Interview Series – Carnival Knowledge

Birgit Schreyer Duarte from TWINWERKS’s “THE PIANO TUNER” interviews Rob Faust about his production


1. I am new to this genre, puppet and mask theatre–but your work as presented on your company website looks very intriguing. What drew you to this art form in the first place?

Carnival Knowledge3

The seeds of my mask career were no doubt planted in my youth growing up in New Orleans wearing masks on Mardi Gras day every carnival season. But it was years later, after discovering dance and theatre, that I eventually found my passion for making masks and using them in performance. Only recently has Faustwork Mask Theatre started to work with puppets in earnest; and still we are just eccentric characters playing with our ‘toys’. I’m sure good puppeteers cringe when they see Faustwork’s our brand of ‘playing-with-toys’ puppetry.

2. Can you define what it is that sets your work with masks and puppets apart from others who work in this niche? (Or is it a niche??)

Usually the masks come first, and the performance piece comes after. I was a dancer/choreographer first, a theatre improv afficionado next, and a mask maker/creator of theatre pieces third. So the ‘writing’ of a piece comes from improvising; from the mouths of half masks; from dancing and moving and playing. Then I write (and re-write ten times) words on a page. I’m not sure; maybe I’m not alone in this way of working.

3. It sounds like this play, Carnival Knowledge, is partly autobiographic. Could you tell me more about the link between this show and your own personal experience?

The link couldn’t be more direct. I do characters in this show who are real people I’ve known, others who are types from New Orleans, and others who are broadly speaking ‘me’ at various stages of my life: altar boy, team captain, hippie, and dancer. New Orleans itself is almost a character in Carnival Knowledge. It’s a piece I’ve wanted to make for a long time.

Carnival Knowledge24. What is Carnival Knowledge about? What kinds of issues are you exploring with it? How would you say this can be done better by a mask show than a “normal” actor performance?

New Orleans is odd racially. There’s still a lot of bigotry and racism, but there’s also a lot of love going on face to face between black and white individuals. So I’m looking at the difference between race to race and face to face. The masks are compelling, produce a heightened state of reality. I can wear the mask of a black man, leave my white neck and ears and hands showing and allow the audience to go with the illusion or not. The influence on white on black and black on white right literally in view. And…with masks I can BE a crowd on the street watching a parade go by.

5. What does a “typical” creation process look like when you develop a new show? Do you prefer to start with the image of the masks or the plot or an overall theme or kernel of inspiration?

Mask, plot, and theme take turns finding the in shape of a piece. I have dozens and dozens or masks staring at me, all the saying “please Rob take me off the wall and wear me, let me mix it up with some of my neighbors up here. The masks that speak the loudest suggest a theme at some point; plot and story are developed later as the masked characters start to move, discuss, and play with the themes.

6. In what ways are collaborations with other artists (what some of your past shows seem to have been) on puppet shows different from working on performances with “regular” actors? Do you remain the key designer for the puppets or do you open the creation process up to others in that field as well?

99% of what Faustwork does is with masks rather than puppets. So far I am the sole mask maker, since I’m willing to work for 32 cents an hours for days on end, to create masks that might be used in four years, or never. I love that time alone with the clay and the tools and the paint. Where I need help is with the playing and the developing of the business for stage.

Carnival Knowledge17. Are there noticable differences in the puppet / mask theatre community in the United States and in Canada? How would you describe their specific qualities, if there are any?

I don’t really see a difference between the US and Canada in that regard. The Scandinavian countries do great, highly polished, great puppet theatre with high production values.

8. What other media / art forms / individuals / cultural influences inspire your work?

Inspiration comes from many sources: the mirror, friends, sculpture, photography, cartoons, people on the street, time spent in Bali, Balinese and African masks, dreams, a desire to make people laugh, the need to address my own contradictions, and the overriding desire to play.

9. What would you like the audience of SummerWorks to take away with them after seeing your show?

I want people to feel looser, broader in their own identities, that is, to get in touch with parts of themselves that don’t get much air time. I want people to laugh and think and cry. (I don’t ask much, eh.)

10. Do you have any special connection to Toronto and/or its theatre community?

I moved to Toronto for love, and now I love Toronto. I greatly enjoy the people mix, the life of little villages all over town, the wealth of food and arts, and the efficiency of my bicycle and public transportation. One of the reasons I applied for SummerWorks was to get more involved with the theatre community here. Over the last 8 years I’ve done far more work in the states, where I got started, and now I’m hoping to open doors here in my new “home town”, make new shows to do here, make masks for other companies, collaborate, be in other people’s show.