Artsource - Robert Faust

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The Music Center’s Study Guide to the Performing Arts















assuming the character expressed in each face. A variety

Title of Work:

of characters springs to life, including some who speak,

“The Mask Messenger”

wearing Commedia dell’Arte style half-masks. Full


masks are sometimes worn on the top or back of the

Producer: Faustwork Mask Theater Artistic Director: Robert Faust b. 1950

head, transforming the performer into creatures on all fours or creating distortions that baffle the eyes and

Background Information:

tickle the funny bone. Through the parade of almost

Robert Faust, actor, athlete, dancer, choreographer and

twenty characters, the audience will also glimpse

mask-maker, is the founder and Artistic Director of

human nature at its silliest and most poignant.

Faustwork Mask Theater. Born and raised in New Orleans, he experienced the color and pageantry of

Creative Process of the Artist or Culture:

Mardi Gras throughout his childhood, youth and college

Robert Faust is interested in the emotional content

years. Through his studies he discovered mask-making

and movement possibilities inherent in a mask. His

and came to realize that the carnival characters that

mask-making evolves from one of two processes. He

annually paraded the streets of his hometown were actually

may begin improvising in clay, forming the structure of

works of art rooted in theatrical traditions. In 1980,

a face. A certain feature or feeling emerges, and he

he joined Pilobolus Dance Theater as a performer and

follows it to complete the mask. Or he might have an

choreographer, later serving in these capacities for the

idea for a specific character and try to capture the


He founded

character’s tension and emotion using line and shape.

Faustwork Mask Theater in 1983, creating and producing

Once the mask is finished, he must ‘listen’ to the mask,

The Mask Man, The Mask Messenger, Faustwork In

allowing the visual image to translate into body movement.

Concert, and Cello Man. Mr. Faust makes all the masks

Mr. Faust begins his rehearsals with a mirror. After he

used in Faustwork’s performances. He has also created

has a grasp of the physical look of the mask, he turns

masks for The Opera Ensemble of New York, A.C.T.,

away from the mirror and

Pilobolus, Momix and Kirk Company’s Miss Spider’s

works from inside himself,


using his memory of the image

Martha Clarke Company.

to evoke the inner life of the

About The Artwork:


The Mask Messenger is a solo performance about masks


that simultaneously entertains and educates. The set is a wall of masks exhibited at the center of the stage. After a brief introduction about masks throughout the world, the performer begins to demonstrate his power by removing the masks from the wall one by one, and

Photo: Gary Gunderson

“A mask is a megaphone to the soul, to the emotions, amplifying what is going on inside.” Robert Faust

New Orleans, LA

Discussion Questions: After the video or live performance has been viewed: • Have you ever watched or participated in a mask performance? Describe it and your feelings about it. • What masks in Faustwork Mask Theater’s performance did you like the best? Why? • Did any of the masks astonish or surprise you? • Did any of the masks frighten or alarm you? • How did the performer change his body movement, gestures or posture for the various mask characters? • Which mask would you like to put on and bring to life? • How does the concept of transformation apply to the use of masks? • Are masks powerful or magical? Why? • What situations have you been in when you’ve had to mask your true feelings?

• Ask students to describe festivals, celebrations and/or rituals





they masks.

(Halloween, Mardi Gras, “El Dia




Chinese New Year, etc.) • Look at pictures of masks from cultures around the world: Greek and Roman

Photo: Gary Gunderson

masks; African masks; Egyptian masks; Native American masks and totems; Oriental masks; Mexican, Central American and South American Masks. feelings on each side (happy/sad, good/evil). Create

As a device for theatre, masks evolved from religious practices of ancient Greece. The first masks were used to impersonate a god. Compile a list of Greek gods and goddesses, noting their attributes or symbols. Example: Apollo, god of light, music and healing carries a lyre; Athena, warrior goddess, wears a Read a

selection of Greek myths exploring their stories and journeys.


* • Make a two-sided mask which shows contrasting

Multidisciplinary Options:

helmet and carries a spear and shield.

Sample Experiences:

What kind of characters were they?

Construct a mask which seems to embody the personality of a particular god or goddess using a variety of materials.

Audio-Visual Materials: Artsource® video excerpt: The Mask Messenger, inschool performance footage courtesy of Faustwork Mask Theater. • Photos: courtesy of Faustwork Mask Theater.

