enpaku 早稲田大学演劇博物館

Online Exhibition

Lost in Pandemic―Theatre Adrift, Expression's New Horizons

Face Masks

The most iconic and familiar item in the coronavirus pandemic is the face mask.
Around February 2020, the number of people covering their nose and mouth began to increase, and masks disappeared from pharmacies and convenience stores. When they were finally restocked, they carried surprisingly high prices.
As the mask shortage became acute, handmade masks designed in various ways and made from a variety of materials began to appear. Members of the OSK Nippon Revue Company and costume staff of the Shiki Theatre Company made their own masks. Eventually, many theatre companies and theatres also began to produce and sell masks and mask cases of their own.
More than a year later, we are still required to wear masks when we go out. We live with our masks on even during the humid rainy season or in the intense summer heat. It is as though masks were now part of our body.
In theatres, as in the outside world, it became mandatory for staff members and audiences to wear masks or face shields. The guidelines established by the Association of Public Theaters and Halls in Japan after the first state of emergency was lifted state that masks must be worn by performers and staff members except in cases where they make the performance difficult. The guidelines created confusion among some people because the requirement that performers wear masks on stage was unprecedented.
Nevertheless, this does not mean that infection-control measures are not needed for performers who speak in close proximity to one another. Negai ga Kanau Gutsugutsu Kakuteru (wish-fulfilling boiling cocktail) (『願いがかなうぐつぐつカクテル』), which was performed at the New National Theatre Tokyo after being postponed following the state of emergency declaration, co-opted the requirement that masks be worn on stage. For this play, masks were designed in such a way that they became part of the costume. Thus, unique costumes that combined practicality and style graced the stage. In the world of traditional theatre, kabuki, bunraku, and noh performers lined up wearing masks covering their nose and neck. This was an unusual sight to behold. This still continues in kabuki and noh as part of an effort to take thorough infection-control measures.

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