Mask Performance for a Contemporary Commedia dell’Arte

Authored by: Carlos García Estévez

The Routledge Companion to Commedia dell’Arte

Print publication date:  December  2014
Online publication date:  November  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415745062
eBook ISBN: 9781315750842
Adobe ISBN: 9781317613374


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The half masks used in Commedia dell’Arte force the actor to refrain from the techniques (or tricks) that might have great success in naturalistic theatre. There is no place for meaningful looks or elaborated psychological processes behind a mask: it demands clarity, decisiveness and immediacy. However, this does not mean that the acting should become entirely a matter of form. This is perhaps the biggest difficulty: someone playing the masks is easily inclined to focus fully on the exterior form whilst losing the inner life of the character. Subsequently, what could be deeply moving or hilarious, becomes a rather embarrassing performance, or, at best, a display of empty virtuosity. Here lies a fascinating feature of mask acting: it should be both ‘formally elaborate’ and ‘internally animated’ to convince any audience.

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