Tuesday, October 7, 2008

White Face

We all know about Mimes and the white make-up they wear, but how does the white face focus the performance? Think of this question too beyond the context of the silent mime but on any actor or performer who chooses to paint their face white.

First, it destroys all notions of individuality. Everyone's face becomes the same and instead of a group of individual actors, you suddenly have a group of mimes who are pretty much carbon copies. Even if every clown has a distinguishing mark in their make-up, it's not the same a different colored skin, unusually shaped noses, moles, or scars.

Now that we are not looking at the individual, we focus on what these faces are conveying. Movement and gesture become more specific. This is why mimes use the white face - they are substituting their words for their expressions. This is a double edged sword: now that we have this heightened focus, we as artists have to take responsibility to make sure that we are expressing is exactly what we are intending it too. Ambiguous expressions will confuse meaning in a world of black and white.

White face, unlike masks, is still a living expression. Masks do no move or contort to reflect how the character feels. Faces still are able to convey personality while still hiding the person.

Language and text becomes more powerful as well when an actor dons the make-up of a clown. The audience is given the clue that they are being asked to ignore the detail of the person's facial features and focus on other things. Just like performing a play with actor's dressed in black, white face causes the audience and actors alike to focus on the essentials of storytelling.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Stephen,
    Big fan of the blog. Hope all is well with you. Your discussion of white face and mask work is really interesting to me, as my company is currently performing Twelfth Night with white face AND masks. Working with mask professionals from France, we discussed the white face as something artificial and theatrical, thus making non-masked characters live in the same world as the masked ones.

    The challenge in mask is to play only one idea (or emotion or affect) at a time so that an audience can travel with you at every moment. Also, we play about 80% of the show to the audience, so we are truly communicating with a different partner every night. Expression of Intention, as you say, is key to every performance.

    Also our masks allow for a lot of facial contortion...you should come see the play and check it out for yourself. I'd love to know what you think.

    Matt Trucano
    Bricklayers Theatre Co.