Reaching for Cultural Definitions Post 2

Masks of World Culture
Masks of World Culture

Today the Junior BFA Acting students at Ball State University are meeting for their final assignment in the Devising Studio. We will be exploring cultural masks of the world and appropriating traditional forms to create performance. Our task will be to create a theatrical language that can be understood by a contemporary audience of our peers.

The students will be working with masks from the Balinese Topeng, The Guatemalan Mask Dance Tradition and the Northwest Coast Native American Masks. The assignment is to appropriate the cultural traditions to create performance and not to try and imitate the actual practice.

Today’s discussion revolved around the need to identify and understand the essentials; elements that allow for a performance language that can be universally understood. The challenge of creating performance that is for the audience and the artists filled with a tremendous sense of need and purpose was addressed. The question of underlying principles and a form of expression that holds within it a narrative the audience invents for themselves was present in our beginning.

On day one the class was broken into three groups of five people. Each group was given one of our cultures and introduced to the masks of their assigned culture. Each group spent time researching and identifying the masks they were given and began researching the stories of origin the masks they were assigned came from.

The class was given the following as part of their final assignment.

Categories for Research:

  • Masks and masking in your culture
  • The masking tradition
  • The masks you have been given
  • The stories of the culture as concerns the masks
  • Other stories that surround the use of masks
  • The role the masks play in the assigned culture

The World the Masks Exist In:

  • Information on the social behavior
  • Information on political environments
  • Information on ritual and spiritual practice
  • Information on mythology and related story
  • Research into musical traditions
  • Find songs and poems from the culture

The Provocation:

You must create a story using the masks you have been given that includes:

  • An element of music or soundscape
  • An element of dance
  • An element of spoken text
  • At least 5 of the masks in the collection you have been given
  • Your group must add a mask of your choosing to the collection. The mask you add can be another mask from the cultural tradition you are working in, it can be a mask that you design or it can be a mask you choose from the collection of designs that belong to the studio. The mask you choose to add will be made for your group to use.
  • The story you create must be based on the cultural research you do. In other words the story must be born out of the culture the masks are from
  • The story you create must be understood by the contemporary collegiate audience that will see it performed

The students will return for class two and three with a rehearsal schedule that should take them to the end of the semester and the beginnings of their stories and research.

This blog will hopefully provide a narrative to the research and development of our final project.