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Professor and wife team up in mask and music theater group

The first production to be filmed in WCU’s motion picture stage featured Whimzik theater company, a mask-and-music group created by Kjelsty Hanson and Glenn Kastrinos of Cullowhee.

WCU motion picture students operate the cameras as Glenn Kastrinos, an assistant professor of recreational therapy, performs as part of Whimzik.

WCU motion picture faculty member Arledge Armenaki and a student discuss a shot of Glenn Kastrinos (far right), an assistant professor of recreational therapy who is performing as part of Whimzik.

Kjelsty Hanson makes the masks she wears in Whimzik's theatrical performances.

Kjelsty Hanson makes the masks she wears in Whimzik's theatrical performances.

Kjelsty Hanson (right) wears masks that she creates in Whimzik's performances.

Kjelsty Hanson (right) prepares for the next musical number in Whimzik's production.

Kastrinos, an assistant professor of recreational therapy at WCU, sings and plays wooden flute, a bawu Chinese wind instrument, tin whistles, octave mandolin and guitar. Hanson, who earned a master’s degree in fine arts, accompanies Kastrinos’ music by moving in masks she has made or by playing the bodhran, an Irish drum.

The name Whimzik comes not only from combining the couple’s “on a whim” improvisational style of performing and “musical” leanings, but also captures the whimsical tone of the shows.

“It is something everyone sees a little bit differently and that you can’t really explain,” said Kastrinos.

The show’s masked characters act out nontraditional, abstract stories in jerky to floating movements intended to highlight interesting moments or feelings, such as a turtle’s slowness or a yellow creature’s curiosity. At one point when performing as wind, Hanson sweeps her arms side-to-side and raises them high, hands trembling.

The masks for Whimzik may have animal or people themes. Others are top-of-the head masks that represent two characters, depending on which angle the mask the audience sees, such as Cat-and-Bat.

Hanson studied mask-making under Beverly Mann of Maine while working a summer at the Sitka Fine Arts Camp in Alaska. Also, while on a study abroad indigenous arts course in Costa Rica, she learned about the indigenous art of wooden mask making. Her own masks typically take several months to envision and create, and involve techniques similar to paper-mache and sculpting clay over a plaster cast of the face.

Seeing Hanson perform inspired Kastrinos to accompany her movements with music, and the magic happened when their music and art combined.

“It is so easy to work with Glenn because he is like a human jukebox, and he can capture the mood and read my movements when we are performing,” she said.

They have taken the show to venues in the Western Carolina University community as well as festivals. While living in New Zealand, they also took Whimzik to more therapeutic settings.

“When we performed for a group of people who had developmental disabilities or psychiatric conditions, several came up and danced,” said Kastrinos. “They really connected to the characters and were right there emotionally – laughing or crying. The performance also brought out the clients’ creativity, and they shared their talents through their reactions.”

The couple plans to send the Whimzik video recorded at the new motion picture stage at WCU to educational and therapy facilities and small theaters to demonstrate what they do. They said they were grateful to work with the entire WCU crew.

“The students have been so hard-working, and they just love the work,” said Kastrinos. “You can see their passion.”

The crew also expressed gratitude for the opportunity to be part of the Whimzik show. Between takes, Arledge Armenaki, associate professor of cinematography, said he got a little choked up.

“It’s just so magical what they do,” said Armenaki.

By Teresa Killian Tate

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