Midsummer Night’s Dream: Bottom’s Mask

Midsummer Night’s Dream directed by Andrew Cassel

Kellie Bernstein as Titania, Alexander Glover as Bottom. Mask by Lara Lotze, Lighting by Colby Freel, Photography by Kade Mendelowitz

Mask by Lara Lotze

Photography by Kade Mendelowitz

I was playing with my new silicone molding material from Smooth-On last fall, when Andrew Cassel was experimenting with masks for Fairbanks Drama Association’s production of A Christmas Carol. He let me pour green goo all over his face. I was happy. That experiment didn’t work out for that production, but Andrew thought it might work for a production he was directing the following spring, Theatre UAF’s Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Andrew didn’t want a full head mask for Bottom. We knew we wanted something minimal and as flexible as possible to allow the actor freedom of movement and expression. The super flexible Dragon Skin from Smooth-On seemed like the perfect match. I looked at a number of inspiration photos, including several full masks which had a lower profile nose. It was still too full coverage for what we wanted, and our actor would need to put that mask on, as well as remove it, quickly and easily.

Design sketch for Bottom’s mask by Lara Lotze

I made a plaster model of the actor’s face so I could experiment in clay with what would stay on a face easily, with as little structural support from going over the head as possible. I wanted the actor to be able to hear easily without his own ears sticking out too obviously, I wanted him to be able to speak without obstruction. I wanted to give Titania cute, flexible ears to play with.

One major obstacle I ran into was that the Dragon Skin was actually too flexible for my plans. I had played with it a little, and was encouraged by the elasticity, but hadn’t fully calculated the amount of stretch. The first mask simply fell off the actor’s face because it was too loose. Because I was short on both time and materials leading up to tech week, I chose to cut down and modify the existing mask rather than resculpting and recasting a smaller piece, or ordering a less stretchy material for casting.

clay model of donkey ears and nose mask
The ears were modeled and cast separately from the nose mask and attached with silicone.

To keep the mask in place, I molded a stopper of sorts to sit above and behind the actor’s ear. I needed just the right amount of material for the front of the mask to sit correctly, and the back of the mask to hold in place with the synthetic fur added to it. The great thing about working with silicone is that I could use the same material to “glue” the ears in place, and to self heal any cuts I needed to make to adjust the size of the mask and band. I used SilcPig to color my base mask as close to the actor’s skin tone as I could achieve, and added color by painting on mixtures of white, brown and black tinted silicone after the skin tone mask had cured.

I found that it was more difficult than anticipated to texture the silicone as I painted on layers of color. I could get some texture, but it tended to become shiny when cured, which is not what I had envisioned. I decided to use some of the synthetic fur we had used to cover the back of the band to add sideburns to the mask, and a little hair on the ears as well.

Plaster face, clay model, urethane mold, plaster mother mold for donkey mask by Lara Lotze
Plaster face, clay model, urethane mold, plaster mother mold for donkey mask by Lara Lotze

Andrew requested a tail, and we experimented with a few different ways to add a tail to the costume or a mane to the mask with wires before settling on a mane/tail extension attached to the back of the mask band. I was pleased that the material was tight and strong enough to support this, without causing discomfort to the actor.

 

 

 

Alexander Glover as Bottom. Mask by Lara Lotze, Photography by Kade Mendelowitz

 

 

 

 

Kellie Bernstein as Titania, Alexander Glover as Bottom. Mask by Lara Lotze, Lighting by Colby Freel, Photography by Kade Mendelowitz
Kellie Bernstein as Titania, Alexander Glover as Bottom.

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