INTERVIEW: Mark McCloughan and Jaime Maseda of No Face Performance Group

How sleep deprivation and The Cloisters at the Metropolitan Museum of Art inspired their newest, Abbot Adam: None, opening this week at FringeArts.

They dress up as nuns at midnight, fall asleep, wake up every half-hour, and improvise.

That may sound really strange, and, heck, it sort of is, but it’s just a regular part of the creative process for Mark McCloughan and Jaime Maseda. The pair make up No Face Performance Group, and they’re exploring a series of acts that were inspired by artwork they discovered in The Cloisters at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The second in the series, titled Abbot Adam: None, comes to FringeArts this week. Both McCloughan and Maseda chatted with me about their work, their very interesting nighttime improvisation, and what audiences can expect from one of their shows.

I’ve heard about these overnight rehearsals. Can you explain? Those overnight rehearsals have become a long-term practice for generating material for the series as a whole. The series is based around hours set aside for prayers. Some of these are in the middle of the night. What would that be like to recreate ourselves? How would that feel? Would it inspire us in a different way? Would we get super weird material from this exhaustion delirium? So we meet at like midnight or one o’clock, and put on our habits. We go to bed and try to sleep, but we set an alarm for a half-hour later. We’ll wake up and improvise from there.

We’ll both get up and do some things, creating a weird situation to encounter, or some sort of grotesque meditation. We’ll do this on and off until the sun comes up. It’s a really long form of improvisation that awakes material that we couldn’t get otherwise. It’s also a practice as a way of exploring and developing further how we relate to each other in this series. We’re very much in character and enjoying the ridiculousness of the situation. We’re sitting there at four in the morning kind of raving, and we’ve come to appreciate the wide range of experience and material that comes out of it.

There’s a lot of religious iconography in this show, right? Neither of us are practicing religious people. We were both raised in a Christian tradition, and we kind of stumbled into this exploration. We were performing with Pig Iron in Twelfth Night in New York, and we were exploring The Cloisters of the Metropolitan Museum. We were so taken by the general medieval vibe and how religious women were presented. You’d see this angel coming and the women would look shocked. We got pretty inspired by that and started making material. There was so much that we were excited to explore, and rather than try to distill it into one performance, we really wanted to explore it as a series. The religious material is obviously an important part. We’re playing nuns in a convent, and religion is the scaffolding of that life. We’re interested in what happens when you submit to this structured living.

There might be people looking at the FringeArts website, seeing you guys dressed as nuns, and wondering what the heck this is all about. For someone who has no idea, how would you describe this work? This piece in particular is quite straightforward and simple. Both for people who have seen our work and people who have not, it’s not what they would expect. Some might jump and think it’s camp performance or some sort of weird Monty Python kind of drag thing. Some of the work leans toward dark humor and camp, but this one is simple and straightforward and it doesn’t announce itself. We’ve begun to think of this whole series as a medieval tapestry. There’s lots of different scenes, and it maintains many different clusters of people. There’s lords and ladies having a banquet and it’s proper, and then there’s a bunch of crazy peasants having a wine-fueled festival. Each piece has it’s own shape, but together, we hope it creates a kaleidoscopic sensibility. This piece is essentially two sisters doing daily tasks. What’s the equivalent part of that tapestry? A nun in her room with a dark thought bubble overhead.

“Abbot Adam: None” plays FringeArts December 10 through the 12. For tickets and more information, click here.

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