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With faces and clothing spotted with plaster and papier-mâché, students in “The Art of the Mask” workshop can’t say they weren’t warned. The final sentence in the brochure description for the workshop at the Averitt Center for the Arts reads, “Please wear cloths suitable for getting messy.”
Under the instruction of Scott Fox, a long time puppeteer and mask maker, the class focuses on the art and history of the mask, ranging from Commedia dell’arte to New Orleans styles.
“Mask as an art form, as well as one of the oldest theatre forms, is the ability to create something very expressive out of something very simple,” Fox said.
The class explores sculptural methods, special painting techniques and the art of Mime. Fox said that his passion for masks comes from the way a mask transforms people.
“People forget themselves when they wear masks. They are less self-conscious. Shy people become assertive. Assertive people become anything,” Fox said.
In his class, Fox gives his students free range to explore and create. He allows them to choose where they want to take their creations in order to give them artistic freedom and allow them to make choices on their own.
“I don’t like giving people a template,” he said. “I like them to create something that inspires them and makes them look at things differently from history to art,” he said.
While working hands on with his students, Fox shifts between craftsman and lecturer as he molds masks to the faces and informs them about where each style of mask comes from.
Students spend their time switching between shaping masks to meet an expression to discussing the history of mask and its place in society.
“I really like art and artistic things,” student Sarah Harvey said. “I love hands-on things, and this camp is really hands-on and creative so I get the best of both worlds.”
Other students found the class to be a way to focus on the intricacy of the face while others found pleasure in the messy side of making the masks.
Behind the mask, is the idea of “Objective Theatre,” or the means to tell a story through objects by making them the focus. In this mode of theatre, the items and objects on stage are the center of the story telling process, Fox said.
“We want to give kids as many opportunities as we can to learn about the fine arts,” said Tony Phillips, program director and volunteer coordinator.