Theatrical Mask

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Mask, Theatrical


a special covering (representing a human face or the head of an animal or a fantastic or mythological being) with perforations for the eyes and placed over an actor’s face. Masks are made of paper, papier-mache, and other materials.

In ancient theaters, where performances were held outdoors in huge amphitheaters to audiences of many thousands, theatrical masks took the place of mimic acting. At such performances, masks were used to express various emotional states, for example, one side of the mask expressed suffering, the other, joy. To strengthen the actor’s voice, metal resonators were inserted inside the mask. In the Roman theater, theatrical masks were used mainly in impromptu rustic plays—atellanae. In ancient Rus’ and medieval Europe, masks were used by buffoons and wandering actors. In the 16th–18th centuries, theatrical masks were worn by comic characters in the Italian commedia dell’arte. In the 17th century, the use of masks was gradually abandoned. Sometimes theatrical masks are used in the modern theater, for example, in Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle (Berlin Ensemble Theater, German Democratic Republic).

Theatrical masks were in wide use in the traditional theaters of Asian peoples (in India, in the folk raslila and ramlila performances; in Indonesia, in tupeng performances; in Japan, in the no plays). In the 20th century, theatrical masks are often replaced by mask-like makeup (kathakali performances in India; kabuki plays in Japan).

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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