The Romans made great use of masks – also in other situations such as military masks, in particular those of the equestrians. The Roman theatre mask is a distinctive characteristic of ancient interpretative arts. Wearing the mask played a significant role in the actor’s mental state and physical character embodiment. At its best the theatre masks enabled a metamorphosis of the actor’s individuality and linking it with that of the audience.
‘Character drawing’ was created by projecting the actor’s mental state and voice, by means of the mask and its resonance chambers across the theatre’s architectural acoustics, to the audience, throughout the entirety of the performance itself.
Ancient literature, such as Cicero’s “De Oratore” tells us of the great efforts and methodologies used by orators, (and hence we can presume poets and actors), to strengthen and train their memories to learn the script, and modulate their voices as part of “actio” or “pronunciatio” in order to transmit not only clarity but also intent. Equally as important as a modern microphone for a singer the mask and its particularly large mouth and resonance chambers were designed to project the actor’s trained voice across to the audience.
Furthermore the interchangeable mask enabled the same actor to assume multiple roles within the same play, whilst minimising the interfering effect of their personal traits as single actor.