A word from our designer…
Designing for street theatre & devised work
Over the years I have worked closely with Artistic Director, Tom Hogan, to create a variety of shows. We always start with a theme. This may be from a particular brief or commission, from improvisation sessions or just a notion from the depths of Tom’s brain. From this starting point, I begin to gather ideas and images from books, magazines and of course these days, the Internet. Sometimes this can throw up very strong and obvious design ideas that stick and lead the project, setting boundaries for the performance side to develop within. Other times, the images feed into rehearsals, stimulating the improvisation and devising process, helping to cement ideas but also to discard things that may not work as well visually. I enjoy working closely with the devising and rehearsal process to create each design to fit perfectly with each project.
Design is a particularly important element of our street theatre work, as it must entice the roaming punter to the show. It is then the job of the performers to keep them there. The design must be bold and vibrant and visually stimulating but not overwhelm. It is important that the design maintains a balance with the performance to allow the subtleties of the characters and the story to emerge. All design and no substance will not hold an audience member who is free to leave at will, their interest and curiosity will be fulfilled within a brief viewing.
Aqueous Humour often use masks, both within our professional shows and as part of our community work. They provide a strong image to draw in the audience plus they are handy for actors playing multiple roles and for continuity of image and character if using a pool of performers. In a community or education setting, masks are particularly effective when working with groups who are not used to performing or may be exploring difficult or personal topics. They can hide behind it and leave themselves behind, helping the transformation into character and making them less nervous about speaking out or sharing.
As with the overall design, I start by gathering ideas and images related to the character brief. Then I sketch the character before beginning to create the design in 3D using clay over a plaster face. The clay version can keep developing and changing alongside the devising process until a definitive image emerges. This is then used as a former over which layers of paper are built up with occasional muslin layers for additional strength. I have tried other materials but keep coming back to paper. I like the balance of definition, ease of use, weight, budget and availability.
Usually I will send the plain paper versions into rehearsals so that the performers can get a feel for them as they build their character and to allow for any adjustments for comfort and sightlines before painting and applying any texture. They are finished with several coats of varnish to strengthen then plus protect them on the outside from the elements and on the inside from sweat.
I love creating masks and seeing them come alive in the hands of a performer whether that is a trained actor or a workshop participant picking up a mask for the first time.