ὅ παῖς καλός: Richard Armitage, a peek behind the mask?

Thursday evening was the date of the Pinter/Proust staged reading at the 92nd St Y in New York City.  There are a variety of accounts of the performance itself ,which seem to be pretty favorable across the board.  Not surprisingly, most accounts focus heavily on the stage presence of the One actor in particular.  Many who could not attend were waiting with varying degrees of excitement for accounts of the event.

We weren’t disappointed.  Shortly after the end of the show, tumblr  exploded with photos and personal accounts of an unscheduled meet and greet between Richard Armitage and numerous fans who had waited after the show.  A simple #Richard Armitage will take you to a variety of them and the consensus is pretty much unanimous : “lovely” “sweet” “funny” “gorgeous” were frequently used to describe encounters, and pictures show a relaxed, smiling Armitage freely interacting with fans, posing for pictures, signing autographs and even taking cellphones in hand to take selfies.  Various people have reported that he mingled for quite a while, even telling security staff that “he wasn’t leaving until he’d talked to everyone” who was there to see him

This was a very different atmosphere from the media circus that surrounded the promotional tour for TDOS.  This wasn’t a press event, it was a small, not widely publicized performance where it’s very likely that he was aware that a large percentage of the audience was there specifically to see him perform and he returned the favor by coming out to meet them after the show.  The contrast between these two versions of Richard Armitage is really interesting to me.

I don’t doubt that there are a lot of pieces of Richard Armitage that he doesn’t reveal to the public, that to a certain extent, he wears a Richard Armitage mask.  As I saw picture after picture of a relaxed, smiling star, probably pumped by the adrenalin of the performance, I wondered if perhaps we might be getting a tiny peek behind the Richard Armitage Star mask to Richard Armitage, still a star, but also just a nice guy who genuinely appreciates his fans.

Roman mosaics depicting theatrical masks...on tragic, one comic.  From Pompeii

Roman mosaics depicting theatrical masks…on tragic, one comic.
From Pompeii

Masks of one sort or another have been a part of theater since its beginnings.  Elaborate theatrical masks played a vital role in classical theater productions for a couple of reasons.  First, whether the character was male or female, all of the actors were men, so female masks, like the one pictured above were worn by the male actors.

Sculptural frieze of theatrical masked actors, also from Pompeii

Sculptural frieze of theatrical masked actors, also from Pompeii

The masks were oversized with large openings for the mouth, obviously to enable the actors voices to project further.  Classical theatrical masks also have an exaggerated, almost grotesque look to them too, comic masks more so than those used for tragedy.  Part of this is simply costuming, but primarily, it gave the performers more visual impact in the giant venues in which these plays were produced.

Theater of Epidauros -Greece

Theater of Epidauros -Greece

The shot above represents the best preserved Greek theater of the type in which the plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides would have originally been produced.  The photo is shot from the top of the seating area, which could accommodate 12-14,000 people.   It is easy to see why oversized theatrical masks would have been useful on characters performing in the circular space of the “orchestra” below. (I saw a Greek production do Antigone here…without amplification…it was incredible!)

Roman theater - Amman, Jordan Source:  Wikimedia Commons

Roman theater – Amman, Jordan
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Even in the much smaller Roman theaters…the one above seats about 6000, the benefit of vivid theatrical masks is clear.

The masks of modern performers are generally much more figurative than they are literal, but most performers seem to use them often in the context of their public personas.  As masks go, compared to a lot of modern celebrities, Richard Armitage seems to go fairly light most of the time, regularly revealing himself as a decent human being, witty, thoughtful, charming -a thoroughly engaging Star mask, crafted for wide reaching media consumption.

On Thursday evening though, it seemed as if that polished mask was lifted just a bit to give us all a glimpse of a more relaxed and playful version of Richard Armitage that isn’t really possible in the rush rush context of massive press events, but is very much consistent with how he has interacted with fans in more controlled settings throughout his career.

