3 reasons mask doesn’t use psychology

  • The characters of the masks are made of their physical limitations, posture, gestures and so on. It is only the outer of the masks that make up their character. There is no psychology possible, since it does not go through the mask. In that respect mask theatre is foremost a visual art form.
    That doesn’t mean that we in the audience don’t feel with the masks. Our understanding of the masks is instinctive and collective. We see the postures and gestures of the masks and we immediately understand their characters, desires and emotions just by intuition. And since the faces of the characters don’t interfere with the action, we understand directly what is happening. (See HERE) And therefore react emotionally without first intellectualizing.
    For example: when I teach the different Commedia dell’Arte masks I just have to ask the actor to find the body posture for a specific mask, without telling him what mask it is. Then I ask him what the nature of the mask he is portraying is. He usually explains it very exact. Usually I divide a class I half, where half the class I watching. And when I then ask the audience, they to explain the character of the mask, quite exactly.

  • The mask is always one-dimensional. There is no room for inner conflicting desires (unless that is the main function) within the mask. The character of the mask would dissolve if it would take on more traits. As said HERE, the masks are always types and not genuine human beings. Therefore it is no reason to try to understand how a mask was raised or why the masks the way they are. That doesn’t make them less human though.
    It is said that the clown contains a whole world, while the masks only represents one aspect of the world. It is the masks together that make up a complete world. Instead of inner conflicts it is the frictions are between the diverse masks or between masks and characters in a play that drives it forward.

  • The mask is static. The masks/characters are the same as their masks. They cannot develop or learn. In the moment they change they die. Just as the face masks are fixed their characters must be fixed. The masks itself have their physical character traits and the character of the masks will always relate to the static fact that that is what they are. (Very complicated sentence.) The moment Pantalone understands that he is wrong and starts to share his wealth, Batman getting old and wonky or when Santa Claus starts taking back his gifts they are no longer their characters.
    This is also why they cannot be used in modern plays where the main characters usually go through changes. And as they learn they are not the same as they were when they started, but the mask still stays the same.
    The masks are also static when it comes to external matters as occupation, wealth, age, super powers and so on. They are types derived from animals.

See also:
The face – a tool to lie with
About teaching mask
About Micke

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Western bias of the mask

In the west we tend to think about the mask as something to hide behind, as if it were a tool to hide emotions, intentions or reactions. Nothing can be more wrong. The masks always tell the truth – it is the face we use when we lie. It is the face we can, or at least think we can, control. In other words what we express with our faces is what we want to express.
And the biggest and most widely spread lie is politeness. Since most of us live in cities or towns we are a part of a community that we have to adapt to and then politeness becomes crucial to live smoothly and avoid conflicts.
But the body (especially the torso) always reveals the real intentions or reactions. Not only that the body/torso is always much articulate than the face, and it becomes even more obvious when the face is not there to distract. We have all seen people trying to express something with their faces while their bodies reveal their real intentions. For those of you who have not I can strongly recommend political debates.
One problem is that we tend to look at the face and believe that it is there the expression comes from, while it is the body/torso that gives the expression to the mask. I have written about that HERE where I also used a few examples. Another problem is when actors think they can hide behind the mask instead of working to “act through the mask”.

Still the misconception is there. It is as if there is a focus of the fear for what we can’t see behind the mask instead of focusing on what the mask actually want to show. The mistrust becomes dominant. The mask becomes a symbol for falsehood and guile. Many are the proverbs coming from that, like: “who is behind the mask”, “he is just showing a mask” or “to tear the mask of someone’s face”.

In fact the same misconception goes for all the three monotheistic religions, Christianity, Judaism and Islam. It has to do with the idea that when there is only one god there can only be one truth, just as those religions never can accept any other gods than their own.
The polytheistic religions, on the other hand, are much more open to different and different levels of truths. This helps them to see the masks as tools for metamorphoses. When the actor puts on the mask of a character or a god he also becomes the mask he acts in, since both the audience and the actors are open for much more than just one truth.