Additional References: • Earl, Amanda and Sensier, Danielle. Traditions Around the World: Masks. Thompson Learning, New York, NY: 1995. • Tuchman, Maurice. Masquerade. Chronicle Books, San Francisco, CA: 1993.

character movement to bring the mask to life! LEVEL II • Practice communicating nonverbally using body language and facial expressions to project emotions such as fear, anger, love, hate and sorrow. * • Learn how to operate from a neutral base to explore different body shapes: tight, loose, open and closed. • Choose literature with animal characters such as Aesop’s Fables, Wind in the Willows, Barar, Miss Spider’s Tea Party, etc. Construct animal masks to use for story theatre productions. LEVEL III * • Examine metaphors which allude to mask references and design masks to illustrate them. • The Mask Messenger offers insights into the artistic, psychological, and historical aspects of the mask. Have students do their own research on masks and write a report on a mask tradition. • Study the Italian theatre style, Commedia dell’Arte, and make half-masks for selected commedia characters. • Using any of the masks made in this unit (two-sided masks, animal masks, mask metaphors, commedia) create an original pantomime vignette featuring the mask character in the manner of the Faustwork model.

* Indicates sample lesson


ABOUT MASKS The original significance of the mask has been forgotten in the ‘civilized’ world. Today we talk of ‘tearing the mask from someone’s face’ or ‘unmasking’ him, meaning that we have removed his disguise and exposed him for what he really is. But the mask was once far more than a mere figure of speech. Its use in ritual dances was an important aspect of the religious and social life in cultures all over the world. In Africa a mask is far more than a facial covering. It includes the costume and adornments worn on the body as a bond between a group of people and their ancestors. The tradition of using masks goes back to time immemorial, according to scholars, but since most masks were made of perishable materials, only those which were made of bronze and terra-cotta date back several centuries. Across the continent, every tribe had a mask-making history which served some function or ceremony. In current traditions in the West African tribes of the Dan, Guere and Wobe, masks are worn only by men - and are passed down after death so the power of several generations may accumulate in an old mask. Supernatural powers are given form in the mask, and consequently, when the mask is worn, the wearer, too, is seen as a supernatural being. Within the Indian cultural sphere, notably in Sri Lanka and Tibet, masks are used in ways which may seem strange to Western minds. Ceylonese masks represent demons of sickness. It is believed that by some mysterious means, the demons can be driven away once they have been made visible in the form of masks, and the illness is then cured. Similar ideas seem to have existed in India and Tibet. The American continents are also rich areas for masks. The Inuits and the Indians of the Northwest coast of the United States made masks of extremely high artistic quality. Masks often take the form of animals, sometimes representing a totemic ancestor or the ‘spirit helper’ of a shaman (a type of medicine-man). In the ancient civilizations of Mexico and Peru, death-masks were fastened to the mummies of the dead. The gods, too, were often depicted as masked figures. As a device for theater, masks evolved from religious practices of ancient Greece. The first masks were used to impersonate a god and were made primarily of animal skins. As these ceremonies became more theatrical, the masks became more elaborate. The traditional masks depicting Tragedy and Comedy are derived from Greek theatrical traditions. One advantage of using masks in a performance is that they can be seen from a distance because they are often larger than the human head. To use a mask an actor must be well trained, since the actions must be large and clear and complement the character of the mask. Vocal projection within a mask also requires great skill and the ability to express a range and depth of emotions. Masks today still hold enchantment and fascination. In some parts of the world, the mask still retains a deep and complex meaning in tribal cultures. We, too, may experience the thrill of masquerading on Halloween, Mardi Gras, or by simply playing “dress up” and stepping into another role or identity. Faustwork Mask Theater celebrates the ancient art of the mask and its roots in theatre by taking it to an entirely different, almost startling dimension.





