The use of wearing masks in theater originated from Dionysus, the Greek god of fertility and wine. Numerous rituals were adopted from Dionysus including wearing masks. Thespis, a famous Greek writer was among the first to wear a mask and since then mask have been worn since In Greek theatre, costumes were very important. Different forms of masks were used for various different types of plays. All masks were different; however, they were used for the same general purpose; to entertain and to give off certain characters. Masks were generally made of linen, wood, cork, or leather (Brockett).
Using masks allowed the actors to come off as different characters and therefore the same person was playing two different roles. Costumes let the audience know whether or not the character was rich, poor, male, female, and their occupation. This not only made it easier but it also kept the audience intrigued and interested at all times. Masks for Greek comedy were very versatile. Actors wore masks that were designed to look like or represent animals, insects, and even birds. These masks were predictable and were easily recognized.Order now
Masks that portrayed actual characters in the play were more so extreme and exaggerated a lot more than those that were worn by the chorus. The designers would make the person have a flaw that was somewhat comical, hence Greek comedy. For example, the mask itself may depict someone who is bald or is unattractive in a comical way. When actors acted as a famous person that was well known they would use portrait masks, which depicted the person in a more realistic serious manner (Brockett). It was thought of as disrespectful to display a well-known person in a comical way.
Costumes were very important in Greek theater and high standards were placed upon the makers and designers of both the costumes and the mask. There is not a lot of information about the makers, or who they were and what costumes/mask that they made. It is very interesting to note that females were not allowed to act in Greek theatre; however there were plenty of female roles in the plays. So what was done to portray the characters one might ask? It obvious that if no females were allowed to act and since there were female parts that the men had to portray as females, which made costumes and mask that much more important.
Men wore “cothurnus” (wooden shoes with tall heels)” to portray as females the shoes themselves did not have a left and a right pair, they were the same for both sides. The masks themselves were painted elaborately the female masks had bigger mouths and holes for eyes which gave them more of a female look (Phillips). If men wore masks to look like women how did they make themselves sound like women? It was typical for the actors to be younger and thus they would have a higher pitched voice before they hit puberty and their voice changed and became deeper (Phillips).
I personally found this very interesting because I couldn’t imagine watching a play or any type of entertainment and the actor not sounding like the character especially when it comes to something as detrimental as a man portraying a woman but sounding like a man. Hellenistic and Roman theatre also had elaborate costumes and masks. Costumes took a change after the fifth century, tragic costumes especially. In New Comedy the masks were exaggerated and the facial features were enlarged. It gave off a “larger than life” appearance. The costume itself represented more of “normal” look and was not as exaggerated as those of old comedy. book). Hellenistic masks were made of linen with a wig attached to add more of a pulled together look.
When the wig was attached, it covered the complete head. Pantomime masks had closed mouths and some thought believed that they were more natural looking and did not appear to be as comical or over exaggerated (Brockett). I found it very interesting that some masks had two sides; a happy side, and a mad side or a cheerful side and a serious side. I think that was very smart because the actors could just simply flip the mask over and display a different emotion. Costumes and masks were different depending on the type of play.
Greek comedies went by the costuming conventions of new comedy which is where Athenian got their everyday dress look from. Roman comedies wore tunics covered by a cloak or even a toga. For the most part Greek and Roman tragic play costumes were very alike and had a lot of the same features (Brockett). In various types of theatre actors portrayed unmasked and the masked roles. In Italian theatre commedia was divided in two clusters. The unmasked roles were young lovers; they were witty, good looking, educated and in some cases portrayed as too smart, they wore very fashionable garments.
The masked roles were split into servants and masters. In Asian theatre the main actor could me masked or unmasked and were made from wood. There were five types of masks that were used including male, female, aged, special forms (Brockett). It is interesting to note that there was no effort to change the voice of a male actor in order for him to sound like a female. Some people believe that the use of mask made the actor speak louder and projected their voice so that even the people in the back of the theater could here. However, some disagree and say that was just an added bonus to wearing a mask.
The way that the mask were made allowed them to be seen at the back of the theater and people could see the emotion that was displayed even if they were in the back (Wyles). I find that very hard to believe only because as big as I imagine the theaters were, I don’t know how one would be able to see the face that clearly. But when special lighting is added I am sure it was possible. Wearing a mask for an entire play that sometimes were hours long at a time, along with big heavy costumes, and high heel shoes especially for men seems a little extraordinary.
I don’t think men of today’s time would or could even sustain the thought nonetheless actually pulling it off. For my actual project I decided to make a mask. Being that I know I am not very artistic or creative I thought that this would be challenging for me and to say the least it was. I started out by first searching the internet on how to make a Greek theater mask and I was amazed at the results I got back. There were actually step-by-step guides as to how to make a mask. Results poured in from everything from Mardi-Gras mask to Halloween mask.
I knew that I could paint my mask and decorate it how I wanted but I did not want my mask to look like it was made from paper machete. I decided to use clay which I molded in the shape of mannequin that my mother had. Once I molded the face I let it sit for a day and then decided to paint and decorate it. Since the clay was white I just added the paint and glued ribbons by the eyes. Painting it and making the details were really fun and it made it very interesting. I had no idea what look I was going for and just decided to free hand it. It turned out pretty good and I must say that I was impressed.