Noye’s Fludde – Animal Masks

In February 2013, The Bridgewater Hall Learning and Participation department worked with Chetham’s School of Music and Manchester Cathedral to stage a community production of Benjamin Britten’s opera Noye’s Fludde in the composer’s centenary year. Two sold-out performances took place at Manchester Cathedral, each involving over 200 community members of all ages from across Greater Manchester.

I worked with children from three primary schools, and Cathedral choristers to design and make the animal masks to join Noah and his family on board the ark. Each group also enjoyed workshops in drama led by Bryony Bell from the Bridgewater Hall Learning Department.

In total, there were 56 pairs of animals. Each of these had to had to be different, a challenge as there were a variety of brown rodents and a host of types of black bird. I got them to work in their pairs so that a common feel could be achieved. They looked at the size and shape of their animals ears, eyes & nose/beak. They looked at colour and texture. They drew full size designs for their masks. This gave them an opportunity to work out what they need to do and for me to see how much they had really observed. There was a lot of coaxing to encourage them to go bigger with ears and beaks.

Next, they were given paper pulp masks as a base. I chose these as they are light & fit well for performing in, they are easy to cut for reshaping the eyes & removing the chins so they could sing and you don’t need special glue or paint. They transfered their designs onto the masks in pencil before reshaping and building up using card, egg-boxes, tubes, cones and tissue paper to create animal faces.

In the second session, they reinforced the structure of the masks and covered them using a mosaic of fabric attached with PVA. I chose to use fabric to give more texture, to give a greater variety in tones of grey & brown and to get a clear contrast of different colours/markings within each mask.

Final touches were added like whiskers using pipe cleaners and a glue gun.

There were many sets of birds. I cut the feet of kneehigh socks to create arm warmers to which I attached suitable coloured ribbons to give a feeling of wings. These had good movement in the dance sections particularly for the Ravens and the Doves.

I also worked with a group from Back on Track to build the ark. Find out more…

This production was generously supported by the Booth Charities and Britten-Pears Foundation.