There are a couple of ways to let women wear masks in Commedia dell’Arte even though it is not conventional. Many of the masks are more or less gender neutral, especially in a modern context, such as Arlecchino or Zanni. They do no longer represent particular male values. They can easily be played by women and be played as feminine without having to be notably reinpreted.
Otherwise are just reinterpretation a way of putting women in the masks of Commedia dell’Arte. A female Pulcinella for instance can lean to more of the classical witch or a child as archetype and still keep the attribute of the mask, such as ugly, vain, aggressive, lazy and egoistic. By toning the down the sexual aspects of Dottore (if there are any to start with) and instead concentrate on the intellectual play with him or her, he (or she) becomes genderless, even in marriage discussions with Pantalone.
Other way is to make female masks out of male ones. To create an Arlecchina out of an Arlecchino is the all-time most common. It has traditions back to the eighteenth century, as we can see from paintings and figurines. But they are usually made from more delicate, dancy and light forms of Arlecchino from France, and do not have the burlesque, crude features from the original Arlecchino. On stages and in theatre schools today we can see numerous versions of female Brighellas, Tartaglias and Zannis.
At the same time there are masks that are necessarily male as Pantalone or Capitano. Here the fundamentals of the mask’s characters are based on gender. They are male both in their physical appearance as on postures and attributes, and in their character as in their drives and weaknesses. They represents patriarchs (or “the older man” as Bakhtin speaks about) who are destined to be dethroned in the end of the play. (See HERE) As we still don’t live in a matriarchate there is no reason to dethrone “the older woman”.
Others have developed new, gender free masks. They are often nearing to clown traditions. Dell’Arte school in California is a good example where a new mask that can play both as male and female, Stupina or Stupino, has developed from the mask of Coviello, but with a new content.
Personally I don’t see the necessity to play a mask that is using a facemask. It is just as fun and interesting to play a maskless mask, such as an Innamorati or Pedrolino. It is more the style of acting that intrigue me. In a Commedia dell’Arte performance all masks that play in the same style the maskless masks gets all the energy and obsession from the other masks for free. In that way those masks gets to play with their faces in addition to the rest of what mask acting imply.
However we think about it a woman in a mask loses a bit of her femininity or even becomes manlier versus a man who still keeps his masculinity in the mask. This way she loses or decreases an angle of approach to her character.
It may have to do with the rougher face that the mask provides since it is actually bigger and thicker than the original face. On the other hand many female masks played by male actors’ works very well.
Continued from PART 1