Masks may hide an actor’s face, but Tara Cariaso believes they can draw out true emotions.
“People put on a mask, and they’re so much freer than when they’re not with a mask,” she says. “There’s this level of abandon they can achieve when they have a mask on versus when it’s just your persona and your face — and you’re expected to be you.”
As artistic director of Waxing Moon Masks, Cariaso works to create masks, and provide education about masks to theater projects throughout Baltimore and Washington, D.C. The organization works with companies and universities to spread the merits of masked performance, which Cariaso says is not as emphasized in the contemporary theater community.
Last year, Cariaso began to spread masks beyond the Mid-Atlantic, to Liberia. Waxing Moon donated nine masks to B4 Youth Theatre, an organization that works to spread arts education to children in Liberia. It was something of a test run, but B4’s Jasmine Blanks was impressed by how the masks helped the children communicate with audiences, and add more physicality to their performances.
This year, Cariaso is sending more. And the two organizations hope the masks will help the young thespians talk about a topic that’s difficult to address face on: the Ebola epidemic.
More than 4,400 people died in the West African country, but there hasn’t been a new case since February. The country has embraced art in the fight against Ebola, helping to spread awareness about how citizens can protect themselves and coming to terms with the disease’s horrific effects. B4 has been involved in organizing flash mobs, where students perform plays to raise awareness.
This summer, current plans call for the children at B4 to create plays about their experiences with Ebola, and they will use masks as key tools.
Masks for Good is sending 39 custom-made masks for four training sites run by B4. Some express emotions like joy, pain and sorrow. Others are designed to reflect age, like “elder” or “baby.” True to its mission of education, Waxing Moon will also send an instructional video for each group. The organization raised more than $2,000 for the project on Indiegogo. They’re also applying for a Ruby grant in Baltimore, which could fund digital devices for the children to watch training videos and document the plays.
The masks are likely to help bring more attention to performers. But to Cariaso, it also comes down to what masks can do once the audience is engaged. The ability of masks to allow performers to freely express themselves to the audience seems well-suited to the intentions of the theatre project.
“You’re serving the audience,” Cariaso says of actors perform with masks. “You’re not serving yourself.”
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