Working a retail mall job can be boring. Mine, however, required assembling furniture accents and artwork and placing them on the sales floor. Fortunately I stayed pretty busy with the latest items and helping customers get them to their car.
One very interesting night was Halloween, when the mall sponsored a safe, weather-resistant option for goblins and their families. We weren’t doing much business that night so I got to see all the kids, costumes and parental-type guardians stroll the “neighborhood.”
Here came a ghost, then a princess, a Batman and Batwoman! Then a clown (my daughter finds them disturbing for some reason) and now Frankenstein. Many had plastic masks tied on that completed the character. In fact, many kids stopping by would just look at me, eyes focused through holes in the mask, defiant in their masquerade. They were the character they chose and fully engaged in the role.
It was a big mall and after a couple hours, I started to see the same trick-or-treaters wander by. But something had changed. They were getting tired, especially the little ones (and accompanying adults, no doubt). Though the character mask still covered their face, their bodies were done—lifeless arms with treat-filled goody bags swinging via the weight of the spoils, legs stumbling along, an occasional mask-muffled whine coming from a deflated superhero.
What struck me most was that the expression of the molded masks seemed to change! No longer did the clown look happy, the princess shine, nor the monster appear frightening. Batman and Batwoman were nowhere near prepared to take on Gotham City evil-doers.
Same molded plastic mask. Same position on the tricksters face. What happened?
The masks now looked, well…expressionless, almost neutral, more scary in a way as they were lifeless. A dead princess with frozen, princess-like expression? I’m beginning to see where my daughter gets weirdness from a clown, especially if they’re not moving!
Ah, that may be it! It’s the motion, the energy of the body supporting the mask that makes it animate, that brings it alive! To get to that state, it takes belief by the Actor that they really are who they’re portraying. Mind and body engaged through belief means an energized mask in sync with the rest of the persona.
I’ve witnessed businesspeople (and surely have done it myself) who have the mask on but the rest of their being doesn’t support what’s on their face. It may be their body belying the expression, or possibly the eyes where authenticity lies. Maybe they’re not feeling well yet have donned the necessary veil to survive that business day. It’s possible they’ve lost belief in what they’re doing and therefore the energy to be on.
Whatever the situation, the whole person, with all its parts engaged is critical for the authentic, believable portrayal of a role. Skilled, mature Actors know this—they accept the energy they have that day and ground themselves in authenticity first, then stretch to hit the required notes of the performance.
If prepping for Halloween, notice how engaged you are when donning your
costume, how your character is fully in gear when first seeing people, how over time the energy may fade and how that bloody-ax-in-the-head apparatus may have lost its horror. It takes energy to sustain your role and finesse to leverage the energy you have at the moment.
Don’t worry. You’re still scary. Aren’t you?
Your stage. Your Halloween performance. You’re on!