LEVEL I Sample lesson INTRODUCTION: Just as facial expressions can be used to show particular emotions, masks can be used in the same way. Many masks are simple to make and can be used to explore opposite feelings - happy/sad, angry/forgiving, good/evil or mean/kind. OBJECTIVES: (Student Outcomes) Students will be able to: • Make two-sided masks which will show two different, contrasting feelings. (Creating) • Work with the masks to create character movement which communicates two different feelings. (Creating & Presenting & Performing) • Describe, discuss, analyze and connect information and experiences based on this lesson. Refer to Assessment at the end of this lesson. (Responding & Performing)

Faustwork Mask Theater Photo: Gary Gunderson

MATERIALS: • Paper plates, paper towel spools, yarn, buttons, cotton or felt scraps, crayons, markers, scissors. PROGRESSION: • Discuss the pairs of emotions suggested in the introduction. Allow children to experiment with some of these feelings in an exercise and observe how their facial expressions change. Ask, for example, how they would feel if they lost a favorite doll or broke a treasured toy. Have them ‘make a face’ to show the feeling. Then have them change their expressions to show how they feel when they open birthday or holiday gifts. • Next, pass out mask-making materials, giving two paper plates to each child. Have students choose a pair of opposite feelings to depict, one on each paper plate. For example, if one plate shows a happy face, the other should show a sad face. Make sure that each child chooses two distinct and contrasting feelings to express before they begin their artwork. • When the drawings have been completed, the students may color them and adorn them with any 4

variety of materials: glitter, colored glue, crepe paper, material, yarn, etc. Then fasten the masks back-toback with glue, tape, staples, etc. • Next make a slit in the end of the paper towel spool. Position the masks in the slit of the spool which then becomes a handle to hold the masks in front of the face and to flip from one expression to the other. • Now ask students to find a space where they can move freely. In pairs, allow students to improvise movement to complement the expressions on the masks, creating two separate mask characters. • Share selected presentations with the class. EXTENSION: • Make paper bag masks, perhaps based on folktales, fairytales or nursery rhymes and enact your own mask theater. • Make a self-portrait mask and present a pantomime based on ‘a slice of your life,’ or a particular event or personal ritual. • Create a parade of the masks made in your classroom. Choose a theme and then compose a parade anthem and play accompaniment on handmade instruments. Perform a ceremony or rite to illuminate and celebrate your theme. VOCABULARY: mask, character ASSESSMENT: (Responding & Connecting) DESCRIBE: Describe the mask you made and the materials you used. DISCUSS: Discuss the different combinations of opposite feelings selected for individual masks. List additional combinations of feelings which could be used. ANALYZE: Think about the way the body felt and looked for specific emotions such as happy, sad, angry, afraid, etc. CONNECT: Describe the relationship between the emotion intended on each side of the mask and the body postures and movement selected to project each emotion. Emphasis on: Common Core - CA State Standards for Language - Reading; Writing; Listening; Speaking TO ESTABLISH CRITERIA FOR THIS TASK AND CREATE A RUBRIC: See the information in the Addenda.




LEVEL II Sample lesson INTRODUCTION: Faustwork Mask Theater explores a wide range of physical expression involving the whole body. The artists train rigorously to maintain the strength and flexibility required for the shows’ movement and choreography. This ability, coupled with originality and imagination, helps create a variety of characters who express emotions universal to us all. OBJECTIVES: (Student Outcomes) Students will be able to: • Operate from a neutral base to explore the concepts of tight, loose, open and closed. (Creating & Responding) • Discover and express different body shapes and project a range of emotions through this exploration. (Creating & Performing) • Describe, discuss, analyze and connect information and experiences based on this lesson. Refer to Assessment at the end of this lesson. (Responding & Connecting) MATERIALS: • A hand drum. PROGRESSION: • Ask the class to find a space where each student can move freely. First have students establish a neutral base, which means standing in a balanced position, feet slightly apart, arms at their sides, level head and eye focus. • Tell them that you are going to direct them to change their body shape by using a drum and counting in sets of three to guide the flow of physical change. Example:

3 counts to change; 3 counts to hold the new shape; 3 counts to return to neutral.

• Next, discuss some of the ways our bodies may respond to the words: TIGHT, LOOSE, OPEN, CLOSED. Now try exploring these words in expressive movement. Use the drum and the phrasing of your vocal energy to help direct the students’ movement. 6

