Tuesday, March 11, 2008

ON ACTING: Mask Upon Mask

An actor-as-character enters a scene--as people do as they move through everyday life--with a series of masks covering his/her true face. (Why? The truth beneath the mask is too stark a reality. Only bad actors want the truth revealed; good actors, like people, want quick and easy success; and truth is a torturous and difficult price to pay for success, and is only paid unwillingly and when all other masking options prove unsuccessful.)

Masks are the outer layers of a characters personality: expressions of anger, joy, confusion, happiness, sexuality...the outer shape of our inner emotions. Each character has a different ordering, layering or configuration of masks...but all have masks.

In good acting, and in good drama, masks are stripped away one by one as the character confronts the continuing blows of the scene's conflict. The character progresses from ripped-off mask by ripped-off mask, exposed emotion (mask) by exposed emotion; until, at the end of the drama/conflict, when all masks are stripped away, all emotions have proven unsuccessful, a single image remains--our true face, the final emotion, the naked face without mask, revealed and raw, the deepest and most feared and emotion, the one that lies at the core of the character's being.

At that climactic point, the character is forced like Blanche DuBois to look in the unvarnished, well-lit mirror and sees herself, the unmasked face, a visage that even s/he may have only intermittently and unwillingly seen in his/her lifetime. Seeing that naked truth, she can either surmount the starkness of the vision, and survive, called a happy ending (a comedy, in the classic sense), or be overwhelmed by the sight, and be destroyed (a tragedy).

Either way, comedy or tragedy--climactic truth that overcomes, or climactic truth that is overwhelming--the viewing audience, masked themselves over a lifetime of fear and avoidance, confronts its collective and individual faces. "I am ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille." They sit in the darkened theater, unmasked themselves, experiencing through the character's masked-ripping travails, what Aristotle called the climax of the drama, ultimate self-recognition or self-discovery.


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