Kate Braidwood spends her life hiding behind a mask.
When she came to the University of Victoria to study fine art, she got a taste of performing with the unique form of camouflage. Further education took her to Dell’Arte International a school that trains students in the art of physical theatre.
“Yes, you can get an MFA in ensemble-based physical theatre,” Braidwood says with a soft chuckle.
“Part of the training at Dell’Arte is studying masks. I’d done it a little at UVic, and I remembered I had such a good time doing it – it was a stepping stone along the way to my interest at Dell’Arte,” the 2003 grad says.
For her thesis she had to create and perform a piece, which grew into her theatre company, Wonderheads.
“I wanted to explore this wordless form,” she says. “What I love about it so much is that it captures the magic of live theatre. What happens with the masks … you have to see it live to see it come to life. It’s hard to describe.”
Braidwood studied mask performance with Joan Schirle and Ronlin Foreman, mask design with Bruce Marrs and worked with Berlin-based mask company Familie Flöz. In 2009 she teamed up with fellow Dell’Arte graduate, Andrew Phoenix, to create the Wonderheads, now based in Portland Ore.
The performances use full-face masks, it’s a wordless form that mixes European larval mask traditions with character mask styles, resulting in a craft rarely seen on North American stages.
“(The mask) is static. It doesn’t technically move but it does,” she says. “It’s a magical thing – it shouldn’t happen but it does and you have to see it live to experience it. It’s magical and whimsical, I love that about it. It has to be theatre to happen.”
Braidwood admits it’s a demanding art form. “I love it for its magic and whimsy, but also because it’s really challenging. It never gets boring.”
The unique art form will be on display at UVic’s Phoenix Theatre Oct. 13 to 23, as the Wonderheads bring their show LOON to Victoria.
“I’m excited to come back to the Phoenix for the alumni show. It’s so cool and an honour to be selected,” she says.
LOON is a love story that whisks a man to the moon and back. Francis, a lonely janitor is plagued by isolation and tickled by whispers of childhood imagination and believes plucking the moon from the sky might bring him love.
“It wasn’t created as a family show. It’s cartoonish in style but it deals with things like love and loneliness,” says Braidwood. LOON is recommended for ages 8 and up.