Lessons Learned from “I Wear The Mask”…

Considerations for Future Iterations

Overall, I found I Wear the Mask. It Does Not Wear Me. to be an effective experiment in pushing me forward as a performance researcher.   My experience as performer/director/research made it difficult to navigate this initial performance at times, but reflecting on it from multiple angles has helped me to better understand the efficacy of strategies toward my big PAR questions around invitation, hosting, participation, and audience-collaboration in general.  

As someone who spends the majority of their time in theatre directing I found it challenging to be fully present on stage as the performer.  The director inside my head continually interrupted my rehearsals and the conscientious student often interrupted my thoughts during the performance as I fretted over time.  However, by videotaping and reviewing the video afterward, I discovered a method to view and critique my own work. I believe utilizing this method when I rehearse and perform my own pieces in the future will be invaluable to more effectively crafting work and adapting to a research design that will help me to gain more robust feedback.

If I were to remount this performance there are some distinct directorial changes that I would make to the piece:

  • Clarify the purpose and integration of the candy.

In my rush, I forgot to make it clear the the candy bowl was for the audience.  It might be interesting to find an elegant way within the structure of the performance to invite the audience to partake in taking candy from  the dish.  Or if going the more traditional route, hand it to them as they enter the theatre? 

As the actor I rushed over the moment where I set the initial candy wrapper beat (see Post-Performance Write above).  If performing again, I would want to recruit a sound operator to control the pre-show announcement sound cue so that I wouldn’t have to multi-task in that moment.  

  • Become more attuned to the audience-performer after we are both masked. 

Interestingly, my initial reaction to the performance and what I saw on the video did not align.  While I was aware that I was disconnected from Esther in the performance, her connection to me in the viewing was very strong.  Perhaps a less theatrically minded audience-performer might need to be taught the physical vocabulary that I developed, but I don’t think it is necessary to make the point that the Othered performers are viewing the audience.  In fact, I think Esther’s stillness is more powerful to some degree than my mimicry as the clown.  

I might try settling into the audience-performer’s presence more at first, taking our time to enjoy our private viewing of the audience.  Maybe even make an event of this and lean into the play aspect by serving a child style tea-party as we watch the audience.  Building up the idea of our side of the performance as exclusive might enforce the shift of the power dynamic even further.  

Overall, the private exchanges with Esther seems to both create intrigue for the audience and develop trust with her as the audience-performer.  Using private exchanges as a means of audience participation/invitation needs to be further mined in my work going forward.

  • Exploit the theatrical possibilities of the mask further

Upon viewing I Wear the Mask. It Does Not Wear Me. as director, I discovered more opportunities to play with gaze and the mask that would benefit multiple audience members.  Overall, I did not take enough time to establish the masked performer.  I need to breathe more and relax into the waiting moments before I perform any “activities”.  There should be a more subtle shift into the  audience mimicry as the “performance” begins.  The performer needs to invest more into watching as herself first, then begin to take on the gestures and shape of the audience one by one.  

At the point in which I whisper in the audience-performer’s ear, I felt that I missed an opportunity to keep the connection with the rest of the audience.  To re-stage this moment, I would take the audience-performer to the chair immediately.  Reveal my face to them with my back downstage and then move to stand behind them to whisper in their ear.    While crossing to this position it would be vital that I keep my face down so that the mask perched on top of my head could still face the audience.  I think this might add to the uncanniness of the moment and bring in an element of puppetry to the piece as well.

Reflection

Overall, I Wear the Mask.  It Does Not Wear Me. allowed me to bring several of my ideas together.  I created an intriguing piece of art that captured audience interest.  As one audience member shared, “I was intrigued. I wasn’t sure I understood at first, but then it seemed very clear that you were playing with actor/audience roles” (Impressions for the Audience survey).  I have been working toward the goal fo creating an intriguing piece of art since Something to Chalk About? and feel that this piece took a huge step toward achieving that goal.  

Secondly, I have been experimenting with different ways to incorporate clear permission into the invitation to participate.  Again, major progress was made through the use of gesture, written invitation and consent, shared words, and gifts.  As one of my audience members reflected, it would be interesting to see the efficacy of these methods “in the wild,” since my audience was made up of theatre classmates.  However, because this piece relies on the construct of a traditional western theatre, I think that the most likely audiences would have some familiarity with theatre in general.  I admit that their willingness to play and accept an invitation to the piece might be more reticent or less generous than Esther’s was.  However, having experienced similar methods of audience participation in Sleep No More, I think much of the success of audience incorporation relies on reading that person’s energy and selecting the audience member most likely to respond well to the journey you will take them on.  I remember the first private encounter I had during Sleep No More that I stood with very open body language looking into the performer’s eyes and repeated the mantra in my head of “take me, take me” and she did.  I have since been chosen for two other private moments each time I’ve seen the show.  The energy that I put out to communicate silently while masked to a performer might have some effect on why I am chosen.

The final goal that I’ve been consistently working toward is choosing a site that has a clear social purpose.  I Wear the Mask. It Does Not Wear Me. arguably has made the best use of its site of my projects so far.  Perhaps my intimacy with the site of a theatrical space enabled me to mine it for as much progress as I did?  In any case, I find it valuable to know that my familiarity with a space (or the social construct of a site) can help me to better craft my intentions for an audience and manipulate or subvert their expectations of the piece.