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Revealing MasksExotic Influences and Ritualized Performance in Modernist Music Theater$
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W. Anthony Sheppard

Print publication date: 2001

Print ISBN-13: 9780520223028

Published to California Scholarship Online: May 2012

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520223028.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM CALIFORNIA SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.california.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of California Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in CALSO for personal use.date: 19 October 2021

The Masks of Modernism

The Masks of Modernism

(p.25) 4 The Masks of Modernism
Revealing Masks

W. Anthony Sheppard

University of California Press

Masks are fundamentally double in function, signification, and experience, serving simultaneously as tools for disguise and as markers of identity. Covering the face renders the individual performer anonymous and neutralizes his or her humanity. At the same time, the performer is defined anew by the mask and is transformed into a deity, demon, or some universal superhuman type, or, conversely, into an exaggerated representation of a subhuman impulse. Beneath the mask, the performer is constrained by the fixed facial expression and at the same time liberated to explore the heightened expressivity of the rest of the body and the voice. In modern psychological theater, the masked face may serve to indicate profound duality in a character's personality—a tension between internal and external existence, between a private and a social self. In ritual performance, the masked performer is often regarded as a literal incarnation of the spirit or deity represented by the mask and is allowed to behave as such, free to act without fear of recrimination. Ultimately, a mask is a powerful disembodied signifier that is radically transferrable. Separate from any specific human realization, it functions as a concrete sign of a transcendent identity, regardless of wearer.

Keywords:   mask, theatrical arts, social self, performers, psychological theater, ritual performance, transcendent identity

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