An old law from Venice from the thirteenth century, but with roots much older than that, said that it was forbidden to wear masks other than during the carnival. But that was not valid for the bauta. That mask was only used to hide the one that wore it, used by noblemen when they went to brothels, casinos or coffeehouses. The reason other masks then the bauta were banned was that while wearing the masks the wearer could not be held responsible for their actions since they were not themselves.

See also:
What is a mask?
Early religion
Micke’s maskmaking workshop

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What is a mask?

A mask can be anything from a small clown nose to giant heads to be worn on big gantries. It can sometimes be hard to tell the difference between masks and puppets, make-up, costume, even props.
I would define a mask, as opposed to a puppet, as a tool where an actor uses his own head arms and legs (even if extended) instead of having they operated from outside. For example one can very well use stilts inside a mask, but as soon as someone else operates ones legs we are talking puppets.
When it comes to make-up I think it is harder to define the difference. I definitely consider a traditional clown make-up as a mask, but I usually don’t think so when it comes to false beards or wigs. The mask has to considerably change the quality of the character. The idea same goes for costume. If an actor would play the same role in another costume it is not a mask, but if the character is depending on the costume it is definitely a mask.
Costume and props may not usually be considered a mask in itself, but they can extend the mask. In that way they are part of the mask and often necessary for the mask to be full. A Commedia dell’Arte masks has his own unique costume or Chaplin has his cane a part of his mask. Without it they would be different.
We must also bear in mind that rules and definitions are not absolute.

The usual mask is obviously the full face mask and the half mask. There we can find anything from the bauta mask that is only used to hide the bearer’s identity or the neutral (or zero mask) mask that are used to take away the characteristics of its bearer in order to focus on his or her body, to Commedia dell’Arte masks and other character masks that are specialized in portraying a specific character with its own characteristics. Many of the masks are also portraying something in between, such as masks of emotions (anger, grief, fear and so on), ages, types, professions or even persons.
In Commedia dell’Arte for example we use the word mask for all characters on stage, even the masks/roles that don’t wear a mask in their faces. They also have to act according to the rules of the mask in order to play in the same world.

See also:
Literature
Micke’s mask making course
Nonliterary storytelling in Vulgar Comedy

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Vulgar Comedy and the Church (Part 5 – Opposition to theatre and comedy)

In the sixteenth century we also see how puritanism gain power and how and the Counter Reformation takes place. They wanted to purify the popular culture. They tried to stop the carnival and official festivities, since they though that the people fed on incontinence and wasted time and money. They closed the theaters since a sinful actor could not portray the life of a saint. They wanted to separate all what is sacred and what is secular.
We should remember that most people in this time were deeply religious, therefore it was only the church, its ceremonies, order and hierarchies that were mocked, never the actual religion. Still it was a time when the church was scorned at the gravest way. Even the lower priesthood and the clergy mocked the church. It was unofficially allowed to mock the church as a part of the double way to see the world (See Bakhtin).

In the medieval ages and the renaissance the village priest had almost the same social and cultural status as the other villagers, but the puritans could not let him wear a mask, dance in the church or make jokes in the pulpit (See Part  2).
In Europe of the Counter Reformation, by the end of the sixteenth century, came also the banning of theatres. In a church meeting in Milan 1566 all religious plays where banned, in Reims in 1583 all plays on celebration days were forbidden, Pope Innocent XII had the  Teatro di Tordinona destroyed in 1697 and even the government in the Spanish Netherlands sent an edict against religious plays in 1601.
In Italy all Commedia dell’Arte companies were thrown out about 1572. This led to the spreading of Commedia dell’Arte companies around Europe, where many of them grew to be great and famous and where they got so much inspiration. We can therefor thank the Counter Reformation for the greatness of Commedia dell’Arte today. Who knows maybe that is why we know about Commedia dell’Arte today.

At the same time we must have in mind that, in a much slower process, the authority of the church is decreasing during the renaissance. The mundane power, money, humanism, and the new world begin to rise in influence on behalf of the church.

