Finding Joy: an exclusive look behind the mask

For an exclusive look behind the scenes of full mask theatre, we talked to Vamos Theatre's founder and Artistic Director, Rachael Savage. 

After working nationally and internationally for fifteen years Rachael founded Vamos Theatre in 2006. As Artistic Director of the company her role varies from writer, director and actor, to workshop leader, drama consultant for schools, and university lecturer. 

Rachael trained at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. Rachael steers the company's creative vision and direction and creates all of Vamos' artistic programme from arts in health, to walkabout, to full scale touring shows. 

Why did you choose to work in mask theatre; what makes it stand out from other performing arts?

When I was 13 I discovered Trestle Theatre and the world of full mask opened up in front of my eyes. Full mask is a powerful and emotive theatre genre. Because there are no spoken words we find that the audience engages more fully with the action and forms a stronger, deeper, emotional attachment to what is happening on the stage. It's a perfect form in which to explore the social history that inspires Vamos' work.

It's amazing how those masks come to life during the performance, how much do costumes, set design and music play into that?

Our Designer and Associate Artist, Carl Davies, has such an incredible eye for detail - from the overall set design, down to the final clasp on a shoe, or piece of tape wrapped purposefully around Joy's handbag. So much of the story is held in the visual so we must make sure we get it right! And what's not in the visual is in the sound. Our Composer, Janie Armour, uses music in so many different clever ways - to reflect an emotional shift, as a character's theme tune, to place us in time and even to create pace and heighten drama. I have worked with Janie for over 15 years and we now link storytelling, structure and music side by side.

What is involved in the process of creating the masks? 

It's quite a straightforward collaboration. I research and write each show over a 2-year process and part of this process is to write a character description for each mask that needs making. Our mask maker is called Russell Dean, who's the founder of Strangeface, a mask company based in Kent. Once our show's characters have been developed, Russell makes clay models of each mask, first in maquette (a scale model), then at full size. Once these are approved (we often debate the size of a nose, or how ugly or anxious they might be) they are cast in plastic using a vacuum-former machine, painted, varnished, and wigged. The wigs are so important.

How would you entice someone who has had no experience with mask theatre to come and see Finding Joy?

When Finding Joy was performed at the Edinburgh Fringe the Edinburgh Reporter kindly said (along with 5*****), 'You cannot go home and face your loved ones with any excuse whatsoever for missing it. Have some compassion for your future memories.'

We are touring Finding Joy for one very last time in the UK (it has toured for 7 years throughout Britain, Europe, Scandinavia and China) so if you'd like to see it in England, what better place than The Corn Exchange, Newbury!

Finding Joy will return to our stage on Wednesday 31 October, 7.45pm. You can find out more about the show and watch the trailer here.

Alongside with  Finding Joy, we're excited to work with Vamos Theatre to bring Sharing Joy, a show tailored to people living with dementia, to care homes this summer. You can find out more here.