Just a tiny peek?  Source:  Thorin6277

Just a tiny peek?
Source: Thorin6277

All that’s left to say is :  ὅ παῖς καλός

57 comments on “ὅ παῖς καλός: Richard Armitage, a peek behind the mask?

  1. Next week he’ll be at the Bronx zoo reading the phone book.

  2. Sorry, it’s already sold out.

  3. guylty says:

    It’s amazing to think that in ancient times they played for thousands of people in those amphi theatres. No wonder they needed exaggerated masks – if you were sitting in that last row, it would’ve been pretty difficult seeing the finer details of face acting. RA and his mastery of micro-expressions: Wasted. But well, when it comes to RL, let the mask slip more often, RA, I can only say. Looked like an enjoyable evening was had by all.

    • obscura says:

      Definitely a totally different visual style. When I was there, we sat about 1/2 way up (just above where there are cushions…ouch!) and the visuals are not great, but the acoustics are incredible…there is one speech where a character spits the word “woman” out like it was the foulest expletive and it was hair raising. How cool to hear the famous “chocolate baritone” there….I get goosebumps!

      Yeah, this was little peek was just fantastic!

      • guylty says:

        Oho, there is another serious thespian project for the man. A Greek tragedy in an authentic setting. (Can’t get any more high brow than that…)

        • Servetus says:

          could the Mediterranean infrastructure handle the fangirls? 🙂

          • guylty says:

            Oh, I bet it can. Some parts are like Majorca, I take it… 😉

          • Servetus says:

            I was thinking of that ampitheater in Amman …

          • obscura says:

            I am not going to Jordan at the moment, even for Richard Armitage as Jason….however, the Greek national theater has a summer festival of productions in the big theater at Epidauros…they regularly pack the house… BYO cushion though!

          • guylty says:

            Oh – that might be a different kettle of fish. Mind you, Jordan has long been on my list. Petra anyone? Maybe the designated archeologist of the Army would give us a tour? It’s at the top of my bucket list.

          • obscura says:

            I would love to go to Petra, if the region ever stabilizes…otoh, I will march fangirls back and forth across Greece on the grand tour 🙂

          • Servetus says:

            I limit myself to the local restaurant run by refugees from there. That sounds cynical, but they have filled the restaurant with pictures which they always want to tell you about and the food is superb and heck, now I want to go back with them when they go back.

          • obscura says:

            HA! *snort* I missed this on the first run! 😀

        • Servetus says:

          he could pick something really unenjoyable like The Dyskolos … that would lead to self-selection … and be even harder to understand than an screenplay adaptation of Pinter adapting Proust read in a lecture hall by stage actors …

          • guylty says:

            Wouldn’t deter me :-D. I have an open mind.

          • Servetus says:

            right, but it would potentially scare away most people who didn’t want to learn anything about Hellenic Greek theater in advance. To top it all off he could do it in Greek. Only the really diehard fans who keep saying they’d listen to him read the phone book would stick … And then maybe interrupt it with paragraphs of disquisition on the lost plays of Menander. I am liking this better and better. Such erudition!!!!!

          • guylty says:

            LOL – sounds positively torturous.

          • obscura says:

            Oh, delightfully so, bound to a rock, eagle pecking out liver every day…

            Must go collect the fry…carry on 🙂

          • Servetus says:

            Think of the facial expressions and microexpressions he’d bring to bear. Probably need a CGI bird, though.

          • obscura says:

            OMG…I am on the verge of a total geek OD!! (I wrote my master’s thesis on cult practice at santuaries like Epidauros)

          • obscura says:

            oh the planning! Don’t tell anyone, but when I saw Antigone, it was produced in Greek and I only understood about every tenth word, but I have never forfotten the experience …and that was with who knows who in the leads…Forget the squeeze, I might need CPR if Armitage speaks Prometheus…do you think he’s certified? (seriously, it’s probably adviseable 😉 )

          • Servetus says:

            yeah, I’m mostly being a smart*ss. The first time I saw an opera (apart from two experiences in Milwaukee when I was kid where everything was in English) in the Semperoper in Dresden, I was in the same position — the piece was sung in Italian and the supertitles were in German and my German wasn’t that hot at the time and it couldn’t have made less difference. I was hooked.