Go to:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

See also:
Anthony Caputi and Vulgar Comedy
The Old Testament (Gamla Testamentet)
Micke´s Commedia dell’Arte-lecture

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Vulgar Comedy and the Church (Part 3 – the Corpus Christi and the forming of comedy companies)

One example of how the theatre was used by the church was in the nativity scene. The first one was shown in 1223 by Francisco of Assisi. From the first puppets where used but soon the roles were played by priests and altar-boys. The villagers danced around the altar and lulled the Infant Jesus. Later the roles expanded with among others angles and shepherds, where the shepherds become the comical characters.
The Christmas celebrations lasted for weeks including Saint Stephan’s day to remember the martyrs, Epiphany with the three wise men, Massacre of the Innocents, the Feast of Fools, the circumcision, the Feast of the Ass and the escape to Egypt and more. All of these scenes from the bible was dramatized and acted out. Soon more or less the whole bible was acted in the churches and when the stories of the bible were not enough there were new motives in the legends of the martyrs.

In the thirteenth century the theatre begin to leave the church interior since it was too dark and not big enough anymore. The audiences grow and the new stagecraft that was used took too much space. The Mystery Adam, from 1150, is the oldest performance we know to be played outside the church. It was also the first play to not use Latin and the first play to use talking word and not just be sung.
The theatre of the church seeked for new spaces, they started to play out on the church stairs, the plazas, and the graveyards. The graveyards were great places since the priests, the nobility and the posh people were buried within the church. It was only the simple graves out in the graveyard, so it was not considered a profanation to play there. The graveyards were also cool places under the trees and since they were fenced it was easy to see how came and went.

When the theatre moved out of the church room and out among the people an independence process, a profanation and a vulgarization of the theatre begun. Also the acting style changed, the gestures became bigger, silences disappear, the language became rougher to adapt to the language of the street. Also the cruder stagecraft began to adapt. For example when Judas hang himself a big black bird is let loose and a large chunk of intestines is pouring out of his abdomen.

It became the mystery plays and the passion plays, but the biggest of the plays that came out of the church was the Corpus Christi created as a festival by Pope Urban IV 1264 in honor of the union of the human and divine in the person of Christ. They encompassed the whole biblical history and could take several days to play. Perhaps the most known is the Ludus Christi that was played in Cividale in Italy at Pentecost 1298 and took three days to play.
From the beginning it was the priests that played the major parts, but since it demanded more and more people on stage the students and commoners got involved. But also professional jesters, jugglers, dancers and minstrels were employed. They brought in a more secular view on theatre. The plays became more a matter of the people than the church. In the beginning the priests acted in Latin while the rest of the actors talked their mother tongue, but as soon as the fourteenth century the Latin was gone in France.
Another example is the French basochiens. It was from the beginning assemblies of law students and civil servants that by the time become regular event manegers and comedy groups. As soon as the fifteenth century they had an important role in most official festivities in Paris. They were even working in private events. Among all the occurrences they were part of like parades, games and jollifications, their special event was a mock court, where burlesque summons and prosecution. And here we also have one of the most famous farses: Farce de Maître Pathelin.

Go to:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 4
Part 5

See also:
Vulgar Comedy
Momento mori v/s oblivio mori
Commedia dell’Arte workshop

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Vulgar Comedy and the Church (Part 4 – the Diavolas)

The Corpus Christi was celebrated with carnival festivities, comical rites and dramatic performances. It was not just the performance it was just as much the feast itself. In the long run people got tired of long serious plays. They wanted also to laugh not just be educated. Laughter was also the only thing the common man could trust in a time where seriousness always was a tool for the authority, when hypocrisy, torture, dictates, power and prohibition were the language the authorities talked to the common people. (See Bakhtin)
People could show their disapproval by throwing chestnuts and other things at the actors, often there was big fights. In order to please a crowd who demanded laughter and comedy comical and burlesque elements was incorporated in the plays. In France it often developed into just raw blasphemy.

This is where the diavolas, or devil plays, comes in, and gotten more and more room within the plays. The diavolas was the comical parts of the mystery plays where the devils played the leads. They were anxious, ambiguous and incomplete as life itself, in contrast to Jesus and the angels who are stands for balance and perfection, even to the humans who are created as the image of God.
Jesus and the angels may be as good and pious they want, but they can never be comical as long as their existence is depending on their seriousness, and that they are taken serious by the people.

