Not your average masquerade

Familie Flöz’s masked characters express truth beyond the words.

masked characters 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
masked characters 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
If two heads are better than one, then four heads must be far superior when they come together on one stage. Wearing full-face masks throughout their performance, the actors in Hotel Paradiso, a dramatic black comedy set in the lobby of a German mountain resort, transform into their scripted personas as if they have literally taken on a second skin.
The wordless play – centered on an elderly innkeeper whose children are warring over future ownership of the hotel, whose chef cooks up somewhat unconventional meals and whose maid stumbles one day across a corpse – sets out to invoke the imagination of its audience.
“A mask can be so alive, can give me such strong emotions and can touchme so directly,” says play director and co-author Michael Vogel, whohas been creating mask theater for almost 20 years. “[The mask is] notonly a tool – it can really be a full character. I can believe, and Ican carry a story with a mask.”
In order to successfully convey emotion through such a rigid form, theperformers of the Berlin-based Familie Flöz theater company – the groupbehind the production – must be masterful mimes, as the mask precludesspeech. “The body has to express all the feelings, all the moments youare in, and transform them from the inside [out],” says Vogel, who isconstantly training new company members in this unique, wordlesstheater language. “You really have to be very conscious about everymoment. You have to sense every moment in a big form. Also you don’tsee each other so much because you have only these little holes andhave a very small focus, which you must really trust to orientyourself.”
There is no room for improvisation on stage, adds Vogel. Though,paradoxically, this is how Hotel Paradiso – alongwith all of the Familie Flöz’s creations – came to fruition: throughimprovisation, inventiveness and the joint ideas of its actors.
Alongside Vogel, who is also the artistic director of Familie Flöz, theteam of four performers – who will present HotelParadiso in Jerusalem and Holon next week as part of theIsrael Festival – are the writers and creators of the play. “We collectin the beginning a lot of material and sure, we improve it, we try it,we make a lot of theater out of one theme… and then we put it togetherand try to find some story lines and epic moments,” says Vogel,describing the teamwork that has gone into their upcoming production.
Only after the content has been roughly decided upon do the maskbuilders begin to craft the masks that will come to life onstage.“After the masks are in the works, everything changes because the maskssometimes start to tell completely different stories than we imaginedbefore,” says Vogel. The mask is not always designed as originallyenvisioned, and the team either decides to work with it as an entirelydifferent character or sends it back to be remodeled.
The success of the performance also hinges on the audience’s level ofinvolvement, says Vogel. “It’s a theater of imagination, so if thepublic is open to imagine, the masks are wonderful. But if they want toconsume or they are tired, this changes the performance.”
The magic happens when the viewers really believe that the masks areliving characters and not just actors who put on a disguise. “A lot oftimes the masks make it more fun – it’s much more fun for us and alsofor the public,” says Vogel. “For me, the question is always: Why areother theater works not done with masks more often?”
Hotel Paradiso makes its Israeli debut on June 8 at TheJerusalem Theater. For more information:www.israel-festival.org.il