Traditionally, the masks worn in Commedia dell'Arte were made of leather and covered half of the actor's face. This is so the audience could see the mouth moving while the actor was speaking and making facial expressions. These masks were fitted to the face of one specific actor, since he would play the same role his whole life. One famous mask-maker was Sartori. (For more information on leather masks, please visit the links page.)
Commedia masks have large, broad features which are distinct for each character. Since the nose is the most prominent facial attribute, this is the feature which can make a character most easily recognizable. For example, Pantalone has a large, hooked nose. The larger and broader a Zanni's nose, the stupider it is. The amount of hair coming out of a Zanni's nose can also tell how stupid it is.
Here's how to make masks for your own Commedia character. Remember, the Lovers do not wear masks. Instructions for their makeup can also be found below.
The easiest (and most fun) way to make a Commedia mask is out of paper mache. These can be fitted to your face by building them around a pre-made neutral half-mask.
To build the mask:
1) Take your pre-bought neutral half-mask and, if it's not plastic, cover it with cellophane (like Handi-wrap). If the mask is plastic, skip to step number two.
2) Cover the cellophane (or plastic mask) with a thin layer of Vaseline, so you'll be able to take the paper mache off when you're finished.
3) Begin to layer on your newspaper or paper towel strips.
4) After you've built up a couple of layers, start to build in your character's features--a long, pointed nose for Pantalone; a broad nose for a Zanni; large cheeks for Capitano; a high forehead for Dottore. These will become more obvious with adding more layers.
5) Smooth any unintentional rough spots.
Both of the Lovers
wear makeup instead of masks. Their makeup is rather simple to duplicate:
1) Apply a base of white pancake foundation.
2) Red or pink rouge should go on the apples of the cheeks (the part that comes forward when you smile)
3) Paint the lips red.
4) Birthmarks and false eyelashes can be added, if you want them.
This is only one interpretation of
the Lovers' makeup. It can vary, as long as they look silly and vain.
(This goes for the male Lover, as well.)
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