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A Tempestuous Mask

Stuart T. Wagner • Answer Box • August 7, 2007

Through the use of advanced latex prosthetics, three students at East Carolina University — senior drama major J. T. Pitt, junior Jamie Makely and senior Chris Eubanks — were instrumental in morphing sophomore actor Wesley Curtis into a half-man, half-fish Caliban for a production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. For each of the six scheduled shows, as well as for the three dress rehearsals, these students created an entire set of the five-part mask Curtis wore as Caliban. While the concept seemed simple enough in theory, this feat took several months of research and much trial-and-error on the part of the students involved.

Pitt began his search on the Internet, investigating the animal kingdom for a likely model to use for the scaly Caliban. After one was found, a cast was made of actor Wes Curtis’ face using a slow-setting alginate — the same material dentists use to make castings of people’s teeth. This form was then filled with plaster, resulting in a 35-pound replica of Curtis’ head.
This casting was then used to make castings of portions of Curtis’ head. The more manageable specific castings then were used as forms upon which to build the Caliban face, which was sculpted in clay. A casting was then made of the clay Caliban models, and a reverse of the monster’s guise was created. At this point, a latex-filled sandwich was made to construct the actual mask parts. Each mask piece was baked at 185 de-grees for three hours — a process that required constant monitoring.
Additionally, Caliban’s fish-like appearance needed to extend seamlessly from the latex mask to a painted unitard. As part of his costume, the actor wore a pair of pants and a cape that appeared to be hand-sewn from remnants of Caliban’s shed skin, thus keep-ing his color palette consistent and his overall appearance that of a wild creature. Col-oration, including teeth and tongue makeup, were added as finishing touches, along with false fingers and nails. Caliban was ready to skulk across the stage.

Stuart T. Wagner is a freelance photojournalist from Apex, North Carolina.

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