Mysk and Math – A Carleton Experience

Hey folks. I am also part of the two week long Myth and Mask Colloquium that has been flooding this blog with posts recently. They’ve all done a pretty good job of explaining why we’re here, so I’ll keep that part brief. We eleven college students (or in my case, recently graduated college student) have come together at Carleton College for two collaborative workshops. What that means is that we’re doing school stuff, except it’s different because we’re not paying anybody money to do it. Our respective schools are funding our time here, and in exchange we have to make something interesting that they can show people.

This is going to be an image-heavy post. I’ve been taking a lot of pictures to document the process because I just got my first smartphone, and people with new phones like to wave them around at other people.

I am in the workshop group that is investigating the role of masks in ancient Greek theatrical performances. I’m glad about that, because I don’t understand maps or computers, which is what the other group is dealing with, bless their hearts.

We began the first week by embarking upon general research into the subject of masks and myth. We learned a lot.

Heracles

“Heracles as an old man, naked, raising the club against his phallos ending in seven snake-heads.”

We engaged with the material according to our individual interests. Since I had the opportunity to perform in mask last semester (in the Aaron Cromie-directed Bi-College Theatre Program Mainstage Show, The Serpent Woman, in the style of Commedia dell’Arte), I focused on the performative aspects of mask. Body movement, acting technique, that sort of thing.

Believe it or not this taught me a lot (that's me on the left, photo credit to Paola Nogueros).

Believe it or not this taught me a lot (that’s me on the left, photo credit to Paola Nogueros).

Once we built some context for our task, we set about the mask construction process. I don’t really understand how materials interact in the physical world, but the process involved putting wet bandages all over our faces–the kind that harden into casts. The process also involved Vaseline, as many awkward processes do.

vaseline

I won't tell you it wasn't weird.

I won’t tell you it wasn’t weird.

Even Haverford’s very own Laura McGrane participated in the terrifying process! Now we all have disembodied versions of our own faces that we can gaze upon whenever we want.

But that wasn’t enough for us intrepid explorers of antiquity. Next we poured plaster into the faces so as to make molds that would let us replicate the experience of making masks without using our own tender faces over and over again.

uncanny

Jesus approves.

We have since been using the molds to make masks with the hopes of using them for live performance. The masks are supposed to represent different characters from The Heracles of Euripides. We’ve been using clay to alter our casted features into different emotional registers. To do that, we had to learn about emotions.

This is what 90% joy looks like.

This is what 90% joy looks like.

The above app is called Grimace. It lets us adjust that face’s emotions on a sliding scale and note how the positions of his features change. Those six options apparently represent the complete range of human emotions. We’ve been using the app on the very nice iPads that the very nice people at Carleton were very nice to supply.

I also took an online quiz and learned that I am not a sociopath when it comes to recognizing human emotions.

It’s pretty weird to be touching our own faces all day.

This is Clara. The human emotion on her face is called "Explaining".

This is Clara. The human emotion on her face is called “Teaching”.

Clara has been instructing guiding motivating inspiring urging helping us. I’m so hesitant to select a specific word choice because this model of making-learning-doing is very much experimental for the humanities, and our roles are not exactly clear in a lot of ways. That lack of clarity allows us more freedom than traditional academia, though it also allows us more confusion. That being said, Clara has been a fantastic mentor in the process, and I appreciate her willingness to engage with all of the materials alongside us. This sort of active professor-student collaboration is one that I think should be cultivated much more in a collegiate environment. It’s good to have a professor as a partner in our task, rather than an overseer. One thing is for sure–the folks who are running this colloquium are motivated and eager to provide us with anything that we might need. For example, they let us have a big ol’ projector for two weeks, and we’ve been using it to host group movie nights in the on-campus townhouses that we call home.

We watched World's Greatest Dad to honor the memory of Robin Williams on the day of his passing.

We watched World’s Greatest Dad to honor the memory of Robin Williams on the day of his passing.

Anyway, the making of the masks has been fun. We pour things, peel things, paint things, and stab things.

Contrary to appearances this is supposed to be Heracles not Oedipus.

Contrary to appearances this is supposed to be Heracles not Oedipus.

We also got attacked by a bat, but we’re okay.

It was a learning experience in that I explained to people that Batman did not become Batman by being bitten by a bat.

It was a learning experience–I had to explain to my fellow collaborators that Batman did not become Batman by being bitten by a bat.

Before I end this post I want to give you a taste of the kind of concepts we’ve been exploring. There has been a lot of talk about ambiguity of expression (think the Mona Lisa), and a lot of debate about just how much range of expression an ancient Greek mask could have embodied. I think after making our masks, we’ve come to the conclusion that they can portray quite a range indeed, depending on the angle at which they are viewed. I imagine that range will widen even further when they are worn by embodied performers, but for now, here are five pictures of my (unfinished) masks at different angles.

angle 1

angle 2

angle 3

angle 4

angle 5

Pretty neat, huh? Aside from the fact that my Heracles appears to have spent too much time in the tanning salon, the range of expression is evocative. This coming week will be spent putting the masks to the test in our best attempts at performance. So that’ll be funny.

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