The Masquerade


Apologies for the weekend’s silence – I was off in a field pretending to be a goblin. No, that is not a euphemism. I do live action roleplay, popularly known as LARP. It’s the best form of escapism I’ve ever found, and a fantastic method of storytelling.

One key thing that’s used in LARP is masks. These allow people to portray different races, or multiple different characters played by the same guy. It takes a certain suspension of disbelief, true, but it’s the added factor that helps tell a story. The better the mask, the easier it is.

The role of masks throughout history is really interesting. In the Regency era masquerade balls became hugely popular due to the romanticism of anonymity, which led to raunchy behaviour and a reputation for immorality. Sounds fun.

In Greek theatre they were essential props. They may look ridiculous to us but the exaggerated features and huge mouths weren’t made to be seen close up. From the back of an amphitheatre they look fine. They allowed men to ‘convincingly’ play women, meant that three actors could play all the parts (early Greek tragedy traditionally only had a protagonist, and then expanded to two supporting actors), and – most importantly of all – could portray the gods.

This is actually where the derogatory term ‘bare faced’ comes from. When the masks first began to fall out of fashion, portraying the divine with one’s own face was seen as blasphemous. ‘Bare faced’ was an actor who had the arrogance to show his own face on stage rather than use a mask.

Of course, it’s not just physical masks that are interesting. There’s also the internal masks for different social situations. I see this most starkly in LARP when people are actively trying to be different but it’s equally true in everyday life. Mostly it’s done subconsciously but it can be made to work more powerfully for you if you think about it. I can summon up my inner bitch or socialite when I need it, even if I’m not in the mood or wouldn’t necessarily play that role because of nerves.

It’s not all good, though. Certainly it led to an awful lot of bad emo teen poetry, whilst I was trying to work out what the whole internal mask thing was about. And for that I can only apologise.

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