Comedy and Laughter is built on unbalance, both literary and metaphorical, and the struggle to get back to balance. It is elusive and represents deflection. When Chaplin is struggling for five minutes to reclaim his balance in a pair of roller-skates he is one of us who, in the most ridiculous ways, struggles to reach our goals in life. If Jesus would have done the same thing, he would no longer be a God. Therefore Jesus and the angles are always representing seriousness. And by seriousness they are also representing the power (both the sacred and the secular) when claiming the eternal and the stabile.
The devils on the other hand are not tied to seriousness and can therefore represent the people in their insufficiency and with their gay laughter.
In popular culture hell was also looked upon in another way. The sterile eternity that represented perpetuation of the past was, the dead, against the earth and the underworld that represented the fertile bosom, death meets birth and new life is generated. Or to recite Bakhtin: -“Hell is a feast and a happy carnival.

The diavolas were very popular as the most comic and burlesque part of the plays. The devil could also be let out in the streets and squares to roam around free before the plays, sometimes for several days. Then they also were free from the ordinary rules in town. There was an atmosphere of unrestrained freedom around them.
The devils could allow themselves to be satirical and sometimes even political. They could always hide behind the idea that they were devils, besides it was still a church event and one could always find support in the Bible.
By the time, the diavolas became, in some places in Europe, stand-alone performances that were played independent from the Corpus Christi and the mystery plays. It was usually under the carnival or other similar festivities.

It is also here where we hear the word mask for the first time in Europe. The word, that comes from Arabic and means clown, prankster, jester or rouge, replaced the earlier word larva meaning ghost or maggot.

Go to:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 5

See also:
http://commedia.klingvall.com/the-language-of-the-marketplace/
Divine words (Gudomliga ord)
Laughter, Humor and Comedy

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Vulgar Comedy and the Church (Part 2 – the Feast of the Ass and the Feast of Fools)

The church was not just a religious building during the middle ages and the renaissance. It was also a cultural center where one could very well be engaged in worldly matters, despite protests from the priests. For example the cathedral of Aarhus in Denmark was used as a ball house. This was naturally since there were no other indoor spaces big enough.
Seeing the church as also a cultural center it is getting the church closer the theatre. We have already mentioned the Feast of the Ass festum asinorum, the Feast of Fools festum stultorum”, the Easter Laugther Risus Paschalis” and other feasts within the church. Let’s have a closer look at them.

These were part of other church ceremonies celebrated by the clerks, in order to provoke laughter among the church visitors.
The Feast of the Ass, the 14:th of January, was a part to the long lasting Christmas celebration. It was a salutation to the donkey that took Virgin Mary to Egypt. A donkey were put by the altar and a parody mass was held. When it was supposed to be singing a great squeak was heard from the audience and instead of benediction the priest let out a donkeys squeak three times, instead of “amen“ there was a another squeak and so on. The donkey is also a very old travesty on God.

