FC Produes Teatrais – Conference The Mask and the Actor

by Filipe Crawford

FC Produes Teatrais

The mask Technique is a relatively new discipline of training of the actor (the first systematizations of this method dates back to the beginning of the 20th century, with the Director Jacques Copeau, in France) which continues in our days as one of the most demanding and comprehensive Schools for the work of the actor. The mask is the theatrical utensil of choice of this discipline, forcing the actor to a fairly comprehensive theoretical and practical work, which prepares for all kinds of dramatic representation.
Their sources of inspiration are the Greek and Roman Theatre, in the Western Europe, as well as the Commedia dell'Arte, representative of Western Renaissance in Europe, which stands as the most recent moment in the history of Western Theatre in which the mask is of relevance that puts it in the center of the theatrical representation.
The ritual use of mask and its continued use in Traditional Folk Theater representations, particularly in the East (Japan, Indonesia, China or India, among other Eastern cultures, where the theater appears associated with the mask), are other sources of inspiration of this method of actor training.
In Europe, as in other parts of the pre-civilized world, the mask appears closely tied to Ritual and pagan celebrations of the birth, the passage from childhood to adulthood, death, marriage, etc. Some of these manifestations persist even today, in Portugal the tradition Caretos of Nordeste Transmontano are one example of the ritual masks, scattered among various traditions throughout Europe that we also found in other cultures. In Africa, in particular, almost all using of the mask is linked to the ritual, which is also the case of some countries in Latin America.
The Ritual Mask can be used within is context or possibly adapted to the formation of the actor and used in contemporary representations. It is however a mask that represents generally supernatural beings such as deities or demons, animals or archetypal figures. Their representation involves the understanding of its function, that usually was to evoke the supernatural power of spirits and, or, their condescension or intervention in earthly plan. This use of the primitive mask, associated to the fear of the supernatural and of unknown origin, were the primary functions of the mask: terror and unreason, or laughter as a way to exorcise the terror. Thus were born the first two masks, tragedy and comedy.
With the advent of civilization, the mask is no longer seen as the subject of terror, reserved for moments of ritual celebration, to be appreciated as a work of art and used in representations for the sole purpose of artistic enjoyment. Thus is born the theater that, in the Western Europe, knows his first development with the classical Greco-Roman Cultures. After an interregnum which lasts until the Middle Ages, the theatre rises in Western Europe, with another historic moment, "Commedia dell'Arte", where the mask takes on a key role in the characterization of fixed types of characters. These two moments of Western civilization are also the main references for the work of formation of the actor by the technique of the mask.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Jacques Copeau, a French Director with a background in University Theatre, starts an aesthetic makeover that focuses mainly in the preparation of the actor, where the study and use of the mask becomes critical. Copeau invents the neutral, or noble mask, that will serve as a basis for the preparation of the actor who starts working with the mask.
This mask is inspired in the Choruses of Greek tragedy and takes on a universal character, such as the concept of a zero degree of theatrical writing from the point of view of the actor. A mask that is neutral in principle, and does not show any emotion or feelings and generalizes the concept of the human being, requires a representation also debugged and general, forcing the actor to a basic physical and intellectual discipline.
The Neutral Mask introduces the concept of mask and a discipline to approach other entire Masks, such as Larvar Masks and Half-masks. The entire Masks covers the whole face and does not allow the actor to talk, and for this reason, most of this masks are adapted to physical and gestural work. Neutral masks are also entire masks, such as the Larval, and impose the actor a silent representation, although the Larval referring to a pre-expressive State. In general, Expressive Masks are represented with the help of the Mime, sometimes supported by the music. With the half masks of Commedia dell'Arte, that allows and involve speech, the work of the mask introduces the actor to the text work.
The Commedia dell'Arte proposes a fixed character set, reflecting a Human Universal Organization crystallized into social classes, arranged according their power relations: Lords and servants, lovers, adventurers, traders, soldiers. Each Mask represents a universe of characters which refer to each type, and a Pantalone, for example, is always an old rich and powerful, even if it temporarily in misery, as well as a Harlequin is always a poor and starving fellow, on the service for someone or temporarily unemployed.
The Commedia dell'Arte proposes a set of about a dozen fixed characters, allowing multiple variations, extremely codified and obeying to a logical and coherent theater architecture. Comedians dell'arte created their own texts on the basis of this structure, keeping alive a tradition of theater that only disappeared when it began to be replaced by a dramatic work written.
That traditional representation has always been popular, although it has conquered the Renaissance intellectual universe, which maintains and enforces as reference to a training school of the actor, giving him information and a method supported by laws and general rules and common to all the theatre.
The mask remains for the actor a sacred object, a dramatic representation of the instrument with which you can learn and which you can use for your artwork.
The Conference is accompanied with practical demonstrations and exercises with masks.

Fiilipe Crawford


Teatro Casa da Comédia
R. São Francisco de Borja, 22
1200-843 LISBOA
Tel.: 21 395 94 17/8
Telem.: 96 982 65 35
Email: info@filipecrawford.com
Webpage: www.filipecrawford.com