card suit motif also gives a sense of festivity and games that makes sense for fun of Carnival.

It was important that Angellica stood out from the rest, so I lined the hearts and the bottom of the mask with sequins and jewels, with a teardrop-shaped jewel at the bottom of the big heart. After all, an expensive courtesan ought to have some flair. There was originally some lace at the bottom edge of the mask as well, but it just looked like Angellica had a white mustache. Live and learn.

Abby, one of the other mask-makers, was kind enough to do the highlight-and-shadow for me, since she's very talented in painting in subtle whites. I was very careful in the building of the mask to keep to playing card dimensions (which are 3.5" x 2.5", in case you were interested).

This photo in particular shows the triumph of the mask: the heart, the general card-shape, and the sparkle are recognizable from afar. And, for a theatrical mask, what else matters? I also like the beauty-mark look of the smaller heart.

Angellica the courtesan, played by the lovely Zoe Speas.

Horny Men, updated

As stated in an earlier post, one of the explicitly described "masker" groups in The Rover is what we've come to call The Horny Men -- a pair of horned cuckolds with some curiously ambiguous dialogue surrounding them. I spent a lot of time wondering just what kind of horns the masks should have. While I was in bed, post-tonsillectomy, I did some sketching.

A combination of the bottom-middle and bottom-right were the winners.

Next was the question of how I was even going to make the horns. Luckily for me, the Costume Goddesses, Tric & Mary Jo, were willing to help me. They introduced me to a material called Wonderflex, which is an extruded thermoplastic composite sheet. The Wonderflex comes in sheets, you cut it into shapes, dip it into hot water, and then shape the plastic in any configuration you want! The Wonderflex then hardens in that shape. It is indeed wonderful.

See the sheet of Wonderflex in the bowl?

I used a combination of Goop and hot glue to connect the hardened horns to the Horny Men masks, which were made with black neoprene.

Clay, raw neoprene, base coat, and highlight/shadowed.

In addition, I put ribbons around the base of the horns to cover up the nasty, Goop-y seams.

I'd gone through so much thought about what kind of horns to do, but the matter really came down to how to make the horns, and how long I had to make them. Of course, I waited 'til nearly the last week to finish the horns, so it was a matter of getting it done and getting it done quickly. Thankfully, the Wonderflex worked beautifully.

Unfortunately, the paint did not. The two Horny Men looked like martians with the bright green. (I'd been trying to compliment the olive green in the costumes.) Again, the Costume Goddesses and Liz, Our Fearless Director, had the answer: a mat wash. Ellie had a bottle of mat medium that I mixed with red paint and covered the entire masks. While the masks a splotchy red-green up-close, but onstage they look brownish-orange.

Even better than the masks to convey the sexuality of these characters is, of course, the codpiece.

Design Recap: Florinda's Beauty Mask

Larissa Kruesi as Florida.
 This is the last mask I made for the show, the final week of rehearsals before tech rehearsals. The entire process only took me about 3 days from sculpting to the paint job, which is about half of the usual time it takes me to complete a mask. Liz wanted a simple Venetian beauty mask for Florinda in the second act.

I did some research on standard Carnivale masks (that is, non-character masks). They range from very minimalistic to incredibly elaborate/ornate. Because of the resources and time that each mask requires, I wanted to take the opportunity to attempt to create something unique for Florinda. I was really struck by these half-masks in gold. Inspired by these photos, adapting these design ideas for Florinda, giving her mask some more color and physical depth.
The silver accents tie in the mask of her betrothed, Belville, who is a knight. On Belville's mask, you can see a bit of gold in his to compliment this.

The ribbons were a last minute request from Liz. We needed to justify a line in the show that references Florinda's outlandish attire, which with her current costume and mask just did not make send. So, right before final dress, I glued these pretty ribbons onto the mask. The headdress not only adds body and glamor, but also echoes the crazy wig she wears in the opening.

Florinda (Larissa Kruesi) and Me fooling around during the photo shoot.

 Then, every night of the show before Florina and Valeria enter, Valeria (I) re- hand-curl the ribbons to get them to lie like this.

Design Recap: Frederick

Greg Benson as Frederick
This bad-ass dragon mask is for Frederick, the "third man" of Willmore and Belville's man possy, and wooer of Valeria. The idea was conceived with Liz in conjunction with the his male ensemble (Knight and Pirate) and his romantic interest, Valeria. I sculpted and painted this masks alongside of Valeria's Bird mask, in attempts to establish a similar shape and palette between the two. Dragons are deceptively difficult: it is very hard to create features that are distinctively "dragon" without the fire breathing (I tried very hard to avoid elements of the dog and lizard world). I based the basic shape off of some other successful examples of dragon masks. Other elements showed themselves as I worked in the clay: ears, horns, the strong jaw.

Clay Molds.
For the tone of the mask, I wanted something that captured both a sense of danger and a sense of fun. The gold accents really add a sense of majesty. Even though this mask never appears onstage with Valeria's bird mask, the obviously are in the same family, and serves to tie them together.

Design Recap: Valeria's Bird

Me modeling my Mask for Valeria.


For Valeria, Liz Wiley and I settled on the bird as her character animal. I think that this is the perfect choice, as many bird qualities apply to her: light, quick, flitting, and clever.

Valeria is the plotter and manipulator of the The bird is the animal of the Commedia dell 'Arte zanni (or servant)character, Scapino, who functions in much the same way.

