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Πέμπτη, 9 Ιουνίου 2011

THE MASK IN PRACTISE - ANCIENT GREEK THEATRE


By sir Peter Hall
The Greeks knew that their society needed to experience extreme tragedy and wild anarchic comedy in order to remain sane. Drama allowed them the objectivity of art, the distance that allows us to reflect on something while experiencing it. Hence the mask.

In Greek tragedy ,the bloodiest actions are kept off the stage.Similarly,the most hysterical behavior is contained by the mask. Both are disciplines of form. The audience is able to experience passions at an intensity which takes them beyond the moment of repulsion. The screaming naked, human face would repel. The face of the mask-with the scream behind it- does not. A great mask indeed has no expression. It is ambiguous .The sound of a scream presented as part of the body language of hysteria makes the mask scream. The sound of ribald laughter makes the mask laugh.

The Greek stage itself –keeping all fundamental or violent action off stage –is itself a mask. It is a platform with double doors. Behind those doors, lies the horror, that which is mythical. Behind those doors the unexpected can and does happen. Whatever its horror, it is unseen, imagined. It would be diminished in power if it came on stage. The bodies of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra are shown after we have heard their screams and imagined their deaths. In front of the platform for the principals is the arena where the Chorus sing and dance and tell the story. They are our representatives, our interpreters. They ask our questions, propose our answers. They too are masked.

Throughout its history the Greek theatre remained masked. A few actors represented many principal characters by donning many masks. All ancient drama, whether it be the rain dances of the American Indians, or the epic storytellings of the East that try to define the gods all used masks. Why?

I believe that live performance always has to have the equivalent of a mask in order to transmit an emotion. It must have a mask, even if it is not a literal mask. It needs the equivalent if it is to deal with primal passions .It demands form-either in its text , or its physical life, or its music. All these can act like a Greek mask. Only then can strong feeling be dealt with.
A Greek full mask can laugh or cry – it is entirely dependent on what the character wearing it is feeling. This can be as well expressed by the body as by the words that are uttered. The ambiguous mask, fully used, is often much more expressive than the human face because it is dealing with the quintessence of emotions. Its contradictions and yet its simplicity enable a range of feeling and an extremity of passion to be expressed which is often much difficult with a naked face. The mask is an instrument of communication.
I believe this is how the Chorus were performed: when fifteen old men of Argos all wear the same configuration of full mask, they are fifteen old men who are united in age ,race and attitude. But because the actors are all different, with subtly different body language, the masks, though the same, will all look slightly different. Yet they will also look sufficiently the same to be a collective. There is a reassuring similarity, but not an arid uniformity.

THEATRE OF EPIDAURUS
To bring the great Greek plays to Epidaurus has been one of the blessings of my professional life . For a start , this ancient theatre has an almost spiritual quality for anyone who believes in the imaginative power of theatre . It heals , and stimulates, questions and challenges at the same time as it entertains.
There is also the wonder for a group of english theatre people of bringing an ancient play back home.'When we invoke the gods there is the sky ; when we tell of the underworld our feet are on the real earth.' Above all this is honest theatre.
Personally I have always longed to see Greek plays at Epidaurus in daylight because it is one of the great daylight theatres of history. It seems almost impudent: our puny electric lights and our odd bits of scenery against this magestic place.
But even by night, and in artficial light the magic of the place is potent. You can see and you can hear and yet be a member of a vast audience. Epidaurus reminds every one that thetregoing is a social act where we meet together to imagine. And it is live. I know that I am lucky man to have worked there.
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