Body language. Its proper use can win battles, earn promotions and find mates, among other things. But in theatre, surprisingly, it can be overlooked. Just ask Gianni Bettucci, one of three directors of Familie Flöz, a premier mask theatre company. 'Our bodies express much more than we think, but nowadays we are overwhelmed with words and verbal communication,' he says. 'We don’t look at bodies anymore.' One fact that mask theatre drives home is this: entire stories can be told through our shoulders. But don’t just take our word for it. Last year, Familie Flöz brought us Hotel Paradiso
, which chronicled relationships in a family-run alpine hotel; now they return with a classic take on life backstage, Teatro Delusio
The Berlin-based Familie Flöz got its start in 1994 with a series of pieces honouring the mining and working-class culture of Germany’s industrial zone, the Ruhrgebiet; Flöz, in fact, describes earth rich in minerals and biomaterials. According to Bettucci, using masks meant reaching a whole new audience by crossing cultural and racial barriers and reinvigorating physical theatre. 'Our goal is to concentrate on body language before we start to speak,' he says. 'What happens between the arrival of an idea, and the words that express it?'
For one thing, making countless masks, which for Teatro comes courtesy of artistic director Hajo Schüler. These masks allow three actors to play an astounding thirty-plus characters. 'The plays narrate universal human themes,' says Teatro director Michael Vogel. 'We have many more possibilities than these figures, yet we often behave [like] one of those archetypes. This is tragic, but also very funny, and with each laugh we recognise ourselves a bit more,' he continues. 'Masks spur our imagination and make us play.'
This is especially true with Teatro Delusio. 'The word "illusion" derives from the Latin "ludere", which means to play,' says Schüler, adding that playing and creating illusions is what theatre is all about. This story focuses on three stagehands: one is tall, clumsy and more comfortable with a book and his pet ferret; another is short, tyrannical and has dreams of being on stage, while still another is portly, competent and hopelessly in love with the opera diva. 'These three are in touch with the stars of the scene, but they remain in the dark,' says Schüler. 'We put them in the [spotlight]. Their dreams, hopes, and fears become visible, and, like in every comedy, they fail.'
As the stagehands try to keep order, the three actual performers defy logistics making rapid changes in their own chaotic backstage area, reappearing as musicians, singers, dancers, an impresario, a janitor and other stage folk, all telling non-verbal stories with wry humour, slapstick comedy and a touch of pathos. But Teatro was designed to honour the unsung heroes of theatre. Schüler recalls the Flöz team sitting in a closed venue during an Italian tour, watching technicians prepare an anniversary celebration for local firefighters. 'We sat in the dark where no one could see us, watching the staff set up the scenery, the sound – someone even brought in flowers,' he recalls. 'It was so beautiful to see what was not meant to be seen in a theatre,' he continues. 'So we put together all our experiences about life backstage and devised the play.' Now it’s our turn to see behind the curtain.