Playing with Forms

My work as writer and performer in Mask Confusion and performer in MushZooms 2.0 feels like a true culmination of my soon-to-be MFA degree in both Western and Asian Performance tracks. Although this production isn’t my only thesis piece, it is the final portion of what we can equivocate to my thesis. If I had to explain quickly what my “thesis” is, I would say it’s an experiential exploration of performance in both Western and Asian forms. I enjoy performing and creating physical theatre (such as masks, puppets, acrobatics, dance-theatre, mime, etc…) and I like to call myself an actor-creator, and I feel like I thrive in the devising world (creating/writing a piece for theatre with a collective of people where there is ideally little-to-no hierarchy). While working on both pieces, I feel like my voice as an artist is heard and considered!

For Mask Confusion, we’re mixing two comedy styles, Commedia Dell’Arte and kyōgen from both the Western and Asian worlds. They are both more than a few centuries old. We’re also working with master artists/specialists in both forms. Their knowledge and advice for the piece have confirmed my initial instinct that these two forms have parallels. These parallels include similarities in character types, relationships, and simplicity in storytelling. They both use direct address to the audience, mostly pantomime, minimal props, and the humor is meant to delight the audience. The characters get deeply enraptured in the fun that they are having! Often, the underdog characters are the ones the audience root for and the servant characters often overcome their (silly) obstacles by luck or accident. 

I wrote the piece but it’s not only my work! There are other contributors especially Jane Traynor, Julie Iezzi, and of course, our work with Shigeyama Sennojō III and Joan Shirle has informed changes to the script. This collective effort fits well with my preferred way of working as a deviser. It’s not 100% a devised piece, at least not by my personal definitions, but the elements of devised work are welcomed and used. During the rehearsals for Mask Confusion and MushZooms 2.0, every voice feels welcomed to contribute.

Although this production is an Asian theatre production and it is part of the Asian performance track for my MFA, I would say that I’m performing primarily in Western forms (Commedia with Mask and Realism-esque with MushZooms 2.0). However, I get to perform them in contrast with kyōgen. I get to see the similarities and contrasts butt up against each other and add subtle elements of kyōgen to my performance. As a performance student, I’m looking to see what makes “good” performance. 

This production allows me to explore and experience multiple forms of theatre which complement my double-track MFA studies. I am able to look at these successful forms of theatrical performance, from different parts of the world, and seeing what works and doesn’t work as well as the similarities and differences. Overall, I would say I’m lucky because working on both Mask Confusion and MushZooms 2.0 allows me to experience this all in one big production.

– Catherine Ann Restivo, Mask Confusion and MushZooms 2.0

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