Behind the Mask: Theatre 290

Behind the Mask: Theatre 290


Nessa Mora


With the Spring semester swiftly drawing to a close, one class from this semester that deserves to be highlighted is Masks and Mask-making, taught by Technical Director, Interim Scenic and Lighting  Designer, and Adjunct Instructor Joshua Christ. 

Christ, who is a recent graduate of University of Missouri Kansas City, developed his love for masks after a five-week graduate internship with a professional mask maker who worked out of Portland, Oregon. While working for the mask maker, Christ says he developed the techniques and skills required by the craft. He also was able to cultivate a knowledge of the different styles of masks across various cultures. 

Although he has developed an impressive list of professional positions which he has held, the Shannon Center has been Christ’s first full-time position out of graduate school. Christ says that when Professor of Theatre & Communication Arts and Whittier College’s Director for the Center for Collaboration with the Arts Jennifer Holmes approached him about developing a new class for the department, he was confident he would be able to teach students the techniques and styles he had learned in his internship. Christ said, “Masks are something I’ve always found interesting and fun … a way to peer into a different culture, a different perspective. They’re a great tool, in my opinion, for someone who doesn’t like to go out there and get on stage.” He added that one is able to put an extra layer between oneself and the audience with masks, allowing the wearer to fully immerse themselves in the character and the role they are playing.

The class is centered around three main projects. The first project focuses on creating something out of nothing: Christ provides students with a bucket of scrap materials such as batteries, coils, and miscellaneous objects and encourages students to think creatively about the materials. He says the project stretches his students’ imagination and creativity, testing the possibilities of what they can conceive out of uncommon materials. The next two projects are a paper mache mask and a neoprene mask. Christ says that these projects rely heavily on clay molding and casting, and he is constantly exploring new materials to work with for these assignments. 

This semester, students studied the cultural context of masks and their creation process. While the projects themselves have remained the same from the first time he offered this class, Christ chose to have each project based on a new culture or style in some way. He says that he based this decision on his students’ general interests. The mask styles the class explored this semester included Greek, Commedia, Noh, and Balinese. Christ emphasizes that regardless of what direction the class seems to go, he plans to always incorporate the six basic human emotions. These six emotions are expressions and attitudes which are cross-culturally recognized, and which form the basis, he says, for acting on stage. 

Christ says that the feedback he received from this class in the past was invaluable moving forward with this semester’s version of the class. He says that students have responded positively, both in the past and now, to the creative process of mask making. Second-year Whittier Scholars major, Alexa Lidskin says she initially was drawn to the class as part of her major, which combines theatre and cultural film classes. Lidskin says that although the class is more hands-on than she anticipated, Christ has been helpful in refining students’ skills and providing valuable feedback. 

As far as the workload is concerned, Lidskin says that it is relative to other classes she has taken on campus and manageable, as long as students stay on top of their projects. First-year and double major in Theater and Psychology Dianna Torres mirrors Lidskin’s thoughts as far as class involvement and the workload goes. “I decided to take the mask-making class because I was very intrigued by how masks are made and the different types of masks,” Torres said. “You are making your own mask with the help of your professor and the other students around you.” Both students highlighted the life cast and plaster masks as their favorite assignments.

Although this class will not be offered next semester or next Spring, Christ will be teaching a drafting and design class in the Fall and a stagecraft class in the Spring. However, the possibility remains that the class may return in the future, and there’s no doubt that this class is one students will want to keep an eye out for.