Lindsey Bull / Genieve Figgis / Annabelle Guetatra / Tom Howse / Cathy Lomax / Kate Lyddon / Yasemin Senel / Alli Sharma / Neal Tait / Mimei Thompson / Lotte Van De Walle
‘Though I still turn up my coat-collar in a lonely way and am always looking at myself in mirrors, they’re only habits and give no clue at all to my character, whatever that is. The most difficult performance in the world is acting naturally isn’t it? Everything else is artful.’ Angela Carter, Burning You Boats
If life is a cabaret old chum then surely our invitation to join in comes with some obligation of performative invention. Costuming our personas we engage in the existent psychodramas of our day-to-day existence, dipping into our own private dressing up box of pretending and deciding which face we’ll show to the world. Even though the theory of personality is still widely debated within psychological circles, we are surely far from being purely ruled by instinctual urges or Freudian Ids. Rather we are able to make a conscious choice and enact a dramatis personae of our own becoming, a fictional making up and putting on of self-ness that finds its metaphorical mirror image in acting.
While the verb ‘to mask’ means to put on a mask, for the purposes of disguise, concealment or to assume a different personality, ‘masque’ was originally the French spelling for a court entertainer, and in Tudor England masques were extravagant dramatic productions of high art. Yet both terms have about them a whiff of something dark, sinister and inauthentic. This disdain for disguising (an earlier word for the art of acting) remained well into the early 20th century when dramatists and actors began to start de-frocking the masquerade by going back to the idea of speaking in one’s own voice, not only returning to the real but also breaking through the hierarchical artifice of spectator and spectated.
Yet the pull of pretending remains a powerful potion. Perhaps it is because we ourselves would always prefer to be someone else, younger, older, thinner or prettier, that we are so drawn to artifice over truth. If we cannot see the end means of the production of our own desiring, how can we make ourselves over into our own special creations? It’s a theory that the cosmetics industry knows only too well.
Although we may not all have the right profiles to be film stars, the essence of performance is, as psychologists have argued, a part of what we do to be who we are. Whether natural, coquettish, contrived or dug up from some archetypal blueprint, this is all we have with which to mask or reveal the walking shadows of our brief hour upon life’s stage.
(This is an extract from the essay Make-Believe Mirabilis written to accompany Masque)
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