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How Are Theater Masks Used Today in Greek Theater?

king greek theater mask helmet style

Helmut Style Mask

Often when writing about the use of masks in ancient Greek theater historians speak in broad general terms.

Authors write that the ancient Greek theater masks featured “facial expressions” and “portrayed emotions” such as happiness or sadness. Although these statement s are not in and of themselves completely incorrect, they reflect a very superficial understanding of what masks for performance are, how they are made, how they are used and why we make use of masks in performance.

One can assume that theatre artists of ancient Greece had as much, if not more, knowledge of the sophisticated expressive form of the theater mask as we do today. Masks throughout time and across cultures have been connected to religious, spiritual and ritual practice. This was no different concerning their use in Greek theatre given the performances were part of the ritual celebrations of the time. The artists who both performed and created them would have engaged in a profound exploration of practice much the same as we do today.

The mask for performance and ritual is an expressive form rather than intended as a frozen expression in time. An expressive form is one that has a wide range of expressive qualities. A successful mask can play a gamut of emotions. The actor can play anger or sadness through a mask based in joy and love creating a very poetic and human experience for an audience.

Corus of greek theater masks

Greek Theater Chorus

Masks that are living form, such as Greek Theater Masks, are created by artists who have an understanding of the rhythmic life of the passions and how they are experienced by humans. The mask maker creates a mask that is a combination of lines and planes that animate the negative space around the mask itself. Because of the interaction of the rigid form with the negative space the theater mask appears to change expression as it is moved or as the body of the actor moves underneath it.

The specificity of the choices made by both the mask maker and the performer create a heightened experience for the audience. The singularity of all the choices being made allows for a larger than life presence for the mask.

The mask is a tool that reveals. The actor uses it to share the discoveries being made, the thoughts being had and the emotions being felt with the audience. In turn because of the archetypal forms inherent in the theatre masks the audience experiences themselves and their life struggles through the sharing of the mask.

greek theatre mask nobel woman

Nobel Woman Mask

One can assume that the use of Greek theater masks in ancient Greece was in many ways no different than they are being used today in the heightened environment of classical theatre. When the theater mask is considered to be more than just a costume element it becomes the driving force of the theatrical event. Our ancient cultures and societies are often assumed to have had a much greater connection to the natural world. The mask is one such extension of that knowledge and daily practice.

Take a look at the modern designs for Greek Theater Masks by Jonathan Becker.

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2020 Mask Workshop Welcome!!  Jonathan Becker offers on-site workshops in partnership with The North American Laboratory of the Performing Arts, a small institute dedicated to a broad cultural exploration of the performing arts, the creation of new works, the exploration of fundamental principles and inspiring artists to be agents of change.

The Mansion, in Muncie, IndianaThe Mansion

The Charles Over Mansion in Muncie, Indiana’s historic district provides an ideal setting for artistic retreat and study. The workshops are held at the Mansion or in the historic theatres and studio spaces of downtown Muncie. Workshop participants are housed at The Mansion and other locations within the historic district all within walking distance of the workshop location, restaurants for dinner and Muncie’s quiet nightlife. The Mansion at 825 East Washing Street is one of Muncie’s greatest architectural offerings.  The beauty and handwork of the structure itself are an inspiration to its visitors.

Masks in Performance Teacher/Actor Training Workshop – June 22-26, 2020

A workshop for performers, students and teachers. Explore one of the most effective methods of actor training through Neutral, Larval and Character Half Mask. the mask tangibly reveals to the actor the intricacies of the art of performance, directing and an application of understandings to all styles of acting.


Mask Making: An Exploration of Expressive Form Workshop – June 16-19, 2020

This workshop explores the entire process and understandings necessary to create an expressive form, a mask that appears to change expression as it moves through space. 

Acting Mask Training

Each Workshop is $750 and includes lodging, breakfast and lunch for five days.

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Register before April 1, 2020 and receive the full of week of training, lodging and meals for only $600.

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We recognize that even $600 can be a significant investment for theater practitioners and instructors, so we offer flexible payment plans. Reserve your spot today with only $200, and pay the remainder before the workshop begins. We also offer financial aid for qualified participants and grant submission support. Contact Jonathan if you are interested.