Characters from The Lion King came alive at a mask making workshop

Leon James, the master trainer at Helen O’Grady Drama Academy, sculpts the face of a Red Indian chief in clay. As he chisels out the eyes, nose and the eyebrows, he says: “You could turn this man African or French by adding or scooping out an extra layer of clay from the cheeks. The best part of pottery is that you can actually play God!”

Clay Fingers, a Chennai-based pottery group, trains participants to sculpt portraits using clay, and later mould them into masks at a workshop organised by Helen O’Grady Drama Academy. “After we are done with the clay figures, we pour the Plaster of Paris mixture (PoP)on them. The dried moulds will take on the finer details of the clay portrait,” explains Ezhil Arasan, trainer.

The five-day mask making workshop is themed around The Lion King. Once the participants get the hang of sculpting, they begin to create portraits of characters from the much-loved movie.

Sudha, a Helen O’ Grady member, is working on the portrait of the evil Scar. He is apparently the most difficult to sculpt, for only one-half of his face looks evil. “We need to ensure that both sides look different,” she says.

By the second day, most of the clay sculptures are ready. Ezhil and Dharani Dharan, another member of the Academy and a documentary filmmaker, carry in a huge sack of PoP powder. They mix the powder with water and each participant pours it on the clay portraits.

The participants have great fun making self-portraits using the PoP mixture. There is a huddle around Viola, a Helen O’ Grady member, who has just applied a PoP mask on herself. Once it dries, Sudha helps peel the hard mask off her face. “We are going to paint these masks and hang them on the walls of the Academy and see if people recognise us,” laughs Leon.

On the third day, there is a buzz of excitement — the moulds are drying in the Sun. It is then time to separate the moulds from the clay sculptures. “Be careful,” instructs Ezhil. “If you do it very fast, the mould might not take the finer details,” he says.

Once the moulds are separated, they look like photocopies of the original.

The next step is to stick layers of paper on the moulds. Sasikala Carthic, trainer at Helen’ O’ Grady’s Salem branch, says that at least seven layers of wet newspaper have to be pasted on the mask before the final layer of brown paper is pasted. “This ensures the mask is not fragile,” says Sasikala, as she lends life to a hyena mask.

Once this is done, at least three layers of white emulsion are applied on the mask. Once dry, the participants colour the masks gold, yellow, grey and red.

Then, the masks will be either used in plays or for teaching other children how to make masks, says Archana Dange, master franchise of Helene O’Grady Drama Academy, Tamil Nadu. “It is always good to make your own props. It is a lot more personal and children can identify with the production better,” she adds.