Written by and created for folks who share a passion for the wonderful art of creative storytelling. We always welcome your suggestions about topics of interest to you for future blog posts.Our blog receives worldwide readership from folks interested in storytelling. Our most popular posts are the occasional series of articles about designing, making and performing using character masks. Join the conversation - we welcome your comments and suggestions!
My Own And With Others - Changes
In The Mask, Costume, and Story
A new mask often needs adjustment to make it who it
should be. As I rehearsed wearing the Princess
mask, I came to both feel and see that it was not quite right.
One morning, in order to soften the expression of the
mask, I decided to repaint the mouth and above the eyes.
Princess mask before painting
mask after repainting
See how the repainting makes the Princess’s lips look
softer and happier. And how the red lines
above the eyes make the eyes clearer.
The soot dress
segment of the story (see Part 2) is a difficult section to tell. I realized
that one of the difficulties in telling it was that with the veil over the
small holes in the Princess mask’s eyes, I
could not see the audience. So I decided to make a second veil - one that I
could see through. I did this because as a storyteller it is really important
for me to see and respond to the expressions on the faces of the audience.
I remember once hearing a famous storyteller who told a
story with his eyes shut. When he was done, I put up my hand and I asked why he
told with his eyes shut. He answered that he told this way because it allowed
him to better concentrate on the text of the story.
But this is not my way of storytelling. I don’t want to
only concentrate on the story. I want to
concentrate on making the story a shared experience between the audience and myself.
Seeing the audience’s facial expressions tells me how they are experiencing the
story. Always my goal is that the story will reach them on an emotional level.
By seeing their faces – especially through the focused holes of the mask – I will
know if I have reached my goal of emotional involvement
Here are the images of the two veils. The second veil
has very little obstruction to seeing the audience. For me, this makes for much
better communication of the story.
I discovered that I needed help with changing the
In our first group rehearsal,
the other storytellers suggested Ihave
help with the costume changes. The story requires three changes of clothing which
is also layered. This layering is difficult to do on my own. So I decided to
have a table and mirror set up at the side of the stage. And to have one of the
other storytellers be my dresser while another of the storytellers plays music
on her harp.
The section in which the Troll beats the Prince needs
to be told with emotion. But fairy tales don’t usually use emotionally laden
language. But for this version of the story, my feeling is that the audience
needs to know why the Princess weeps over the Prince after the Troll leaves.
And equally, the audience needs to know
what she feels when the Troll beats the Prince.
So based on my rehearsal experiences, here is what I now have the Princess say –
There was nothing I could
do but stand and watch.
I was afraid for myself
and for the Prince.
I was afraid that the Troll
would kill him and then I would be left alone in my soot blackness.
But when the sun was
about to rise, the Troll left.
And I went over to my
beloved the Prince.
And seeing his wounds and
his pain, I began to weep over him.
And by some magic, as
soon as my tears touched his wounds,
They were healed and his
pain went away.
Looking at the right side
of my body,
I saw that it was as
white as silver.
Now I had some hope for
And my Prince and I
rejoiced at this hope.
Now I feel that the mask, my costume, and the story are ready for performance.
Part 5 will tell about my experience of performing my
version of ‘The Bird In The Linden Tree’.
Just when the audience comes to believe that the Princess is finally safe, she meets an old woman and her daughter driving the King’s flock of geese. The King’s castle is in sight, so the Prince goes off to find a suitable dress for his beloved to wear when meeting the King.
However, the Goose Woman wants her own daughter to marry the Prince. So she takes the sheepskin from the Princess and puts it onto her daughter. No sooner does this happen, then the Princess transforms again - this time into a Red Bird.
Making The Red Bird Mask
I wanted the Red Bird mask to sit on top of the Princess mask. In past performances involving a transformation, I would always remove one mask and put on another. So doing this kind of layered mask was a new design, making and performance experience for me.
Luckily I had kept the plasticine form I had used in making the Princess mask. So I sculpted the Red Bird mask on top of this plasticine form, ensuring that both masks would fit easily and comfortably together.
Here is the sculpted Red Bird mask almost finished.
