Review: Mask: Making, Using and Performing by Mike Chase

Mask front cover

This review by Daniel Skinner has just appeared in New View, issue 84. It’s a brilliant issue, which we strongly recommend.

There are a number of classic performance books that offer performers and other interested students of life a map for performative activity as an inner pathway. I mean performance in the widest sense, to include any activity in which the ‘I’ of the participant is in a condition of perceptive wakefulness, alert to activity of their inner life and their fellow human beings.

Peter Brook’s The Empty Space, Michael Chekov’s To the Actor, Augusto Boal’s  Games for Actors and Non-Actors, Jacques Lecoq’s The Moving Body and Rudolf Steiner’s Speech and Drama Course, for instance, might occupy a space on every performer’s bookshelf – eurythmists, actors, teachers, social workers, doctors, parents – each one of us who plays a role in relation to another, whether in the theatre or not.

To this library might now be added another volume, Mike Chase’s Mask: Making, Using and Performing. Those readers who are familiar with Chase’s work as a director, teacher, therapist, mask maker and performer will welcome a guide and practical manual for the principles and wisdom that underlie his work. This book earns the right to sit alongside those listed above just in its thorough, grounded attention to every detail of every aspect of mask work – from conception to making to performing. Furthermore, Mask exhibits not only a thorough professionalism, but the stamp of a true artist – the willingness and will to keep learning, no matter what stage of development one may have arrived at. It is this humility, combined with expertise, that prompts me to suggest this that this is a work to which readers will return time and again to find new levels of meaning with each new reading.

Chase is a practical theatre-maker, teacher, therapist, and workshop leader whose life-long work with masks has led him to a profound understanding of human nature. Those of us who recognise the framework of the four temperaments (Choleric, Phlegmatic, Sanguine and Melancholic – the soul/constitution counterpart of the four elements of Fire, Water, Air and Earth), particularly those working in the Waldorf movement would wo well to study Chase’s approaches to, and deep relationship with, this model of interpreting human archetypes. For those who are new to the idea of the four temperaments as a template for interpretation of human behaviour and physical type, this book would be a wonderful introduction.

Mask is both a practical mask manual, for both makers and users – generously laid out with numerous photographs and illustrations by Allmut Ffrench – and also a guide to the way in which the temperaments inform our adult life. I would heartily recommend any performer, teacher, carer, therapist or parent to read it.

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