These masks reveal character

August 28, 1993|By Stephanie Shapiro | Stephanie Shapiro,Staff Writer

Willy Richardson's fleshy Latex masks identify a cast of archetypal characters in which qualities such as beauty, cruelty, conniving, intelligence, cynicism, bravado and pathetic ignorance are deftly expressed.

Over the years, as he has created these masks for theatrical productions, fairs and retail shops, Mr. Richardson has discovered their effectiveness as a training tool for aspiring actors. The mask is "a conduit between intuition and acting. It allows you to open up," he says.

Tomorrow, as part of Mask Day, a family event where mask makers will display and demonstrate their work, Mr. Richardson will conduct an introductory workshop in mask training for actors at the Ashling Theatre Centre in Fells Point.

A mask works in paradoxical ways, Mr. Richardson says. By partially covering one's face with a half mask, popularized by the Romans in the commedia dell'arte of the 16th century, an actor is liberated from inhibition and learns ironically not to hide.

Mask training is "more fun than anything," Mr. Richardson says . . . Part of the whole approach to actor training is relearning how to play."

"I think they're extraordinary," says Billy Bair, an instructor of theater arts at the Colorado Academy in Denver. "With younger kids, [Mr. Richardson's masks] provide a fun quick way to get the character."

Older students are liberated by the masks' "anonymous quality," he says. "I can get a very self-conscious 16-, 17-year-old-boy to put on an outrageous feminine mask and go with it . . . He would not do that in a strict improv class; he would never choose to be a woman."

Mask Day takes place from noon to 4 p.m. tomorrow at the Ashling Theatre Center, 1608 Eastern Ave. Mr. Richardson's workshop is 1:30 p.m.-3 p.m. No experience is required. Admission to Mask Day and the workshop is free. Call (410) 563-0507.

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