The Feast of Fools could be celebrated on Saint Stephen’s day (Boxing day), The day of the Holy Innocent (28 December), New Year’s Day, Epiphany or on the Birthday of John the Baptist (Midsummer’s Eve) to remember the children Herodias killed. It was the clergy and the younger priests who arranged the Feast of Fools.
The scenario in the Feast of Fools was relatively loose. It was foremost about an idea built on the thought of an anti-community. It was first of all mocking and a degradation of the church rituals and its static order and hierarchies. It was dancing in the church and in the streets, the priests wore masks and women’s clothing, the mass book was carried up-side-down, the vestment was dress back to front, instead of blessing the congregation it was cursed. In the same manner as in the Carnival a mock bishop or pope was elected. He led a solemn service backwards and also led the procession through town. In some places the clerks rode in wagons full of excrement, after the ceremony, throwing the excrements on the following crowd. (Throwing excrements goes back all the way to ancient Greece and the satyr plays.) Another important part of the Feast of Fools was masks and disguises.
In Lombardy they used a professional jester, whose function was to, under great pageantry, wearing a mask that caricatured the bishop. Then from his hand he got a vestment. Dressed in it he imitated and put up a ceremony where he took up all the sins the bishop had committed that year.  The audience demanded total mockery and abasement of the bishop. Later when the bishop got back up in the pulpit no one could hold back their laughter whatever he said.
It is said the archbishop Guido da Brescia after being mocked at the Feast of Fools wanted to ban the feast. But he had to flee from the town and the raging population. And that he could not return until the feast was reinstalled.
The jester could feel safe as long as the feast lasted with the protection from the people. But they had to sneak him in, disguised, to the town and then sneak him out again so that the city authorities would not find him. On the other hand it might have been the best paying job that year.
From the start the feast was sanctioned by the church, but gradually – as priests and bishops complained that they lost the respect they wanted – the feast got more and more prohibited. And by the thirteenth and fourteenth century it got thrown out of the church and by the end of medieval ages it was banned everywhere.

When the Feast of the Fools was thrown out of the churches the clerks started to form amateur companies together with bourgeois other scholars. These companies, who once were responsible for the Feast of Fools and the Feast of the Ass, now got the responsibility for all official festiveties year round. In Italy those groups were called Associazioni Giovanili and had names like Abbazia degli Stolti (Brotherhood of idiocy) or Societá della Gioventú (Academy of Youth). Gradually they started to create primitive performances as part of the festivities. In the sixteenth century, when Commedia dell’Arte was well established they were among the first to form Commedia dell’Arte companies. Just as long after that, one of the most common jobs for Commedia dell’Arte companies was to organize official festivities.

Go to:
Part 1
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

See also:
A definition of low comedy
Mask, costume and stage
Micke’s Commedia dell’Arte lecture

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Vulgar Comedy and the Church (Part 1)

In Rome “the Christian” started to show up as a character in the ancient mime by the time Christianity makes its entry. He soon became one of the most acclaimed, comic roles. The roman mime was mocking the Christian ceremonies, especially the baptism and the communion, but also the Christian martyrs. As soon as the Christianity grows strong and gets power it forbids all forms of theatre. Off course the mime and the jester and jugglers as all Vulgar Comedy survived, but that is another story SEE HERE. One of the church fathers Tertullianus writes in his “De Spectaculis”: -“On the day of doom the actors will cry out louder than in any tragedy”. He also calls the entire splendor that was around the festivities diabolic. Johannes Chrysostomus says unequivocally that jokes and laughter does not come from God but from the Devil: -“a Christian shall be grave, suffer penitence and pain to expiate his sins”.
We must remember that all hate for theatre that the church felt was not just because it was ridiculing the church and that is was immoral. By this time it was not long since Christians were thrown to the lions at the theatre.
One of the reasons theatre was considered immoral and antichrist was its origins in and close relation to pagan and pre-Christian rites. Just the fact that redoing – with masks and dissimulation – coming from God (man was made as an image of God) is a sin and leads man closer to the Devil.
Naturally here is also the claim from the authorities on control over the souls of man. They simply became afraid that if people go in to other roles they will be out of church control.

One of the main reasons the church, after all and much later in the Middle Ages, starts to approximate to the theatre again is that the masses and services were held in Latin Since the fall of Rome the common languages Europe was back to their national languages, and only the learned and the priests understood. So in order to make the ceremonies comprehensible parts of the services became dramatized.
Already during the early Middle Ages theatrical exercises, so called tropes, were intercalated as clarifying ingredients in the texts. These tropes were the embryo to the liturgical middle age drama – the theatre that would grow and revive the European official theatre and give it its form. This was a drama that in no way wanted to amuse or entertain its audiences, but to educate and foster.
One of the earliest tropes is from th1 10:th century in S:t Gallen. A priest comes in dressed as an angel and takes place behind something that is supposed to represent Jesus grave. The three other priests come in dressed as the Marias.
Angel: Quem quiritis, in sepulchro, o Chisticolae? (Whom seek ye in the tomb, O Christians?)
The Maries: Jesum Nazaereum, crucifisum, o coelicolae! (Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified, O Heavenly Beings.)
Angel: Non est hic, surrexit, sicut predixit, ite nuntiae quia surrexit de sepulchro. (He is not here, he is risen as he foretold. Go and announce that he is risen from the tomb.)

