Masks in motion

Michael Cooper sees his props as moving sculptures

Michael Cooper sees his props as moving sculptures

January 30, 2009|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

In a culture of "celebrity worship," ex-mime Michael Cooper decided he'd use masks and puppetry to promote the idea of creativity as a birthright.

"The ability to inspire other people, to make them realize their own creativity is a lofty goal," Cooper said during a recent phone interview with The Herald-Mail.

But he's willing to take it on - one show at a time.

Cooper is bringing his show, "Masked Marvels and Wonder Tales," to The Maryland Theatre on Saturday, Feb. 7. His aim is to counter the message that talent is limited to a lucky few people, and that everybody else is "just here to witness the lucky people's talent."

Through his mask and puppet show, Cooper said he hopes to show young people that creativity is something everybody possesses.

Cooper's 75-minute stage show incorporates his hand-crafted masks, which he likes to think of as moving sculptures.

"When you go to a museum, you walk around the sculpture," Cooper said. "When you go to theater, the masks walk around you."


He said he wanted to merge those two ideas by giving masks the same qualities as fine art, while also giving them movement and as you would expect in theater.

Cooper, 55, said he started as a mime when he was 19, studying under famed Parisian mime Etienne Decroux. He eventually grew interested in the use of masks and puppetry in stage performance.

He was exposed to American Indian masks as a child. Those masks are from which he drew his influences. "As a Christian, I wouldn't be fond of a person coming up and juggling crosses or chalices," Cooper said.

His has some cubistic and surrealistic overtones, as Cooper said he does not like to create a literal translations of human or animal likenesses. In one mask, a fish appears to be smoking a pipe. But instead of smoke plumes, bubbles emerge from the pipe's upper rim.

That said, Cooper said he doesn't like to make things look "cartoonish."

"I don't like silly, I don't like overly simplified," Cooper said.

"Masked Marvels" is the second in a four-part package of kid-friendly shows at The Maryland Theatre. Fred Garbo Inflatable Theater Company and Jungle Jack Hanna are booked for March. Children's singer-songwriter Red Grammer kicked off the series in January.

If you go ...

WHAT: Michael Cooper's "Masked Marvels and Wonder Tales"

WHEN: 2 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 7

WHERE: The Maryland Theatre, 21 S. Potomac St., Hagerstown. Downtown.

COST: $15.

MORE: For tickets, go to, or call The Maryland Theatre box office at 301-790-2000.

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