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Reaching for Cultural Definitions Post 1

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American Mardis Gras

The tradition of masking in America is not necessarily something we think much about from a cultural point of view. The masks we share in common as Americans are Freddy from Friday the 13th, Jason and Darth Vader. Our common masks are not connected to stories that are based in mythology, spiritual practice or cultural celebrations. This is not to say there aren’t places and peoples in the United States that don’t use masks in a profound celebration and spiritual practice. Our native cultures have a very rich masked tradition and Mardis Gras has since it’s inception been a celebration that is steeped in forms of masked traditions.

Masks are present in all human societies. McCarty suggests they are part of a societies definition of identity. Masks are used to maintain and reinvent these definitions. The masks are symbols of change and agents of transformation. They simultaneously hide and reveal.

In a nation with so many cultures represented, with so many stories and perspectives, with so many spiritual practices and systems of belief the questions that come to mind are: What would a tradition of masked performance look like? What would the masks be? What stories would the masks represent?

The use of masks in the American theatre is most often a riff off of or simply a rip off of another cultural practice or a hybrid of these practices. In this category of posts I hope to explore various cultural masked traditions. I will include a discussion of the work the acting students at Ball State University are doing in the devising of theatre through the appropriation of culturally specific world masked traditions in hopes of developing a form of masked performance that is unique in it’s form to North America and the oddly indefinable culture we have as Americans.

Perhaps the mask can be part of the ever-changing cultural landscape in America and be an agent of change as we navigate a world increasing ruled by technology.

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