Before we could go ahead with sound testing, we faced two dilemmas; the first was how to keep the mask off the face. Our initial ideas were for either a skull cap or a thick headband, upon which the mask would rest. We settled on the skull cap for two reasons: practicality (just how would we attach a mask to a headband/visor arrangement?) and precedent (David Wiles’ and Chris Vervain’s masked experiments used skull caps to good effect).
We made the skull cap itself with the same plaster-impregnated gauze used for the casts of the actors’ faces. For our test models, we used the Styrofoam heads (courtesy of Sally's Beauty Supply for $2-3) used to store the masks from previous plays. I covered the crown of the head with Vaseline (later plastic wrap worked just as well), then laid down three or four layers of the plaster. My first skullcap (Picture 1) was too big; my second, at 4in. by 4 in., was much more workable.
Then we soaked the birdseye cotton in the wheat paste/white glue mix and used it to cover the vaselined Styrofoam head. We had a problem with excess fabric over the crown; this fabric template (Picture 2) helped us cut down on that problem. This template will need to be adjusted for the size of the face, though. The glue takes about a day to dry.
Then out came the hardware. (Picture 3) Using a hacksaw, I cut 1-inch lengths from a ½ inch wide dowel. (We were told later that furniture stores sell these pre-cut for repairs; we may test this later.) After testing several types of tacks and nails, we settled on regular thumb tacks with wide heads. The real nails were thicker and had smaller heads; these sometimes split the dowels, and the small heads made them hard to hammer in at a proper angle.
It’s much easier from here if you tack the dowels to the skullcap from below, making a sort of pre-fab skullcap (Picture 4), which you then cover with the mask itself. I blackened the top of the dowels with a marker so that we could target them through the mask. We then (carefully!) tacked the mask onto the dowels. Pushing the tacks in and then tightening with the hammering was less perilous than hammering the whole time.
This leaves the mask off the face so that the actor’s jaw is free of interference--and we hope so that the actor's voice resonates in a powerful way. Picture 5 is the complete construction from the inside, so you can see the dowels and lower tacks, and Picture Six is from the top with the upper tacks.
The second dilemma that I mentioned earlier is the reason that none of these test masks have an open mouth—we don’t know how high, how wide, or what shape the mouth needs to be for the best sound quality. We plan to find out by making several experimental masks, with a variety of mouth sizes and shapes, and taking them out to our “sound lab” and stage, R-MWC’s Dell.
Next up: making a full face to cast.