Beyond the mask
By KALEY CONNER
Acting long has been a hobby for Lena Wilting, a foreign exchange student from Germany taking classes at Fort Hays State University.
During a mask acting workshop Thursday afternoon, Wilting was asked to do something she'd never done before. Wearing an ambiguous mask inspired by ancient Greek theater, she relied on body language alone to express several emotions.
"It was amazing, but it was hard," Wilting said, noting she was a little intimidated because she could not see how the audience was responding to her performance.
"But then you just forget. It was amazing; some emotions are easier than others."
The workshop was led by two professional actors with New York-based Aquila Theatre. The company was in Hays on Thursday for an Encore Series presentation of "The Taming of the Shrew."
Using grant funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the theater also offered a scholarly lecture and acting workshop.
The program, "Ancient Greeks/Modern Lives," strives to highlight similarities between the ancient culture and modern society, paying particular attention to veterans' war experiences.
"You do hear very interesting things from people who served during the Korean War, the Vietnam War, so it's interesting for us to do," said James Lavender, an actor with Aquila.
Students of all ages gathered in FHSU's Memorial Union for acting tips.
Five-year-old Spenser Mills-Kulmala barely could contain her excitement. She hopped excitedly during warm-up exercises and cheered in delight when she was chosen as a volunteer for an acting demonstration.
Her secret assignment was simple -- sit in a chair and "do nothing." The audience then tried to assign a narrative based on her expressions.
The exercise was meant to show how powerful body language can be, said professional actor Jamie Bower.
"Just by sitting in a chair not consciously doing anything, we had created two narratives," Bower said. "And that's what drama is, really."
"Thank you," Mills-Kulmala exclaimed, taking a bow after her performance.
High school student Katarina Rorstrom also got to take a turn. She was tasked with improvising a dramatic narrative with Wilting, first using words, and then using only body language.
Rorstrom is home-schooled but participates in some Hays High School plays. She loves acting and is thinking about becoming a drama teacher someday.
"It helped me just being on stage," she said of beginning acting at a young age. "It helped me to develop who I was and to come out of my shell and be able to express myself to people."
The opportunity to learn about mask acting was something new, she said.
"The masks were intriguing because it's not something you see much today."