Kate Braidwood returns to the University of Victoria behind a mask of her own making this month. One of three members of Wonderheads, she’s both the performer and creator of the mask that is the lead character in Loon.
Returning as the Spotlight on Alumni performance, Braidwood earned her BFA in Acting at the University of Victoria, before heading to the an MFA in Ensemble Based Physical Theatre from Dell’Arte International. It was here she met the other two backbones of the Wonderheads theatre company, her now husband Andrew Phoenix, Wonderheads co-founding artistic director, and Emily Windler, associate head.
“The best description we’ve come to is calling ourselves ‘live action Pixar’ which is nice, it gives something people can relate to, something they know,” Braidwood said. “It’s true in a few ways, there’s a similar whimsy and tone and a cartoonish style, and our work is good for adults and for kids – it works on two levels. The main difference is Pixar is made for kids first … we’re kind of the other way around.”
In Loon, Braidwood becomes Francis, a lonely janitor with a wild imagination and a fascination with the moon. He has hit rock bottom and there’s nowhere to go, but up. Performed in full-face mask, the wordless, whimsical love story blends physical theatre and comedy.
The mask she wears, to convey the spectrum of emotions, is of her own making.
“We create our shows from the ground up,” she said. “(Dell’Arte) is where I fell in love with masks. I’d done some mask work at UVic and those were highlights for me of my time at UVic. In reflection I see it as stepping stones.”
She discovered a love for building, performing and focussing on mask work.
“The reason I love it is it’s such a whimsical, imaginative form and it makes for awesome theatre. There’s this magical element to masks. They come to life on stage (in a way) that you wouldn’t expect they could,” she said.
The expressions change to suit the narrative in a combination of the actor’s movements, and the mask’s creation.
“Both aspects are really important. How it’s created affords the performer opportunities to use the mask in different ways,” Braidwood said. “People often think it’s lighting that changes the shift in expression, and that helps, but the lighting is often different in every space we go to so it’s not something we can rely on. It’s how the mask is made and how the actors physicalize.”
Bringing her show to the Phoenix Theatre Oct. 14 to 24 is a full circle of sorts back to her early years as a UVic student.
“I remember the first Spotlight on Alumni I saw as a student was the Old Trout Puppet Workshop. It’s nice to be now going back and being that Spotlight on Alumni.”
Braidwood and Phoenix offer a free pre-show lecture Oct. 16 at 7 p.m. about the various acting styles used when working with masks and how these influenced their work. All Loon performances are followed by a talkback session with the artists.
Shows are Oct. 14 , 15, 16, 17, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24 at 8 p.m. Oct. 24 features a 2 p.m. matinee.
Tickets are $15 student / $20 senior /$25 adult /$25 weekends or a season subscription is $37.50 for three plays or $50 for four plays.
Visit phoenixtheatres.ca or call the box office 250-721-8000.