Friday, 18 October 2013

Unit 1 part A - arts practice

Bertolt Brecht's use of masks in theatre

Brecht (1898-1956) was one of the most influential twentieth century playwrights. Brecht's approach to theatre was unusual for its time. He believed that theatre should not attempt to portray real life but instead to represent life. Over a period of a few years Brecht developed Epic Theatre which was a theatre style which produced distance between performers and the audience viewed a performance in an objective way. Brecht's aim was to prevent the audience from becoming attached to characters so that they would focus better on the storyline. The audience were constantly reminded that the actors were not the characters by getting the actors to use techniques such as breaking the fourth wall where the actor would speak directly to the audience. Actors would also come out of character to update the audience on what was about to happen, and would often deliver their lines in the third person.

The use of half masks were common in Brecht's performances as a method of preventing the audience from feeling empathy for the characters. Their presence reflected his acting style themes which focused on separation, alienation and social change.

History of masks in theatre

The Ancient Greeks used masks in theatre as a way to worship and depict mythological gods. They used exaggerated and over large masks which were fitted around the actor's mouth and aided him to project his voice. It was the Ancient Greeks who set a route for the making and use of theatrical masks. The easily recognisable comedy tragedy masks that still represent theatre today originated with the Ancient Greeks.

During the middle ages of 12th and 13th centuries in the time of the mystery plays masks were used in performances to exaggerate a character. As mystery plays were frequently written by church priests and focused on getting a message across to the public about the wickedness of sin and the ways to redemption the masks were usually grotesque depictions of Satan and his workers. They were usually made out of papier mache and were highly detailed.

In 15th century Venice during the height of the renaissance period Commedia dell Arte was created as an art form and consisted of improvised comedy which included characters wearing extremely ridiculous and grotesque masks. Half masks were used by actors performing Commedia dell Arte whose main themes revolved around fear of life, death and everything.


  1. Fascinating stuff about Brecht's influence on contemporary theatre. I learnt a lot from reading this blog post. It's also interesting to know how much theatre down the ages has returned to the Ancient Greek methods.

  2. This is really interesting, i learnt a lot about Brecht's theatre techniques and it was amazing to find out that many methods were taken from the Ancient Greeks. I found the post a really good read.