By observing an artistic discipline such as theatre throughout history, we can see two points very clearly:
– the use of costumes, masks, make-up and disguises;
– the fact of representing either sacred or human (profane) stories separately.
Theatre has always used costumes, disguises, masks and make-up. What was, and still is, the reason for this? If we look at this art, a very long time ago in history, the first objective reason seems to be that the actors played other characters than themselves on stage. In the beginning, theatre was primarily used to stage the lives of the Gods, the Divine heroes, or to tell stories of the birth of the world and of human life, guided by the Divine, the wise, the Divinities watching over this world. These characters from another world transcending the earthly world, demanded clothes, hairstyles and accessories to stage them that were quite different from the human daily world. But beyond that objective reason, there is something else that truly comes into play in this case.
To be able to represent another character than yourself, dressing in clothing makes it easier to put yourself in someone’s shoes. By using a disguise, the actor can better identify with the character being played. The inner side, the identification, thus benefits from an external reality, clothing, make-up, and accessories.
If we go further in this analysis and a little further into history, we can see that the ancient Greeks often wore masks, called “persona”, for public performances. The Greek theatre underlined with these masks, the fact that the role involved, and the actor who performed, was quite different from what was represented on stage. In Greece, at that time, more and more plays and epics were being performed, where the main role no longer represented a Divinity, but a mortal man, a simple human being, facing Gods or surrounded by Divinities. It was no longer the Gods telling their stories or accomplishments before the human world, but the human being himself staging his own personal experience dealing with a reality that transcended him. This intrinsic, profound changeover required a clear definition, even obviously on stage, to be able to separate the Divine from the human. In Greece, the human suddenly competed with the Divine.
The actor was neither the human character he performed, nor beside the Divinities: he performed the earthly reality of man. This means that not only did the Greek actor had to clearly show that he was playing the role of a human being, a man, but it was not about himself personally: he had to represent another man on stage. This reality had not been yet experienced in this way in the history of humanity and theatre. Even if the human had previously appeared on stage next to the Divine, the Gods, man had not put himself on an equal footing with this Divine reality. We can even say that he had not been the same way centre staged.
In ancient Greece, the human being began to put forward his own belonging to the Divine world, as a soul, and this required a redefinition of roles, situations and the way it was staged. His humanity was not only to be clearly announced, but within it, man was at the same time man and soul, inwardly. This led the Greeks to wear masks, which they called “persona”, meaning the character “human being”, i.e. the disguised soul in the terrestrial world. With this step, a combination was also created on stage, between the human and the Divine, that was yet not a mixture.
From that moment on, theatre really began to play the role it was meant to in this world: the role of revealing the link between the human and the Divine. More than an art of simple animation, theatre evokes the interaction between the two terrestrial and Divine realities and shows how life on Earth is itself a play, in which the soul performs its role as a living life, through a human character, learns and evolves. The mission of theatre has just begun and will be revealed in all its splendor as this art will bring to the stage plays and stories which are really worth watching and experiencing from this point of view. Modern man will increasingly seek to understand his life, himself, and his reason for being in this world. It is this challenge that awaits the theatre of the future.
(to be continued)