          • obscura says:

            I know..but…but 😀

          • obscura says:

            Or, he could do Lysistrata, which would be a total stitch!

          • Servetus says:

            absolutely but EVERYONE would want to see that — you read the synopsis and you think the topic is very modern. We want something that will generate a smaller crowd so that the meet and greet afterward is small enough that he can take a photo and squeeze every fangirl who’s there.

            And yeah, no trip to Jordan for me, either.

          • obscura says:

            Ok, Prometheus Bound….agonizing! Do it Aeschylus style…only two actors and the chorus, and in the Odeon of Herodes Atticus in Athens…much smaller!

          • Servetus says:

            yeah, you’d think a squeeze and a selfie w/fan would be the least reward you could expect for sitting through that 🙂 the play might not be epic but the necessary self-discipline would be.

          • obscura says:

            Too right! It should be on the ticket 🙂

          • I would go to the local open air market and listen to him read the ingredients for souvlaki and baklava.

          • obscura says:

            That’s Friday night 😉

          • Bring my own honey.

          • obscura says:

            LOL…there’s loads of that on site…cushions are the hot ticket 🙂 After about 2 hours I had rolled up my program juat for something between me and that marble slab!

  4. Servetus says:

    Yes, I agree. This is the Armitage people met on sets and even red carpets, etc., before The Hobbit. It only makes sense for him to stay behind his offensive line at events like that but this was so sweet and a reminder of the things that people always said about meeting him on the forums. Less like meeting Zeus than … meeting someone else? 🙂

    • obscura says:

      Hmmm…one is hard pressed to find a sweet, nice guy among the ranks of the Greek heroes of record…

      Yes, I can totally see the logistical necessities at play in the larger, media centered events…as you say, it only makes episodes like this all the sweeter.

  5. Mezz says:

    A very sweet peek behind the mask indeed. Thanks Obscura. 🙂

  6. Perry says:

    Fun post, and educational, as usual. This year seems to be an exception, but for the past several years there’s usually been at least one production of a Greek classic in some form or another- either ultra modern or very basic and true ( but in English of course). Is RA too old to play Pentheus in The Bacchae? We’d get him dressed in drag and torn to bits by crazed fanatics.

    • obscura says:

      In NYC? I know several of the East Coast universities do productions on a regular basis too. Oh yeah, Pentheus is another one of those characters I love to hate…he *almost* deserves what he gets. 😉 With classical costuming, as long as one can move around the stage it’s on…all about the voice…

      • Perry says:

        Sounds right to me. But isn’t there another play with the same story, containing a character named Hypollita? Or is this it?
        Yes, we’ve been having Broadway and off Bwy as well as Shakespeare in the Park productions of classics – but not this year. Last one I saw was Frogs with Nathan Lane and before that, Iphigenia in Aulus -chorus and all.. I can never get anyone to go with me.

        • obscura says:

          There is another Euripides’ play titled Hippolytus after the lead character who also ends up dead, but not in the same way. Orpheus gets torn apart by Maenads, but not in a drama I don’t think.

          I would love to go to a full on chorus production…it’s been years, but lord, the commute is a b#$%ch 😉

  7. MaryJaneZigZag says:

    Come for the Armitage discussion…stay for the comedy. You guys crack me up! Now, who can lend me the Big Book of the History of Greek Theatre? 🙂

  8. obscura says:

    I got mine broken up into bite size chunks 🙂

  9. […] to me by my high school Latin teacher.  It came immediately to mind the other day when a commenter suggested that a better understanding of ancient underwear was in order.  Well, we aim to please here at […]

  10. […] I would be delighted to either put on or take off Richard’s mask… […]

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