We are now in week three, and firmly in the throes of the neutral mask. What is the neutral mask? It looks like this:
This is actually a picture of the female neutral mask. The male version is the same, albeit with a less sculpted eyebrow. We’ve been working with these masks in improvisation class, and it’s throwing quite a few of us out of our comfort zones. Gone is the reassuring familiarity of everyday places like libraries and swimming pools; gone is the ability to interact with other people. Even the rich lady’s home and the singles’ cruise ship seemed relatively easy in retrospect. Now, we’re asked to don the masks, and awaken, in solitude, to nature.
Last night, we worked with the proposal of exploring our own personal wilderness. Jungles, fires, oceans, strange plants – whatever we liked. We get up there and try to both see the space and make it come alive for the audience. Tonight, the task became more specific – we are to wake up in this world for the first time, find ourselves in a great mist, and moving forwards, see the ocean. Then we pick up a rock and throw it in this ocean. In theory, it is pretty straightforward. But to wear a mask, get up there, create the spaces, do the actions, make it all come alive for the audience, all at the same time – is a very hard thing. In this terrifying and beautiful way the mask reveals so much of yourself. Your relationship to your body changes, leaving you quite unsure with what you are doing. Your face may be under the mask, but the entire body wears it, and every little thing you do, every detail, becomes magnified a hundred times. Wearing the mask, I felt so much more vulnerable, naked, and meanwhile I was being scrutinized and looked at as I had never been before. When I watched the others up there, it was like their essence was being distilled before my very eyes, all their tics and mannerisms and moods and energy laid bare. We work with the mask to make us aware of these personal quirks, to erase them and create a neutral, alive, dynamic being. As an audience member you think you know what that is, and how to do it. yet when you do it and thought you had done it right, you are told later that that wasn’t it. Tonight, I saw bits and bursts of understanding, along with occasional flashes of brilliance. We may still be bewildered, but we’re learning.