And here is the Red Bird mask shell ready to remove. The plasticine area below the bird's beak is the original Princess mask mold. The Bird mask is designed to be half a mask and to fit over the Princess mask.
In the photo above you see the finished masks - the rice paper Red Bird sits on the top of the plasticine Princess form and the rice paper Princess mask sits alongside on the right. Of special note is that I removed the round cheeks from the Bird mask and added a raised area to allow the two masks to fit together as one.
The Red Bird mask over the Princess mask
The Meaning Of One Mask Layered On Another Mask
I decided to layer the two masks in order to keep the Princess as one person in spite of her transformations.
My message to the audience is that, through changes to our clothing and facial expression, each of us transforms all the time, but in truth, we are always the sum of our parts. The Red Bird mask layered onto the Princess mask tells the audience that the Princess is still there even though she has now transformed into a bird.
The Character Of The Transformed Princess
In terms of the development of the Princess’s character, it should be noted that she is far freer than she was in the Troll’s castle. She has the freedom to be able to choose what to do when she is transformed into a bird. She chooses to fly to and land in the Linden tree outside her beloved Prince’s window.
How The Prince Again Restores The Princess’s Human Form
Transformed into a Red Bird, the Princess flies over to the Linden tree. For three nights, from her perch in the tree, she sings to him. Finally, on the third night, the Prince hears her singing.
Here is what I will sing in my layered Red Bird mask.
I wept over you three times.
And three times I made you well.
Why do you sleep, my beloved?
On the third night, after hearing this, the Prince takes out his key and looks through its ring. He sees the Princess - not as a bird but as she really is. He ends her enchantment by throwing his knife over her head.
When this happens I will remove the Red Bird mask, the bird shawl, and the soot dress and return to the Princess dress and mask. Then I will tell the end of the story.
The Princess as she will look telling the end of the story.
The End Of The Story
Here is what I will say at the end of the story.
And our wedding was the grandest wedding ever seen in the world. Everyone was invited. And there was enough for all to eat.
In fact, everyone could choose what they wanted to eat.
And there was even enough for them
to take home for their little children.
And if I had known all of you then,
I would have invited you also.
So that you could share in the happiness of me and my beloved.
In Part 4 I will tell about the rehearsal experience and the discovery of changes that must be made to the mask, costume, and story.
In my revised version of the story, when the Prince first views the Princess, I will say -
When the Prince opened the door of the Troll’s castle,
he saw me – a maiden alone -
and I was black as soot from head to toe.
The Princess had been enchanted by the Troll. This enchantment has caused her to become black as soot. However, the Prince, looking through his key, sees her real form.
He asks -
How can I free you from this enchantment?
She replies -
If you will abide three nights
and bear all that shall happen to you without a word
then I shall be free.
I decided to allow the darkness of being ‘soot black’, to be represented by my costume - the soot black dress - and to wear this costume over my Princess dress. Here is what I look like ‘soot black from head to toe’.
The soot dress, black gloves, and veil
The story then says that each night the Troll comes and beats the Prince. The Prince does not say a word. The Troll leaves before sunrise each of the three days and the Princess weeps over her Prince. Her crying makes his pain and injuries go away. Her crying restores part of her body to being ‘white as silver’.
I will show this by first removing my right black glove and having the Princess say -
And when I looked at the right side of my body,
it was as white as silver.
All this repeats on the second night. After her weeping, I will remove my left black glove and say -
And when I looked at the left side of my body,
it was as white as silver.
The soot dress with gloves removed.
Finally, after the third night, I will remove the black lace veil covering the Princess mask and say -
And now my face was as white as snow and
my cheeks were as red as an apple and
my eyes were a blue as the sky.
It was important when deciding how best to costume and perform this story, that I spent time considering the meaning of dark and light. The analogy of sunlight and dark night comes to me. Sunlight and dark night are two opposites. It is of interest that a Troll cannot tolerate sunlight because they burst apart when they come in contact with sunlight.
In my experience, there are always two kinds of times in life - those marked by the hard learning of dark times and those that are marked by the ease of sunny times. In my performance of the Princess story, I want to illustrate the dark times – not just by the Princess’ actions and tears - but also by the visual symbolism of her dark clothing.
