Theatre Masks are an Enduring Tradition

Photo of author

( — November 13, 2015) — Since their introduction by the Ancient Greeks,  theatre masks have remained relevant all around the word including Japanese and African theatres. The can be grotesque or beautiful, however there is no denying the fact that they are always evocative.

Masks for different characters

In drama, masks allow actors to seamlessly portray different characters. They also allow many actors and actresses to play characters that are different from their genders.  With theatre masks, the creators of a script can fully bring characters to life in a way that a natural face cannot, by stylising the soul and emotion of the character into the mask. This makes it easy for the audience to see who was a villain, lover or king at one glance.

In 15th century Italy for example, characters like Harlequin, Columbina and Il Capitano relied on theatre masks and props that allowed the crowd to see who they were at a glance. This helped them set up pleasant expectations with ease.

In 14th century Japan, masks were won in their Noh theatre by the main actor. Japanese theatre masks came with names and were available for a wide variety of characters including women, nonhumans, children and old men. The masks were standardised and made it possible for the actor to express emotion by simply turning the head or moving a limb.

There are some cultures that did not embrace theatre masks like they were in the places mentioned above. In such places however, masks are still part of the social fabric.  In Old France, the ancient tradition of mummery was used as a method of greeting the New Year. They also believed that masks were able to hide individuals from evil forces that roamed the earth as the year drew to a close.  The old French culture is also the origin of Halloween masks.

Many cultures around the world created mummery scenarios that were to be acted publicly at the start of the year, just like pantomime and passion plays.

Theatre Mask Materials

Mummery may not be regarded as a sacred rite today but it is still practiced today in traditional theatre around the globe. This is largely down to theatre masks and props makers who have continued to create the evocative masks required to bring these events to life.  The masks are made using Plastazote & Evazote. From Zotefoams plc. The material is versatile and can adhere easily to wood, metal and fabrics.
check out the link above to find out more about the polyethylene foam used in the construction of the masks.

With the quality of materials available for use today, the theatre mask tradition will not fade away anytime soon.