Go from neutral to TIGHT. Return to neutral. Go from neutral to LOOSE. Return to neutral. Go from neutral to OPEN. Return to neutral. Go from Neutral to CLOSED. Return to neutral. • Now combine the elements: Go from neutral to OPEN and TIGHT. Return to neutral. Go from neutral to CLOSED and TIGHT. Return to neutral. Go from neutral to OPEN and LOOSE. Return to neutral. Go from neutral to CLOSED and LOOSE. Return to neutral. • How did the contrasting physical conditions reflect inner emotional states? Do some body positions lend themselves to expressing certain feelings? Give examples. How can these discoveries or observations help you in working with masks? EXTENSION: • Increase the difficulty of this exercise by adding the element of traveling or moving through space on each of the three-count sets. Travel forward on OPEN and LOOSE. Retreat on TIGHT and CLOSED. • Divide the class into two groups. Group A travels towards Group B on 8 counts, and Group B does the same towards Group A. Repeat retreating on 8 Counts. Then have one group travel forward on 8 counts and the other retreat on 8 counts, reversing roles each time. • Add emotions to the movement. Advance feeling joy; retreat feeling sorrow. Advance feeling curiosity; retreat feeling fear. Advance feeling free; retreat feeling oppressed. • In pairs, have students put on their masks and move as their characters would to the various body shape suggestions and emotions. • Try changing the combination so that OPEN is combined with TIGHT and LOOSE is combined with CLOSED. Explore the new possibilities and discuss the differences with the original way you combined them. VOCABULARY: choreography, neutral base, body shape, mask, character, traveling


ASSESSMENT: (Responding & Connecting) DESCRIBE: Describe the differences between each of these body positions (tight, loose, open, closed and neutral). DISCUSS: Discuss the different feelings and emotions you associated with OPEN and LOOSE as opposed to TIGHT and CLOSED. ANALYZE: Think about the differences between OPEN and LOOSE and TIGHT and CLOSED. Discuss the things you can do to create variations in each. (Change levels, turn part of your body away from or toward the audience, add gesture, change the speed you use to change from one to the other.) CONNECT: Discuss the connections between a neutral position and a position which expresses specific emotions. Give examples of when this happens in your life. Emphasis on: Common Core - CA State Standards for Language - Reading; Writing; Listening; Speaking TO ESTABLISH CRITERIA FOR THIS TASK AND CREATE A RUBRIC: See the information at the end of this unit.

Faustwork Mask Theater 8



LEVEL III Sample lesson INTRODUCTION: The English language is full of metaphors that employ mask references. Often these expressions conjure a mental image of a person’s facial expression or reaction. These descriptive phrases can be points of departure for creative mask design. OBJECTIVES: (Student Outcomes) Students will be able to: • Quote a number of metaphors which allude to mask references. (Responding & Connecting) • Create mask designs to illustrate and illuminate selected metaphors. (Creating & Presenting)

Faustwork Mask Theater Photo courtesy of Faustwork Mask Theater

• Describe, discuss, analyze and connect information and experiences based on this lesson. Refer to Assessment at the end of this lesson. (Responding & Connecting) MATERIALS: • Paper, pens, markers, crayons, scissors, paint, brushes or various art materials. PROGRESSION: • Read the following sentences and have students pick out the mask metaphors in each one: John really put on a false front for the press. We all knew his true colors. With a smile plastered across her face, the manager walked into the room full of angry customers. My chin fell to the floor when I saw the bill! Just keep a stiff upper lip, and you’ll get through the ordeal. The dumbfounded clerk returned a blank stare when the robber demanded all the money in the drawer.


• Ask the students to contribute other expressions they have heard which contain mask references. Put the list on the classroom whiteboard. • Next, use these figures of speech for literal illustrations. For example, a false front could be illustrated by a character carrying a full-sized, two dimensional likeness of himself as he walks down the street. A blank stare could be any visage in a completely neutral expression. Other metaphors which refer to a particular feature like the mouth or eyes could be exaggerated or caricatured in the mask designs. Caption each mask design with the appropriate metaphor. • Mount the mask designs for a classroom display. EXTENSIONS: • Use the designs to make masks employing different media, i.e., clay, papier mâché, paper bags, etc. • In pairs, improvise short scenes using the masks. Create character voices, walks, postures, gestures, etc., which complement the physical appearance of the masks. VOCABULARY: metaphor, mask, character ASSESSMENT: (Responding & Connecting) DESCRIBE: Describe each of the metaphors and the various meanings and implications of each. DISCUSS: Discuss the different ways that people mask their true feelings. ANALYZE: Think about why mask references have become part of our vocabulary in describing emotions. CONNECT: Discuss the relationship between mask references and expressions and images depicting them in mask designs. Emphasis on: Common Core - CA State Standards for Language - Reading; Writing; Listening; Speaking