For some time now I have been reading Impro by Keith Johnstone, which is a book about the art of improvisation in the theater. Written in the 70s, this book is not only very entertaining, but also offers deep insights into human interaction and the human condition. Among many other topics, Johnstone mentions what is known as “Mask” acting. Masks form important part in pageants, rituals, ceremonies and festivals. They are used to embody an important tradition to the people, and form a central part in many religious ceremonies. For Johnstone, masks represent another way of activating creative resources within his students, and more than that, they get into the experience of trance.
One important of the mask is that it takes over the actor, and not the other way around. That means that the actor has to “just let the mask” develop. Many times, a newly developed mask will be unable to speak and will be in a more child like mind set. At this point, you might be wondering what that has to do with you?
Well, one thing Johnstone said really made me think. He said that each mask, once the actor allows it to take over, exhibits particular characteristics. That holds true for each actor that puts it on, even when separated by countries and years. This, together with the fact that with each mask, the actor enters another mind set, another world, made me think about the human race.
“Clothes make the person” is what came to my mind. Back in school when we discussed this old saying, we used to talk about firemen, policemen, CEO’s etc, and how their dress makes known who they are. Yet, what if their outfits do more than that? What if the very clothes we wear influence our mindset as to what can happen? What if putting on the right clothes puts us in the right trance to go out and impress, and others make us want to be invisible?
Upon putting on the mask, Johnstone notes that each students enters a trance that allows him to be led by the mask, by the persona that develops. For some time now I have had the notion that with our clothing we do something very similar. We tend to think of our clothes as simply marking out or hiding our good and bad bodily traits, and I believe that clothes also give us the mindset we are looking for. Why else would people spend hours to make themselves look good before going out? It is not nearly as much for the other people, as it is for ourselves, to get into the right trance for having a great night.
When an actor puts on a mask he accesses a different character, a different persona, and I believe our own clothes do the same thing with us. Of course, it is not as drastic as the effect of a mask, where the actor might even lose the ability to speak, but our clothes do give us access to states that we might not be able to reach otherwise. So, the next time you get ready to go out and make sure to wear the right mask for the occasion…