Etching of Scapino, the Commedia dell'Arte character.

Designing this mask was particularly rewarding for me, because I am also the actress playing Valeria. Being able to conceive of and craft the mask while I am building the performance was an amazing experience.

When I first began sculpting, I was not sure what sort of bird this mask would ultimately be: perhaps some sort of rare exotic. As she progressed, it became clear that there was only one option: peacock.

Clay mold.
Final Product.

I used a peacock feather in my mixing of the color palette, and ultimately ended up attaching two to the mask itself, creating a fun head-dress element. The feathers jauntily swing back and forth as I run around (which I do a lot of onstage.) 

Valeria appears in this mask for a very fast-paced, physical vignette scene in which she is chased (by a pirate!), does some chasing, and sneaks into Belvile's house. The sharp shape of this mask, striking colors, and fun feathers all worked really well for this larger than life scenario.

Design Recap: Willmore

When we agreed on the various masks for the Englishmen we decided that we wanted to try and keep them thematically grouped with images traditionally associated with the British (Jester, Knight, Dragon) but there were quite a few other aspects with Willmore's character that were easy to emphasize via mask. To that end we settled on making Willmore a pirate. This gets the fun connection to Willmore being the "rover" as well as the extremely debauched attitude Willmore displays throughout the show. Finally, Willmore makes quite a few nautical references (the best being "Would I could drop anchor in your cove") so it was just another affirmation of making Willmore into a pirate.

In planning out the design I spent a good deal of time in trying to figure out how best to communicate a pirate through a half mask. I looked into quite a few paintings/drawings of pirates, mostly of Blackbeard, though I also used a very well known modern example:

The first thought I had was that there was no way I could feasibly include a pirate hat in the design, and that actually giving Willmore a pirate hat wouldn't work out too well. So, next I was drawn to the bandanna, definitely something that could be accomplished in a half mask. Finally, I really wanted to give Willmore an eye patch. It's a visual that immediately helps define him as a pirate. The one problem with the eye patch was that The Rover is a show with lots of sword fighting, and putting an eye patch on someone wielding not one, but two swords is a safety fiasco waiting to happen. So I spent a good chunk of time figuring out a way to create the appearance of an eye patch on stage without actually obscuring Willmore's vision at all. In the end, I used two pieces of black lace sewn to the mask and it worked rather successfully. Here are some pictures of the sculpting process, as well as a final picture of the mask, on the actor with his costume:

The Dons

For the mask for Don Pedro, I began with images of Spanish conquistadors. I was inspired by the shape of their armor, especially the helmet. I used the basic shape of the helmet when sculpting the forehead of the mask. I also wanted the mask to reflect the overall mood of a conquistador's costume--brooding and confrontational. To achieve this, I decided to make the details of the mask less realistic and more exaggerated. I stylized the traditional shape of a brooding man. I focused on particular angles that one might view the mask. The mask is designed to be viewed from the side--not necessarily face-on.

I painted the mask for Don Pedro's henchman. I kept his mask in the same color scheme as Don Pedro's mask. They both have the subtle red accent on the inside of their eyes.

For Don Antonio's mask there wasn't a particular image that inspired me. I was inspired by the colors red and gold. I knew that I wanted to paint it red with gold accents. As I designed and sculpted it I thought about how I could accent the design with gold. I chose a symmetrical design for the mask to provide a blank canvas to paint on. I sculpted a coat of arms on the forehead to distinguish Don Antonio from the other characters because of his wealth and status. For Don Antonio's henchman, I painted his mask in the same color palette.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Design Recap: Blunt

Blunt's mask was a whole lot of fun to approach. About a third of the way into the semester the mask team had a meeting to hash out any questions we had and settle on design ideas for the masks that were still up in the air. This came down to the British Cavaliers and some of the Spanish ladies' masks. I threw out the idea of Blunt being a Jester, got the ok and ran with it.
Given the way rehearsals had been shaping up it was very clear that Blunt's character was going to be pushed very far on the buffoon scale, so of course having him in a jester mask made a whole lot of sense. Not only could the jester easily communicate a large aspect of the character, but also fits very nicely into Venetian Carnival tradition. I did quite a bit of research into images of Venetian Jester masks:

There are quite a few individual elements I took from each mask in designing Blunt. The biggest thing I kept in mind was that, while Blunt does have an attempted rape written into the script it was not going to be played in a threatening manner. So while many of the images I looked up were vaguely sinister, I didn't want Blunt's mask to be mainly sinister. For this reason I decided to break another seeming convention of the jester mask, symmetry of the facial features. In every image I looked at the jester's face was symmetrical, and that seemed to limit a lot of the range or variety of expression in the mask. Specifically, I took the general size of the jester cap I wanted from the second and fourth images. The first image provided a model for the raised eyebrow I wanted to use (not too sinister of course). The fourth image provided some nice examples of fun, plump cheeks. And finally, the third image provided the best way I saw to delineate the cap from the face of the jester, as well as very fun lip detail that I was hoping to incorporate.

So as you will hopefully see in my series of sculpting pictures I played with asymmetrical facial features in order to give a wider range of possible expressions to the mask. (The process is in reverse order so you get a better idea of how it ended, don't want to keep you waiting!)

Of course, no mask is complete just sculpted. So You get one more picture, the final mask, paint job and costume worn by our actor who played Blunt (Kevin Place '11) :

Rather successful if I do say so myself.