Theatrical masks have been used by actors in plays, dramas, and in storytelling across the globe! You may be familiar with the Greek tragedy and comedy masks: one mask has a frown and the other a big smile!
Not only can theatrical masks portray intense emotions, but they can also portray specific characters. In Italian commedia dell’arte plays, the recurring Zanni character was a peasant and his mask had a long, pointed nose. In Japanese Noh theatre, demons are portrayed by the kishin mask and are fiery red with large horns.
Actors portray people or creatures they are not. Masks help actors look like those creatures! If you wore a Japanese kishin mask you’d be a dangerous, powerful demon! If you wore a onnamen mask--also from Noh theatre--you’d be a young maiden.
If you could have your own mask—any mask—what would you want it to be? Would you want to be a demon like kishin? Or a ghost who walks invisible amongst the living? Think of your special mask as an alter ego—a version of yourself you’ve always wanted to be!
An alter ego is a version of you, but with a different personality. What version of yourself do you want to be? A brave warrior? A mysterious ghost? Masks allow us to become anything we want!
With a partner brainstorm the questions below. No need to write anything down!
What would you want your alter-ego mask to look like?
- What color is your special mask?
- Is your mask smooth or does it have warts?
- Do you have a long nose?
- Do you have big or small eyes?
Is your alter-ego mask an animal/creature?
- What kind?
- Does your mask make you ferocious (mean)?
- Does your mask have fur, scales, skin, feathers?
Do you play tricks on other characters in the play?
- Do you steal?
- Are you helpful to other characters?
- Are you generous? Do you share?
- Are you silly or serious?
How does wearing the mask make you feel?
GIVE YOUR MASK/ALTER EGO A NAME
The peasant in commedia dell’arte was named Zanni. Other characters in commedia dell’arte plays included the Harlequin, the Columbina, and the Brighella.
What is the name of your character? Hint: it cannot be your own name! Try to think of a name that fits the character you’ve come up with.
We are going to write acrostics!
Write the name of your mask vertical down the page. Then fill in the lines, starting with that letter.
Zany, the word which comes from and describes this wild and weird character!
All day long the Zanni works, but all day long the Zanni is also full of mirth
Nimble, agile—maybe even reckless
Nose as long as a train!
Ignorant maybe, a clown perhaps; but clever and witty, the Zanni makes us laugh
In your acrostic, include as many answers that you came up with during the brainstorm activity. For example, did you decide that your character steals from other characters and is greedy? Make sure to somehow include this in your acrostic! Include descriptions of your alter-ego. What does your mask look like? What does it allow you to do?
MAKE YOUR MASK
If you have time and the resources, make your alter-ego mask! If you can’t make one you can also draw on a piece of paper with colored pencils or crayons what your mask looks like. Start with a oval for the face and fill in the rest with details of your alter-ego self!
If you have mask-making materials such as paper mâché or paper plates, feel free to make your mask. The links below include instructions on how to make your own mask. Some instructions even include a mask made of bandages!