With the latest health directives recommending a greater use of masks to reduce transmission of COVID 19, there's a rush on to procure disposable and cloth varieties. We're discovering an impressive array of designs and patterns, and even finding a practical use for the ubiquitous odd socks that accumulate, with online instructions for turning them into fancy facewear. We in the theatre world have been messing with masks for years, evidenced by the way in which the pairing of the comedy and tragedy masks is recognised as a symbol representing the performing arts. The history of masks in the theatre goes back to ancient Greece around the 5th century BC. Because the Greek plays were often performed in large amphitheatres, some masks even had brass megaphones built into the mouth of the design to facilitate voice amplification. (I know there will be some teachers reading this and wishing that these were available for school play participants.) Japanese Noh drama made use of sophisticated masks with moveable jaws. Their theatre masks are usually very light as they are worn throughout very lengthy performances.
In Europe during medieval times, masks were enlisted by actors playing the parts of allegorical creatures, and if you happened to be playing God, you got to wear a gold mask. During the Renaissance, courtly masked entertainments developed, alongside Italy's Commedia dell'arte which was the form that gave us Pierot, Columbine, and Puncinello, a precursor of Punch in "Punch and Judy". The use of masks in theatre continues to this day, and is often incorporated into European Avant-garde productions. Playwrights including Brecht, Cocteau, Jean Genet, Eugene O'Neill used masks in their plays, sometimes to give the actors a more neutral appearance, rather than an attempt to exaggerate a physical characteristic. One of the most famous masked characters in modern musical theatre is of course the Phantom of the Opera, with his distinctive half face mask (which would not cut the mustard in Melbourne right now). And need I remind readers of the most notorious masked character in the genre of science fiction film: Darth Vader?
Go ahead and explore the wild and wonderful range of masks out there, because a mask can add a little intrigue and mystery to a person, and it could be the chance for everyone to explore their inner actor! Could be fun.
While you're with us...
Did you know the Manning River Times offers breaking news alerts and a weekly email newsletter? Keep up-to-date with all the local news: sign up here.