The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Professional mask artist and actor creates a musical world

Sydney Kuhel performs as a fly in a rehearsal of “Visual Mixtape” on Tuesday, April 3, 2018, in the UI Theatre Building. Visual Mixtape, directed by Joe Osheroff, is a nonverbal, ensemble-based mask show. (The Daily Iowan/Olivia Sun)

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Traveling through an assortment of music genres, the University of Iowa Theater Department will add a graphic component to listening to a mixtape Friday with Visual Mixtape.

Featuring an ensemble of actors all wearing masks, the play contains numerous stories set to various songs. Choreography is added to substitute for the nonexistent dialogue.

“What we’re creating is really a new form of theater,” director Joe Osheroff said. “It’s a hybrid of mask theater, dance theater, and performance art all in one.”

Before coming to the university as a Grant Wood Fellow, Osheroff started and ran a mask-theater company, the Homunculus Mask Theater of New York City.

His love for the unique style was sparked when he studied abroad in college. He took a theater-movement class in which the instructor laid a bunch of theater masks on the stage while music played.

For several hours, Osheroff and his classmates moved to the music while wearing the masks.

“It sort of triggered something in my mind that was something primal, and exciting, and artistic, and new,” Osheroff said. “I sort of became aware and eventually kind of artistically obsessed with the use of masks in the theater. The way [the teacher] approached it wasn’t delicate, it wasn’t sacred, it just was.”

While Osheroff originally came up with the idea of Visual Mixtape, all of the actors made contributions to the narrative, which is made up of several stories.

Zach Twardowski, an M.F.A. student in acting, was drawn to audition for the show so he could become more involved in physical theater.

“I like different forms of storytelling, so the fact that this has no dialogue, but it’s all through movement and the music being played, was interesting to me,” he said.

Twardowski noted that all of the actors need to be fully conscious of their bodies on stage, remembering certain movements as if they were lines.

“In mask theater, every gesture, every movement says something to the audience,” he said. “It’s been really rewarding to trust other people with my body and also to trust them in creating this thing.”

UI freshman Genevieve Eckelaert, the dance captain for the ensemble, said that because of her dance background, she was enthusiastic to be involved in a heavily physical play.

“I appreciate [the play’s] ability to still evoke emotion and still communicate stories and feeling without dialogue,” she said. “When you don’t have dialogue, a lot of the gestures and the movements are much more dramatic.”

Using 42 different masks, Osheroff built a majority of them on his own. He praises the work environment at the university for providing him a studio in which to work on his craft.

“This has been a really freeing experience to come here and have something that’s way more concentrated,” Osheroff said.

With the jarring style of the masks, the actors convey human conflict through their monstrous appearance.

“These are masks that don’t look like actual people; they’re very exaggerated in many ways,” Eckelaert. “I think it’s cool that these things that aren’t quite human evoke human emotions and portray that to the audience.”

Osheroff ultimately views the experience like none other.

“It’s hard to describe what it is, but when you come to watch it, you get it,” Osheroff said. “It’s like watching a live music video, and the music is a mix of different elements.”

When: 8 p.m. Friday & Saturday, 2 p.m. April 8

Where: Theater Building Theatere B

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About the Contributor
Sarah Stortz
Sarah Stortz, Arts Editor
Twitter: @sstortz_
Sarah Stortz is an Arts Editor at The Daily Iowan. She has been on staff since her freshman year, previously as a news reporter, digital producer, and arts reporter. She is a senior at the University of Iowa, studying journalism & mass communication with a certificate in nonprofit management and a minor in theatre arts.