Transition To The Second Enchantment
The original story says that after the first enchantment “the Princess had little or nothing upon her.” This certainly was not viable for my performance so I opted to keep wearing the soot dress.
The original story also says that the Prince finds a ram’s skin to cover the Princess. As I do not need the covering, I will say that the Prince finds a sheepskin (I change ‘ram’ to ‘sheep’ as I have a sheepskin in my costume collection) in the Troll’s castle to protect the Princess from the cold.
At first, I considered leaving out the sheepskin - allowing the audience to just imagine it being on. But then I realized that I needed to physically show the sheepskin as being removed. It’s the removal of the skin that causes the Princess’ second transformation – becoming a red bird.
So here is the Princess as she and the Prince leave the Troll’s castle. She still wears her soot dress but now has the sheepskin to protect her from the cold.
ThePrincess wearing the sheepskin over her soot dress.
In Part 3, Iwill explore the making of the Red Bird mask and how the Princess’ bird enchantment ends. Finally, I will explain how I will end the story.
Part 1: The Princess’ Dress And The Meaning of Clothing
In Canada, the 2017 World Storytelling Day theme is ‘Transformation’.
In keeping with this year’s theme, I’ve chosen to tell my own mask version of a story called ‘The Bird in the Linden Tree’by Howard Pyle.
This story will require two masks and several costumes. The costumes will physically represent changes to the plot and to the evolution of the character of the Princess. Just as the audience reads the masks, they will also read the clothing changes as having meaning within the story.
I began by making the Princess dress and mask. The Princess dress came from a used clothing store. Originally, it was a dancing dress from India. It was much too small for me. So I took it apart and added gussets and darts to each side. I will wear this dress at the beginning and end of the story. It will represent the times of abundance and plenty in the story.
Here is the Princess dress ready for the performance.
The Princess dress - I will wear it at the beginning and end of the story.
The Princess As The Storyteller
It is always very important for a mask maker to decide which mask or group of masks will tell the story. For this story, I wanted the audience to hear it from the Princess’ perspective. But the beginning of the story happens before the Princess even enters the story, so having her tell this part of the story presents a problem. I solved it by appearing in the Princess mask and dress at the beginning of the story. I tell the audience - “Now I will tell you about my beloved the Prince before I knew him.”
The Princess mask as a storyteller.
Then I will tell the story as I have summarized it below.
The Pre-Princess Story
This story begins with the Prince speaking with his father. The King is old; he wants his son to find a wife. The King offers three suggestions about whom his son could marry. But the Prince rejects his father’s suggestions. He says that he will marry a woman -
Whose brow is white as milk.
Whose cheeks are as red as apples.
And whose eyes are as blue as the sky.
The Prince then sets out to find this woman.
After walking a long way, the Prince comes upon a cold and hungry old woman. The Prince gives her food and clothing.
After taking these things, the old woman says - “One does not give something for nothing. Take this key. Look through the ring at its top. You will see everything as it is and not as it seems to be.”
Her words will be the ‘key’ to the Prince knowing what is enchanted and what is not. As so often happens in fairy tales, such understanding of the truth comes from an elder who has been shown kindness.
The Prince sets off again and comes to the Troll’s castle. It is here for the first time that he sees the transformed Princess in her enchanted state. He takes out his key. Looking through its ring, the Prince sees the woman he has been searching for. A woman -
Whose brow is white as milk.
Whose cheeks are as red as apples.
And whose eyes are as blue as the sky.
But in her enchanted form, the Princess looks very different. She is black as soot from head to toe.
In Part 2, I will explore how the Prince and Princess work together to end the Princess’ enchantments. I will also explain how the changes to my clothing will tell the audience that the first enchantment is over.
I have made three Bear masks - Black Bear, Brown Bear and White Bear.
Here is a photo of all three bear masks.
For this year’s Halloween telling I did not want to use Black Bear. It is a sacred mask for me and although it could easily represent Bear Monster I did not want to use it in that way. White Bear is a young creature and did not suit the telling either. So that left me with Brown Bear. This mask was originally made for a dance performance – to be worn by one of the dancers. I have never worn it. It lacked power. So yesterday I began to work with it to give it a stronger ‘presence’.
