Transformed by the mask

Posted: Thursday, April 20, 2000

This weekend, Robert Faust and Paola Styron will turn into animals.

They don't use witchcraft, sorcery or costumes. They wear masks.

Matthew Turner saw the duo perform their show, ``Mask Messenger,'' in Seattle two years ago, and said the transformation was amazing. Using masks and a blend of theater, mime, dance and comedy, the husband-and-wife team brought cultures, creatures and characters to life.

``Mask Messenger'' by Faustworks

When: 8 p.m. Friday.

Where: Juneau-Douglas High School auditorium.

Tickets: $14, $8 for those 12 and under, $35 for family, $10 students and seniors, available at Hearthside Books. $2 more at the door.

``They are right on. They put on a mask, and that's all it takes,'' he said. ``Right before your eyes, people just completely transform.''

Turner, a Juneau actor and director, said the couple came on stage at the Bumbershoot folk arts festival with two dozen masks on a simple backdrop. This Friday they bring their masks and their show to Juneau.

Mask-maker, actor and dancer Robert Faust said ``Mask Messenger'' is a family show.

``It's a series of vignettes and small solos and duos,'' Faust said. ``Some is informative and a lot of it is funny. There's some silence and some spoken word -- full masks, half masks, masks worn on other parts of the body.''

Faust said the show is performed as a mock lecture and demonstration.

``I will act like I'm fascinated and can talk all night, and she'll upstage me,'' he said. ``There's a moment where we get members of the audience to come up and try masks on, but a lot of the show is interactive. We're playing with the audience.''

Faust grew up in New Orleans and said the annual Mardi Gras festivities, which prominently include masks, planted the seeds for his fascination with masks.

``The mask gives permission. People who aren't performers can instantly become performers. You know the audience isn't seeing you,'' he said. ``You put a frozen face on the body, and use your body to match the face. It touches people in some primal way - the absurdity between the moving body and frozen face.''

Faust went on to study dance, movement and mime, and danced and performed professionally. In 1983 he founded his own company, Faustworks, and began developing mask-oriented performances.

About that same time he met Styron, a dancer who became his wife, performing partner, and associate artistic director.

``We met in `The Garden of Earthly Delights,''' he said. ``Our courtship was making theater.''

The ``Garden'' is a reference to the Obie-Award-winning off-Broadway show based on the painting of the same name by 15th century Dutch artist Hieronymus Bosch.

Faustworks started slowly the first few years, then took off in 1986. In the past 14 years the company has toured 48 states, and has three or four additional members.

Faust writes and choreographs all the skits in the performances. He's also made all the masks, using wood, leather, hard latex and plastic. Most are sculpted in clay first, then molded.

``I learned to carve last year,'' Faust said. ``I studied carving in Bali and apprenticed.''

While Bali is famous for its carved wooden masks, Faust said masks are found virtually throughout the world.

``Masks are used in almost every culture, and I think it's because of this power of transformation. Some (cultures) are very serious. Others -- like us at Halloween -- use them as social ritual,'' he said.

``Mask Messenger'' is sponsored by the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council. Arts council director Sybil Davis also saw Faustworks perform in Seattle two years ago and was very impressed. She said she's been working for two years to bring the group to Juneau, and she specified that Faust himself perform.

``You're transported to a whole other time and place and situation,'' Davis said. ``Then boom, before you know it, he's something else. It's magical.''

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