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Edinburgh Fringe 2022 

A. George
Hiding Behind the Mask:  
Jesters, Jokers and Clowns

A masterclass about the hidden meaning behind characters from ancient Greek theatre, commedia dell’arte, film, television and slapstick. From Greek Tragedy and Satyr to Japanese Noh Theatre and Chinese Opera, the world of theatre has discovered a way to hide the realities and truths from themselves and the world around them. Join New York Professor Rosemary George, along with a distinguished panel of directors, producers and poets, as she takes you on a lecture tour through the joys and sorrows, comedies and tragedies of life through the lens of theatrical masks.


Hi Rosemary, it is great to get the chance to talk with you again, how have you been keeping?


I am thrilled to be back at the Fringe in a new role that of – Lecturer in a Master Class.

Back in 2014 we spoke ahead of your Stupid Cupid: The Girl Group Era run at C nova at C venues, what was that experience like being part of such a milestone Fringe?


When you and I were first introduced, it was for my upcoming performance of Stupid Cupid: the girl group era at C NOVA in 2014.  The rain poured down on us the entire week, but that didn’t stop the audiences from entering the venue and enjoying the familiar tunes. However, that was not my first appearance at the Fringe. I sang at the Overseas House on Princess Street as part of the New York Broadway Duo. It was the 50th Anniversary of the Fringe and equally as exciting!  It was one of C Venues earliest places. I remember it vividly, because we took the train from London to Edinburgh (on the same day as the performance) and we were late. The audience were waiting for us. We had performed in the Barbican Foyer the night before. A wonderful 10 days that started out with a lot of stress!

What does it mean to you to be back at the Fringe, and C digital, with Hiding Behind the Mask: jesters, jokers, and clowns?


The 75th Anniversary is exhilarating! And because Covid has hit New York so hard, I didn’t want to fly abroad this summer, so I entered the festival with this Mask Lecture.

Can you tell me a little bit about how Hiding Behind the Mask: jesters, jokers, and clowns came about, where did the inspiration for this Masterclass come from?


Simply put, for my college lectures, I needed a segue into early Baroque Opera in 1600. Greek Tragedy, the stories, the form, style, philosophies all played into this. The chorus (commentary on the action), and Masks! Men played women’s roles and used masks to keep their identities straight with the audience.  Other ancient cultures practiced this: Japanese Noh Theatre, Chinese Opera, various Indian and African rituals. Also, Baroque Opera used boys and men only early on – the castrati. Everybody turning a blind eye and deaf ear to these practices. Why?

Then of course, commedia dell’arte began at this time with women on stage for the first time: it inspired all improvisational comedy going forward with characters we all know, love, and despise.  More Masks!  More hidden identities. Masked characters interacting on stage with those unmasked: a big part of Animation today in film, television commercials, cartoons, superhero movies and game playing.

For the Edinburgh Festival, I have spent over two years on this. When I first proposed The Mask Lecture to Hartley Kemp at C ARTS, he accepted it. We both decided it would be best NOT to do a regular Zoom lecture, but to film it, like a documentary. Otherwise, it would be a problem finding a time that didn’t leave out a large portion of the globe in addition to all the connective problems.

What have been some of the biggest challenges you faced bringing this Masterclass to life?


Finding an all- inclusive title, sticking to its parameters, finding a thread or two to connect the thoughts. Then cutting it down to 1 hour and 20 minutes.

Initially, it was at least 5 to 6 hours long.  It’s a massive study and a topic that could easily go in any direction. I would wake up at night sending myself emails with new thoughts, music, poetry, films, and topics to use.  It was all over the place.

But in the end, very rewarding and extremely exhausting!

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"Many top performers admit that you learn your craft when you teach. I am a firm believer in that. Whether a performer or educator, you are always learning and growing."

Who were involved in Hiding Behind the Mask?

I was fortunate to have a few expert people involved who strongly believed in this project, Including the master himself, Hartley Kemp at C ARTS. Thanks to the following: Robert O’Haire (film maker); Erol DeLos Santos (communications, trailer design, videos, and all things mechanical); Artist, Anthony Grayson (images). Without them, this would be a lot of words in a document saved on my laptop.

What has been the most valuable lesson you have taken away from creating this Masterclass and what does this show say about you as an academic and performer?


I divide my time between the stage and the college classroom. I enjoy both. Sharing ideas with City University students (of all ages) from around the world creates a challenge. However, their cultures and diversities play into the mix of the topics, as we share ideas and learn from each other. Many top performers admit that you learn your craft when you teach. I am a firm believer in that. Whether a performer or educator, you are always learning and growing. If you stop, the challenge ends. Each semester, I tell my students.” I cannot present to you, in 15 three -hour sessions, everything I have learned about music and its relationships since I was 5 years old. It’s not happening. However, you will learn a lot because I choose what I think you can take with you and retain.”

And finally, what do you want your fringe audiences to take away from Hiding Behind the Mask: jesters, jokers, and clowns?

That’s a tough one. The next time you watch a movie, turn on the television, read a poem, stare at a painting, have a serious conversation with someone, become philosophically engaged, look at a homeless person, listen to your political leaders - be aware that life is not black and white, right, or wrong. That you need to look inside your fantasy world as well as theirs, in order to perceive the world through those Masks.

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