The roots of modern theater are found in ancient Greece and Greek masks. Those masks continue to influence us today as seen in the comedy and tragedy masks associated with thespian pursuits as well as symbols of the Greek god Ianus, later known as Janus to the Romans and Dionysus, god of wine and fertility.
Greek Masks in Theater
To play their parts, many actors in Greek theater wore masks. Rituals and ceremonies were as much a part of daily Greek life as the theater. In ritual and ceremony, masks were employed to help man embody the tale or the gods he was representing. Thespis is considered the father of the Greek theater tradition. He motivated a shift between the choir (a large group) to the individual actor, the use of costumes and of course the use of Greek masks.
Greek Stage Secrets
The adoption of Greek masks allowed male actors to portray female characters in popular Greek plays because women were forbidden to perform on stage. The same actor may also have multiple roles in the same play, which means changing masks allowed him that freedom to be associated only with the words and the role and not the actor himself. In today's era of film, television and stage, actors refer to the masks they wear as the different parts they play, but the allusion returns us to the ancient masks worn by the Greeks.
How a Mask was Made
Ancient masks were typically created from leather, cloth or wood. The masks would be painted or decorated to be appropriate to the part. For example, a mask depicting a royal woman might have heavily accentuated features and use decorative stones as jewelry. The masks were more than just facial coverings, they often included hair, either human or animal, to complete the effect of becoming a character in their own right.
The only openings in a mask were the holes drilled for the eyes. So the actor would be required to pitch their voice past the mask obscuring it. Modern hard plastic Halloween masks are a tribute to these Greek masks. They are inflexible, often featuring faux hair (also formed from hard plastic) and openings for the eyes and the mouth.
Using Masks Today
Modern masks are also more likely to be used only at festive events such as Halloween parties or masquerades. The modern masquerade embraces the concept of the ornate mask, dressed up with glitter, jewels and feathers to create an elusive, mysterious appearance. The modern masquerade is also a ritual or a rite associated with a holiday or event. For example, Mardi Gras embraces the masquerade and masks similar to Greek masks, covering the face and allowing the revelers to play different parts.
The half mask, which only covers the eyes and upper portion of the face are an abbreviated version of the Greek mask. In the musical, ''The Phantom of the Opera", the Phantom wears a half-mask of porcelain that is reminiscent of the masks of comedy and tragedy associated with the theater.
Create Your Own Mask
If you want to create your own Greek masks for a modern event, you can start by heading to a craft store such as Michaels or Hobby Lobby. Both stores sell a hard plastic mask that is essentially expressionless. You can choose from a large number of items including paint, feathers, hair, fabric, glitter and beads to decorate the mask and create the face you want to show. You can hang the mask on the wall as a decoration for an event or wear it as part of your own Greek costume. If you plan to have a little fun at your costumed event, you might even make two masks and swap them out midway through the night to see whom catches on to the 'ruse'.
While traditional Greek masks did not boast a mouth hole, you should add one to your own if you plan to wear it for any length of time to help make breathing and talking easier. A full face mask can also be very hot to wear, so limit how much makeup you wear beneath the mask and allow yourself brief respites to remove it and powder your nose, literally.