I am a Baltimore-born Filipina-American theatre artist who is passionate about physical theatre and mask performance.
My mission as a theatre artist is to bring audacity, audience interaction and theatrical size to stages in the US. I'm sick of static talking heads on a stage. I want to seed the desire for transformational, imaginative, presentational theatre that requires the actor to engage with the audience with potency, with vibrating emotions, with trembling muscles.
I train actors who will engage their audiences by the strength of their assertion and the truth inherent in that boldness. I make happen the work that makes me excited: devised, comedic, poetic, contemporary, ensemble theatre work with a high level of stylization. I make work which is socially ripe for confrontation, which gives a voice to biased points of view, and is unapologetically optimistic about what humans can achieve without the rose-tinted idealism that glazes over the effort such triumphs will require. I serve actors who are both under-served and over-served in the greater Baltimore/Washington region. I work with the greatest people on the planet, and I aim to keep doing so for a long time to come.
Founded in movement study and devising for the stage, my movement design for the stage and classroom is influenced by the work of Jacques Lecoq, clown performance, and an examination of rhythms that manifest in character and play creation. I continue to invent new theatre mask pedagogy with original mask sets as a means of expanding the use of mask and the body in traditional American theatre education, with the intent of changing how bodies are trained for theatre work and for life.
RESEARCH AND PROFESSIONAL CONTRIBUTIONS
Currently I have 3 new mask pedagogical studies in different stages of research, design and execution, all of which are aimed at expanding mask use in educational environments. They are:
1) Emotion Masks for Assisting Development of Emotional Intelligence in Youth: A creative way to answer youth in Baltimore and around the world that are calling out for ways to find and mindfully cultivate empathy for one another.
2) ARCHETYPES, aka Actor GPS: Using knowledge of and physical classroom research in western and eastern media archetypal characters to connect K-12 Literature students to greater love and comprehension of story.
3) Masks for Good: Masks and performance training tools in service of students whose challenging daily existence might be aided by a theatrical bullhorn/ performance, aka, social justice play writing in West Africa.
WAXING MOON MASKS COMPANY
In 2010, I created the Waxing Moon Masks Company as a way to birth more mask work in Baltimore, and introduce area actors and audiences to larger stylized mask play. Waxing Moon offers education/consultation in mask performance, and we create custom mask designs. In all but a few cases when we have hired other artists to participate in a project we were doing, Waxing Moon is Tara Cariaso, the exception of which is my wonderful husband Aaron Elson who completes various administrative and technical tasks for the company. Under this umbrella name, I have created more than 200 original designs for clients around the world, and have collaborated with numerous companies and university classrooms via workshops/residencies across Maryland. (See www.waxingmoonmasks.com).
PRODUCING NEW PLAYS
In 2012, using funds from Waxing Moon Mask commissions, I began staging and producing original theatre works: since then WMM has solely produced or support-produced 4 original shows for Baltimore audiences, all of which featured masks and heightened physical performance. Among plays (mostly short works) commissioned for WMM that have been performed in Baltimore, one full length play was also commissioned and produced, entitled ONE GLITZ WISH by long time collaborator, playwright Kristin Harrison in 2014 by The Strand Theatre. Embodying all my deepest valued elements of theatre performance, (fiercely engaged bodies, ferocious hungers, masks, comedy, archetypes, deconstruction of social taboos, playfully present and improvisational relationships with the audience,) GLITZ talked about how little girls are forced to perform their gender from a painfully young age, and with comedy and physical theatre, it united the gender performance of a little girl beauty pageant with the plausibility of empowered, glittered, fabulous choice to dress and be whoever you know yourself to be. And ducks. You'll just have to see for yourself on the links below.
EXPANDING THE PURPOSE OF MASKS AND BEING AN ARTS AMBASSADOR
Last year, in 2016, I traveled to Liberia, West Africa to experience my pedagogy work in action with masks I made exclusively for the arts students of nonprofit, B4 Youth Theatre. I was there to put 3 years of work and guessing and hoping and wondering to rest, and to see for myself if my work was beneficial to the young people in their important work. In 2014-15, while the young people of Liberia were trying to stay alive during the Ebola outbreak, I was safe in the US, designing masks and training materials to assist them in making their important stories and messages louder to their communities. I had talked to them online. I had read their workbooks. Elated to finally meet the students who have been working with me remotely over space and time, I trained with young people whose cultural experience is nearly completely bereft of theatre or performative contexts for over 3 weeks and learned a great deal about my work, my intentions, my passions, this work, and what does and doesn't fit into their world. Please join me on this page.
WHAT I'VE LEARNED AS A LONG TIME EDUCATOR IN THEATRE
An Everyman Theatre Teaching Artist since 2014 serving drama classrooms across the state, I have also worked with many Baltimore/Washington theatres such as The Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, Faction of Fools, The Strand Theater of Baltimore, Mobtown Players, and Ambassador Theatre Cultural Center, as well as west coast companies like The San Francisco Mime Troupe, The Dell’Arte Company and Sojourn Theatre Company. Year round, I teach workshops for thespian festivals and theatre conferences, and provide residency training in schools around the US. What I have learned through this extensive look into the modern theatre student's education is that students lack classroom supported knowledge in 2 primary areas: How to use their bodies to serve a play beyond executing the director's blocking, and Recognizing themselves in the acting work. My work aims to provide students with experiences in physical theatre training that will allow them to more easefully answer these questions.
I received my MFA from the Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre with an emphasis on Ensemble-generated work, a BA from UMBC in performance, and a certificate of achievement for mask making and performance instruction from the Sartori Centro Maschere e Strutture Gestuali. In 2 years time I will begin my doctoral research on masks performance traditions and their educational purposes within their culture. In the mean time, however, I'm writing several articles for publishing that consider my work with the students of Liberia and mask performance from different perspectives: including 1 ) the point of view I bring as a potential 'colonial' force in a country that doesn't need to be force fed any more western ideals, 2) that of the well meaning theatre practitioner who wanted to be helpful to people whose culture I didn't deeply understand, and 3) That of the social scientist that hopes to learn a little more about her own tools when thrown into a uniquely challenging circumstance.
I hope my portfolio will give you a strong sense of the direct and indirect ways in which my work in theatre is finding greater focus. Thanks for your time on my pages today.