Collaboration unmasked

Professor Robert Rosen’s theater students will embark on a journey through civilization with masks.
The U of M theater department students rehearse Tuesday for their upcoming play, "Masks".
October 06, 2011


What: “Masks – Creative Collaboration”

When: 7:30 p.m., Oct. 10 and Oct. 11,

Where: Rarig Center

Cost: Free

Creative collaborations are staples of the University of Minnesota theater department’s repertoire. And with its new production, “Masks – Creative Collaboration,” the department shows us that this shtick won’t be dropped anytime soon.

Rarig Center’s grand tradition of script-less, narrative-less, improvisation-fueled, vignette-centric productions will be carried on by students in professor Robert Rosen’s theater class Monday and Tuesday nights.

Against an accordion player’s sonic backdrop, actors will use masks to explore the theme of evolution.

The music may very well be the only sound audience members hear Monday night. After all, actors won’t be able to use their voices during the performance. Or their pretty little smiles.

Performers’ mouths will be obstructed by larval masks, which will be worn for the entirety of the performance.

“We call them larval because you can portray a creature, animal, or insect,” Rosen said. “It’s up to the performer to make the mask be something.”

When actors use this type of mask, the only tool they have in their acting toolboxes are their bodies. They have to convey their characters and capture audience attention in a purely physical way.

Because it gets hard to breathe and see in the warm masks, this type of acting is strenuous — so strenuous that performers can’t endure conditions in the mask for too long. “Masks” actors will take turns performing short scenes, which will give them chances to catch their breath and enjoy full vision offstage.

“It can be difficult, but it’s a learning process,” said Lauren Haven, a theater senior.

Haven is one of nine students who made it through the audition process to take the course with Rosen. They have met for three hours every weeknight for about five weeks to work on the production.

During the first week, students tried their hands at making their own larval masks. For the actual performances, they’ll use a combination of their own masks and ones imported from Switzerland. The origin of the larval masks, which vary in size and shape but are typically white, is rooted in the Swiss winter carnival tradition.

And the masks have a curiously naïve, sweet quality about them. Audiences can expect the overall tone of the class production to be light-hearted and humorous, even if there are a few serious vignettes thrown in.

The idea of evolution will be approached from a hodgepodge of angles. One scene will take place in an office space, in which three employees and their boss will grapple with discovering a new piece of technology; another scene might feature a starfish, a shark and a mermaid. Actors will pretend to be animals, people and everything in between.

 “It’s not necessarily evolution in the way that Darwin would have approached it,” Haven said.

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