Go to:
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

See also:
Stanislavski’s system vs. Vulgar Comedy
The Church and Commedia dell’Arte
Vulgar Comedy

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The mask and the actor


The mask demands energy and size. It is all about filling the mask with life. Since the mask is stylized and extends parts of the face or is larger than life, it demands another form of dynamism than the realistic. The mask does not only allow bigger movements – it demands them. Everyday movements kill the masks, since they don’t match the mask.
If we for example wear a Capitano mask with a half meter nose and huge eyebrows or a giant larva mask three times our heads, it is impossible to move as if we were in a realistic play.
It is the body that gives life and expression to the mask. It is not enough that the mask use big gestures. If the mask just stand and wave with arms and legs it does not give life to the mask, it becomes more of a jumping jack. The gestures have to come from the torso and wander out to the limbs. It is really in the torso where life in the mask is born. It is also there that postures and movements are living.
It is just as with the voice in a half mask, it has to come from the torso, or rather the guts in this case. When doing so the posture and movements of the masks help us. We do not need to invent or seek for a voice to the mask. If we find the postures and gestures of the mask from the torso, use high energy and big movements, the voice of the mask will come to us. It is there in the mask.

Because of the necessity to use the body as a vehicle for the mask is also crucial to keep a distance from the audience. If we get to close to the audience they will not only be too scared to see us when they have us in their lap, but they will also not be able to see the body of the mask and therefore the mask will die. All the audience will see is a dead, static piece of leather, paper, wood or whatever the mask is made of.

But we also have to use the mask technique in order to be seen and understood. The mask does not work from all angles. Even though the mask can be used in profile as “a profile image” it cannot show its feelings, desires or objectives. It has to look straight out to the audience. We still look at the face of the mask to see what is inside of him, even though we don’t see the face of the actor. (See HERE). Therefore we use “takes” as a window of the mask. This technique is not really required since most Vulgar Comedy does not the idea of a forth wall.
I have written about this much more rigorous HERE, it is about Commedia dell’Arte but it goes for most masks as well.

See also:
Mask technique in Commedia dell’Arte
Stanislavsky v/s Vulgar Comedy
Micke’s videos

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The origins of mask (Part 2 – From rites to early plays)

As we humans settled down, started to cultivate the earth and become domiciled other rites and festivities started to develop. It was harvest, fertility, initiation or transition rites among other. Those rites demanded more human masks, representing human types such as farmers, youth, age, men and women for example.
Most of those rites were religious and some of the masks moved in to the mysterious. They started to represent Gods, heroes, demons, spirits and so on. This is also when those masks started to be worn specifically by the shamans or other actors. The masks were acted out for an audience in order to serve a purpose, instead of being a part of the playful game of telling about the hunt (See Part 1).

When the masks got more specified the plots started to develop as an effect. What had been more of ritual revels or dramatic rituals turned into more dramatic exercises or even primitive emergent masked plays with a clear storyline.
Even though the plots and the masks got more particularized and refined the mask is always a type. It always is representing something more than an individual person. It is always more than just itself. It can be a kind of people, a God, an occupation, a gender and so on. Just like Pantalone is certainly a specific person with his own characteristics, but he also represents the patriarch, old age, and the old lecher – all in one. It is the exaggeration of the masks that makes him more than just himself.

Consequently masks are derived from hunters mimicking their prey. They become human in rites that first came from the joy of narrating, then in religious and other rites. The humanization gave the rites more of a storyline, which demanded more defined characters of the mask. But the masks still stay a type, like Arlecchino, Santa Claus, Batman or Moomin, not a psychological person.

All masks everywhere have their origins in animal masks.

Here is:
Part 1

See also:
Micke’s lectures
A definition of theatre
Mask and the sense of time

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