Mask Reading Assignment:

Read each of these online articles and answer the questions on the Reading Worksheet.  The Reading Worksheet (Criteria A) can be downloaded using the link below.

"Masks" by George Ulrich, Milwaukee Public Museum, USA

"History of Masks" & "Virtual tour of the museum" Ianos Mask Museum, KMOP, Greece

Reading Worksheet Assignment

Mask Video Clips:

Video clips showing masks used in different theatrical traditions around the world.  Note there are two Kwakiutl clips (Clips 1&2).

Kwakiutl Potlatch (Pacific Northwest)

The Kwakiutl Tribe of British Columbia, Canada, along with other tribes such as the Haida, are well known for their traditional ceremony called the potlatch and the intricately detailed masks associated with it.

The potlatch was a big celebration that often involved feasting, singing, masked dance performances, and the giving away of gifts.  The ceremony usually corresponded with a person's change in social status, for example, marriage, birth, death, and coming of age. Potlatches became a way in which families could show off their wealth to others.  Each person invited to a Potlatch received gifts related to their social rank. The more wealth that a family gave away, the more prestige was bestowed on them.

Carved out of cedar wood, masks were a very important part of theatrical masked dance performances.  Each mask and accompanying dance is owned by a specific family and passed down by elders and chiefs.  Bird and animal figures as well as supernatural beings are dominant subjects.  Kwakiutl religion assigned mythological animal spirits special powers and each family clan portrayed a particular animal spirit as part of their heritage.  These spirits were in their true form very human-like.  This is reflected by the mask-within-a-mask unique to the Kwakiutl and Haida.  The stories told in masked dance performances are often accounts of the interactions of these spirits with humans and each other. 

The winter months, or Tsetseka, was the climax of the year; the ceremonial or supernatural season when potlatches along with their elaborate theatrical masked dance preformances were staged.  Masked dance performances generally took place in a circular area and were accompanied by music and narration.

T'alch'um (Korea)

Talchum is a traditional Korean dance performed while wearing a mask. It originated during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). Talchum literally means 'mask dance' and was enjoyed by commoners to release pent-up frustrations while concealing their identity behind a mask. It is an open-air event in which performers and spectators mingle freely together. When a talchum performance was held, the whole village people would congregate for a day of festivity.   

Popular themes include ridiculing corrupt noblemen or monks and the conflict between an ugly wife and a seductive concubine. The dance was performed on the first full moon, Buddha's birthday, Dano festival, which falls on the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar, and Chuseok.  A unique part of 'talchum' is the participation of the audience toward the end of a performance. Distinction between the actors and the audience fades toward the end, as everyone joins together in robust dance to close the performance.

Noh (Japan)

Noh is the oldest traditional Japanese drama.  In it masks play an important role. The story is told not just through dialogue but also through utai (singing), hayashi (musical accompaniment), and controlled movement.  It's origins are in the fourteenth century although the current design of noh theaters became the norm in the early Meiji era (1868-1912). 

The leading actor usually wears a mask, turning them into someone very different: an old man, young or old woman, divine figure, ghost or demon.  Not everyone wears a mask, though. Those who play waki (supporting) roles don't have to transform themselves, and so they do not wear masks.

Noh is performed on a special stage. The main area is a square measuring about 5 meters on each side with a post at each corner holding up a roof. Extending to the left (when seen from the audience) from the back of the stage is an open corridor or bridge through which the main actors and musicians enter and leave; it's also used as a performing area.  The chorus and musicians--two or three percussionists and a flutist--sit to the right of the stage. Other distinguishing features of the stage include unvarnished wood to remind us of the art's purity and sacred origin and a pine tree on the back panel representing the spirit world.

There are some 260 plays in the noh repertoire. Many of them are drawn from ancient literary or historical texts. The language of noh plays is very poetic, and the utai singing style is very distinctive.  Noh acting is a skill passed down within a few families from one generation to the next.  Noh actors are always males.

Comparing and Contrasting Masked Drama Traditions

Use the format on the pdf document below to make a comparision/contrast outline for masked dramas of the Kwakiutl Potlatch, Korean T'alch'um, and Japanese Noh.  Group Activity.  Formative.

compare_contr.pdf compare_contr.pdf
Size : 29.313 Kb
Type : pdf

The Cat That Walked By Himself (India)

Based on a traditional Indian legend, The Cat that Walked by Himself was first introduced to the English speaking world by author Rudyard Kipling in 1902. It is a story of the beginning of domesticated life: Man meets Woman and they move into a cave and set up the first household. Dog, Horse, and Cow come out of the Wild Woods and become tame. But Cat refuses, “I am not a friend and I am not a servant. I am the Cat who walks by himself and all places are alike to me.” Woman makes a bargain with Cat to allow him to come into the cave and sit by the fire and drink milk. But when night comes, he is once again the Cat that walks by himself.  

In this performance traditional Indian dance and actors in mask portraying the various animals of the forest create a modern theatrical experience using elements from traditional masked dance drama.

Commedia Dell Arte (Italy)

Commedia dell'arte is a theatrical form characterized by improvised dialogue and a cast of colorful stock characters, many masked, that emerged in northern Italy in the fifteenth century and rapidly gained popularity throughout Europe. 

An Article from

A Documentary by the National Theatre, UK
1. A Historical Overview

2. The World of Commedia dell'Arte
3. Character Shape
4. Language
5. Emotion

More Resources:

Scripts and Scenarios

More Scenarios

Stock Characters

Commedia Performance Reflection

Please answer these reflection questions in your Google Doc Journal:

1. What challenges as an individual and member of a group did you experience in creating and acting out your Commedia performance?

2. What techniques or concepts did you use in your performance that you discovered through researching your character, mask or scenario?

3. Rate yourself as an actor.  How have you improved over the course of the semester?  Think about mime technique, story structure, and the physical acting we have worked on as you compose your answer. 

Comparison/Contrast Resource for Summative Essay:

compare_contr.pdf compare_contr.pdf
Size : 29.313 Kb
Type : pdf

Mask Research Assignment (Summative):

Mask Research Assignment.pdf Mask Research Assignment.pdf
Size : 236.64 Kb
Type : pdf
Mask Research Rubric.pdf Mask Research Rubric.pdf
Size : 217.683 Kb
Type : pdf
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