This blog post is going be all over the place so be warned. It has been hard to focus my thoughts on any one aspect of what I do given the events in the world at large. I spend my days caught between the world I live in and the world that is being imposed upon us by the current political leadership. What does this have to do with theatre masks you ask?
Theatre masks, masks for performance represent the archetypes in humanity. In the masks are the cultures, the stories and the universal experience shared amongst mankind. We see reflected in their expressive form our thoughts, our needs, our personal struggles and so we empathize with their journey through life. Each type of mask draws our attention to the human journey in a particular way. The neutral masks, the larval masks and the character masks each in their own manner present us with different takes on the human experience.
If we spent more time engaged in the sharing of story’s that celebrate what it is to struggle through life as human beings; Stories which are brought to life with an extra daily energy, that exist on a dynamic level that highlights the truths of our existence we might be more empathetic toward one another. The mask and its mythical dimensions could be a wonderful tool for this.
The neutral masks are a true and profoundly simple expression of the universal human. Neutral man and neutral woman journey through life lead forward by each singular discovery. One discovery becomes the next, which becomes the next and the next and so on. The mask exists only in the present moment and is born into the world as a fully developed adult with no past experiences. Neutral mask only exists in the present. It reflects the world that it is in and travels through it without emotional response or opinion. This universal mask sees the world with an open sense of wonder and curiosity. It is in a constant state of calm alert availability.
Neutral mask was born out of the question, who am I? The work is to find answers in the immediate moment rather than answers based on or influenced by experiences or understood narratives attached to the past. The lesson is one of deep spiritual significance and connected to a timeless human pursuit of understanding.
The larval masks in their early stage of development approach the world as if it were a playground. In their early stage of development and naïveté the masks find play in everything they encounter. Their sense of wonder and abandon inspires a joyful approach to a world in which all objects inspire a distraction from the chosen path. The playful childlike take on each discovery celebrates a world in which the masks journey is one of elated delight and amusement.
The larval masks originate in carnival; a celebration intended to chase out winter and bring in the spring. This ritual started with the mountain dwellers donning masks and running down the mountain making as much noise as possible in order to scare the spirit of winter away. Larval masks are connected to a sleepless, noisy, eternal party in which the partygoers present themselves in their true from anonymously. From both a training perspective and a story telling world the larval masks allow for us to see the actor hiding behind a facade of mischievous wonder, celebrating idiocy.
The complex world of the character mask lives in a world in which each mask sees and perceives the world from a unique perspective. Each mask possesses a particular story, a complex past and belongs to a personal narrative defined by the rhythmic lines and planes of the mask. The character masks are in constant conflict with themselves and so find it impossible to find complete harmony with another. They are like fire and air meeting. There is an attempt to develop a functional relationship but in the end one fuels the others dysfunction. The character masks highlight the poetry of the human condition. The mask and the counter mask possessed by each tell a compelling story of struggle. The mask of sorrow experiencing joy, the mask of rage in a moment of calm or the mask of fear experiencing love bring to life in a very singular way the everyday struggle of what it is to be human.
The character masks are born out of specific cultural performance practice and ritual. Oddly the more uniquely connected to specific cultural norms and stories character masks are the more universal they become in their ability to draw us into the stories they tell and the truths they speak. The stock characters of the commedia born in the renaissance around 1547 are alive and well today. The very fact they come to us from the past allows the lessons they have to teach us to be heard on a deeper level. The masks of the Topeng and their mythological stories of love and the struggle of man against the magic of the otherworld fill us with wonder and a greater understanding of the complexities of the conflicts inherent in the human condition.
I wonder if we spent more time in performance worlds that heightened our experience and revealed to us the struggle we engage in daily whether we might reach for a greater understanding of others. If we could see that others we are not familiar with engage in the same difficulties and desires perhaps we might fear the unknown less. To provoke empathy through story is to insist on world in which we care a little more for each other. As naïve as this may seem I feel it is a worthy endeavor.
Reach for theater masks everywhere you go. Find the stories they have to tell us and share them with as many people as you can.