Here is the changed mask. Can you tell how I changed it? Can you identify the natural materials I have added to bring about a stronger presence?
Choosing the Story
Often in mask work, the chosen story for the mask does not work. Then a second story has to be tried. But in this project, all along I had in my mind a story about a monster bear. I kept looking for such a story. When the first story did not work, I looked again. I went to the library. I searched my books. Finally, when I had given up, I found a book a friend had given me and it opened at the story of the monster bear.
Who is the Bear Telling the Story?
Once, for Halloween, in mask I told the story of the Duppy Bird. This is a bird that kills a boy. It took me days to get over telling it. I realized that it is not in my temperament to transform into a killing monster through mask. So this time, I wanted the safety of being one of the other story characters.
In the story, there is a second and third bear. I rewrote the original story to eliminate the third bear and wrote in the second bear as a witness to what is happening. This gave me the safety of being the observer. Here is an outline of my version of the story.
The Story of Katcheetohuskw
The original story comes from the Naskapi tribe of Northern Quebec. The monster bear in the story is extremely large and eats humans.
·Long ago when bears could talk as humans do, there lived an old man and his wife. They had an infant son and an older daughter.
·One day, the old man and his wife go to chop wood and are eaten by the monster bear.
·Brown Bear sees all this.
·The daughter cares for her infant brother. He grows quickly and is soon hunting on his own.
·Then goes off to avenge his father’s death.
·Brown Bear is told to kill the boy by Monster Bear but he will not.
·Monster Bear goes to kill the boy himself. By Magic the boy goes bigger as he confronts the monster bear.
·Brown Bear hides in the forest where the boy is to see what will happen…
I will leave the story at this point until Part Two of my post. In doing this, I will let myself experience during the actual performance, the end confrontation through the eyes of Brown Bear mask.
Questions for my Experiencing of the Story
The power of the story rests in the confrontation between the monster bear and the boy. This power comes from what is said and what is done. Here are the two questions I want to answer for myself.
1.Does something happen inside me as I take the witness role as transformed Brown Bear? In this form, am I internalizing the story?
2.Does the audience also experience the story as witnesses along with the Brown Bear mask? To be continued...
BROWN BEAR MASK EXPERIENCES THE POWER OF BEING A
By Rita Grimaldi
My father died when I was 22. Perhaps the truth is that
because fathers are always a generation ahead of their children, everyone sees
their fathers die. And if you had a good father as I did, it may be true that you
want to confront and defeat the death that killed him.
For it is true that in all of us the young child sees
our father as invincible.
Transforming into Brown Bear by using mask and having Brown
Bear take the role of witness for most of the story, allowed me to absorb the
story in a much more personal way.
Brown Bear as Witness
The witness role allowed me to unconsciously feel what
was happening between the boy and the Monster Bear that killed his father.
During the performance, the boy’s words came out of my
mouth along with the boy’s feelings.
The boy says “Who killed my father?”
Monster Bear answers indignantly “I did.”
after the performance, it is as if I had said,
killed my father?”
And then in the performance, the boy says “How hard was
he to kill?”
And Monster Bear replies “About as hard as a dry juniper.”
Then the boy shoots his arrow into a dry juniper and it
explodes into a million shards. With
this act, the boy grows to be the size of a man. And he says “Not hard enough.”
the performance I think my father should not have died.
should have been able to kill death for him.
as the boy kills the Monster Bear.
I know that this is not a rational thought. But the
child part of me who believes in the invincible good father still believes it.
Brown Bear then witnesses the boy shattering a rock
with his next arrow. And then the boy shoots his arrows at Monster Bear. As the
bear dies, he tells the boy what to do with his body.
As Katcheetohuskwis dying, the textsays that he
instructs the boy to “Cut my body into small pieces, eat my head, but keep my
ears for your bed.” I wrote into the original text that when sleeping, the boy would
hear Katcheetohuskwand listen to his
instructions. The boy becomes a great hunter.
Doing as he is told, the boy cuts Monster Bear’s body
into small pieces and throws some into the air. These become birds and fly
away. Then the boy throws some on the ground. These become animals and run
Now the story circles back to something positive coming
from the negative killing of the good father. The boy now has the resource to become
a great hunter.
