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By Berry Tracy

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Should always be asked. What am I adding by using masks? Wouldn’t it be better without? Is the idea the best vehicle for masks? Let’s first look at what the use of full masks can bring to a production. The full mask has the facility to concentrate the audience’s attention on the inner life of a character, in a different way from that seen through the use of text. It is more open to audience interpretation, allowing for a broader experience, less confined by the rigid meaning of words. Masks can highlight the physical relationship between people, and the way aspects of a relationship, often the unsaid and subconscious, manifest themselves physically.

Arlechinno (Harlequin) is the most famous Commedia character, and appeared with dog or monkey-like attributes. The strength of Commedia, the reason behind its pan-European success, was the recognition factor. Audiences went to see known characters getting into scrapes and planning scams, with a liberal dose of specific 23 24 WHERE DO OUR MASKS COME FROM? 3 Commedia Captain mask by Mike Chase local allusion thrown in. A local duke might be portrayed for his penchant for young girls, or a notable bishop lampooned for girth and appetite.

Early 1970s companies such as the San Francisco Mime Troupe or Bread and Puppet Theatre Company (both from the United States) used the highly visual media of the mask and puppet to make compelling political theatre that existed outside of the normal and established forum for theatre. The real power behind using masks on the street is the obvious clash between two completely realised real worlds. The world of the mask, created as an antidote or mirror to the real world, finds itself at the heart of its antithesis.

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