I’ve recently been working again with children on a Drama Project, helping them understand the conventions and dynamics of Mask Play.
Their gasps of delight, their curiosity to explore and to try out their understanding and ideas, always inspires me.
We begin with simple white Basel masks, made by artist Beatrice Percijn, and how to map the shape and features onto the body. They engage their whole selves, wholeheartedly, without judgement, without limitations of what ‘success’ should look like. And to make sure, I tell them that there are no mistakes, only choices to be made. As they get the opportunity to watch each other, they can see that some choices have more effect on an audience.
Once they have embodied the mask with a statue, they listen to my voice. The responsibility for deciding what the mask does, is lifted as they simply respond to instructions. “You are feeling a bit naughty, hungry, bored, lonely…you follow the track, the sound, the smell…” and the adventure begins. They are transposed into a world where they are allowed to do extraordinary things. It’s not them, it’s the mask. “You are an incredible dancer, warrior, scientist….” By taking on the mask, they have license to really reveal and extend themselves, in a safe and structured environment.
A week passes before we meet again. A lifetime for someone aged 9. They squeal with excitement when they see me and are reminded of their adventures. I explain that in this workshop, they are going to tell their own stories about the time when animals and humans shared the same language.
This time artist Jennifer Kasuga has provided 22 colourful masks that suggest all manner of animal forms. Some students are eager to become ‘an other’, to take on a power and transform themselves into a proud bird who loves his hair, a lost polar bear, a monkey who wants to fight with the shark, the spider who eats a mouse. A couple are indecisive and uncertain, needing to try on a few before settling on a wasp, frog or camel. They’re not sure but they try anyway and don’t give up until they have ‘found’ what they want to become.
I believe this kind of creative activity, triggers what Marie-Louise von Franz describes as the “alchemical active imagination”, enabling one to dialogue with an unconscious archetype, or what I call a mask ‘quality’.
They project themselves into a container, a simple form, the suggestive mask. And in doing so, unconsciously begin resolving dilemmas and issues they have been carrying around with them. Their logic to form connections comes easily. By the end of 60 minutes, they have explained the friendships between spiders and mice, why the eagle is bald, what a monkey is doing in the ocean. They have found allies, overcome epic struggles and made agreements with strangers they’ve never worked with before, to continue the story at lunch break .
It does not matter their level of conscious awareness, what matters is that they were open, welcoming and accept the activity for what it is presented as; a game, to deepen their drama skills.
The Mask however, always offers an integrative experience. They’ve identified and rehearsed with, different aspects and qualities. And once achieved, they cannot return to the way they were. Their understanding of who they are and what they can do, has shifted slightly.
Now adults, it’s your turn.