There are two witnessing times for Brown Bear. At the
beginning of the story, he witnesses the killing of the husband and wife. And
at end of the story, Brown Bear, hiding in the forest, watches the boy’s confrontation
with the Bear Monster.
Both times as a witness, Brown Bear experiences
emotion. First, the emotion of loss and grief as the daughter sees her dead
parents. And second, the emotion of amazement as he sees the boy grow by magic
as he confronts the Monster Bear.
Brown Bear witnesses the confrontation between the boy
and the Monster Bear. As he hears what the boy says and sees the boy’s actions,
he reports these to the audience.
Bear reporting and showing
shooting of the arrow into the rock.
Because in the first and last segments, Brown Bear was
not part of the action of the story but only a reporter of the action and
words, the actions and words of the story had a greater effect on me. I don’t
know why this is so, but it was.
I became a witness too. I was one step behind Brown
Bear, one step inside Brown bear, one step beneath Brown Bear. The role of
witness engulfed me. And what I was witnessing had direct relevance to my own
The End Of
At the end of the story, I wrote in that Brown Bear
“All this I Brown Bear
saw, and I Brown Bear remember, for it is good to remember what happens.”
When I went home from the performance, a great line of
memories of my father’s life and death came to me. So I could say for myself
this I Rita saw, and I Rita remember.
it is good to remember what happens.”
Note: In rewriting the story
for telling in mask, I made many changes to the original. The complete original
story of ‘Katcheetohuskw’ can be found
in Giving Voice to Bear (1991) by David Rock.
Picture to yourself a bright, crisp fall day in a tree-filled park beside a river. Now imagine a path through that park, a path that is sometimes narrow as it passes through a dense woods. Imagine coming upon a castle on a deserted plain and then climbing up a high, rocky hill to the place where a wise old man lives.
On Saturday, several of the Peterborough Storytellers visited such a place for a magical storytelling experience. And some of those things were really there – the park, the river and the castle.
In 2015, Ken Arndt, a local woodworker and artist was commissioned to create something from the large stump of a diseased elm tree that had been cut down in Asphodel Park near Westwood. Ken created a Hobbit-like castle tower that might have come right out of a Tolkien story. When I saw the first pictures of the castle in the park, I knew it would be the perfect prop for a participative, walking storytelling.
The time finally came this fall when the castle became an element in the story of The Foolish Man at a storytelling event sponsored by the Westwood branch of the Asphodel Norwood Library.
On a bright Saturday morning, Foolish Jack (Betty) gathered a group of about twenty children and adults under the picnic shelter. Jack told them that he is industrious, honest and kind, but he just can’t get ahead –it doesn’t seem fair. And so he invited them to join him as he travelled to seek the advice of the Wise Old Man of the Woods to find out where his good fortune lies.
As Jack and his procession made their way, they met a hungry wolf in the woods (Rita in mask), a sad lady at a castle (Angie), and a dying tree beside the river bank before finally arriving at the home of the Wise Old Man (John), seated in the crotch of a massive tree.
Along the way, the party imagined walking single file down a narrow woodland path, climbing (out of breath!) up a steep hill and hurrying -- quickly! quickly! -- homeward with the old man’s advice.
Of course, Foolish Jack is so blinded by the prospect of his good fortune that he doesn’t recognize that solving the problem of the dying tree would make him rich or that staying with the sad lady at the castle would make him happy and even richer. And of course, he might escape being eaten by the wolf if he weren’t so foolishly oblivious!
The children and adults were a wonderful audience, following Jack’s instructions on both the real and the imagined parts of the walk and offering advice to Jack and the Wolf. And when the Wolf decided to ease his hunger by eating Foolish Jack, one youngster obliged with a wonderful shriek!
When we returned to the picnic shelter, Angie played a lovely Celtic tune on the harp and told the story of The Harper’s Gratuity and Rita entertained the little ones with finger plays, a drawing story and the tale of Tiny Mouse.
I’m sure we will return to Asphodel Park for more storytelling, as castles are such frequent elements in folk and fairy tales.
Betty Bennett is an active member of the Peterborough Storytellers and the organizer of the Westwood Park walk sponsored by the local library.