Paolo Busi – Interview (Part 2)

Masks – like all human beings – are able to feel tenths of emotions.

Photo credit: Viviana Porru

1. Paolo, we met for the first time on your workshop called: „Impromask”.
How did it happen that you got involved into masks? What came first in your life Masks or Improv?

First was improv. I started as an improviser, but after a while I felt I need some theatre training and in Bologna there is a theatre school focused in Commedia Dell’Arte, so I got in touch with the masks.

2. Why did you want to combine both of these things? How using masks changed you as an improviser?

At first I was looking to create a political improv show, something where improv could be used to talk about our World, our society, about inequalities. In Commedia, each mask portrayed a social class; Pantalone the ones who don’t have to work to live, Arlecchino the underclass and so on: using masks seemed a great idea. At first.

So we started developing our masks, to portray modern society. We spent months looking like a marxist-leninist collective from the 70’s : “Do you think that the Immigrant will ever be in a positive relationship with the Temp? And what about women?“
And at the same time we were undertaking massive mask training.
Then the time of putting everything together came and we discovered that in improv there is too much worthless stuff. Every time we were trying to improvise something the masks were pulling us in a different direction. You cannot ignore the mask while improvising with it. For example, we soon learned that you cannot just switch masks between actors: each body is a different character and you have to make this character real, so different actors, wearing the same mask create different type of the same character. And we learned how deeply you cannot hide behind a joke: the masks doesn’t allow you to do it.

We had to relearn improv, discovering how much energy is being wasted in a normal improv scene: you can get the same result with less.

We learned a lot about audiences also: the relationship between masks and audience is wonderful and we learned how to make the audience look where we want them to look, their desires, what they really see.

And politics, of course. You can change the actors and the countries, but relationships between masks remain the same. Always. You have someone who is dominated and someone dominating them and those masks are always the same. Masks are cruel and tender at the same time.

3. There are different kinds of masks. What kind of masks do you use and why?

We chose half-masks, like the one used in Commedia dell’Arte. They leave the mouth free, so they can speak. We wanted to be as close to “normal” improv as possible. Now I am experimenting with larval masks: a less political result, but interesting anyway.

4. Is a mask workshop used only to improve skills or is also used to make entire improvised shows with the masks?

We developed a couple of improvised show with the masks. After all the original idea was to create a show to process society. We managed to develop a two actors only show: an helzapoppin of mask changes, but it works!

5. The experience with the masks was very intense for me. After while I understood that masks train not only physical aspects and they don’t allow to drop the character but also they train being present and taking care of ourselves as improvisers. How would you describe what one can learn at „Impromask workshops”?

Masks push everything to the extreme from the physical aspects (body and voice) to the dramaturgical one: like in Commedia masks walk along a narrow path, pursuing happiness while trying to escape death at the same time. This is a wonderful place for an improviser to stay: think about having to tell your beloved one how much you love her while her father is pursuing you with a club. And masks love to be pushed on that narrow path.

What an improviser can learn from masks depends on what he is looking for. Maybe the skill to drop into a character in a split second, maybe a better use of the body and the voice, or to develop physical comedy routines, or how to use the stage at its best. Or the wide range of human emotions.

The most important thing masks teach – in my opinion – are Presence and Authenticity. In Impromask you learn, how to be there wholly, because as soon as you get into your head the audience will just see you with something on your face, no more than the mask you were portraying.

But at the same time the mask is a sculpture you wear on your face: it is up to you to give her a believable range of emotion. Often improvisors know just a few emotions: Rage, Fear, Sadness and few more of your choice. Masks – like all human beings – are able to feel tenths of emotions. So learning to improvise with masks means learning to portray the full range of human emotions.

Once the pupil learned what he wanted to learn, he will not be obliged to use the mask anymore: those are skills that remain. So even a few hours workshop can teach a lot.

Thank you very much Paolo for the interview!

Contact Paolo by:

Interview by Monika Ozdarska
Photo credit:
Viviana Porru
Edited by Katarzyna Anna Dąbrowska