Sunday, October 30, 2005

Mask On, Mask Off

Just a moment ago, by total chance, I came across this article at a website called Backstage.com. It refers to a method of actor training which involves wearing a "neutrality mask".

I will not regurgitate the article here, but basically, the argument seems to be that the mask, which covers the face and predictably has no facial expression to it, helps strip away certain mannerisms and traits in a performer. Without those "stories in the body" that we all hold, the actor is forced to create a more generic, universal, and hence, more powerful story telling persona through the use of body motions and such, while donning the mask.

All I can really say about it after reading this article is, I do not know what to think. On the one hand, I can see the great benefit of stripping away excess baggage and such, in order to create a more pure presentation.

Yet on the other hand, I wonder if a method like this is required, or even useful to most people, in order to obtain that mind set.

Indeed, when I hear some of the near life changing experiences some of the students interviewed for the article share, I am somewhat at a loss. I say that because the mask itself looks not unlike the thing I bought last week for 3 dollars at the Halloween shop, according to the pictures on this website about Jacques Lecoq, the largest proponent of the technique. Given this fact, having never donned the mask in a class myself, I am tempted to see it as a tad gimmicky. Surely there are more practical ways to attain the state of calm neutrality that can be of benefit to an actor before a scene.

Once again, for emphasis, I grant that I have never been enrolled in any classes which make use of the mask and the technique. If anyone reading this has in fact made use of this technique, please share your thoughts. Perhaps I would have a better notion of it then.

5 comments:

Playmaker said...

I'd encourage you to take a neutral mask workshop, if you happen upon one.

Jacques LeCoq work is what helped transform my movement onstage from all flailing arms and legs and jutting chin to something much more integrated and expressive.

And the work is simple-- we all rely on our faces to express our emotions. Take away your face and what do you have? Neutral mask shows you.

I think it's very worthwhile.

Ty Unglebower said...

Thank you for your comments, playmaker. I wonder if you would be willing to share a little more about what the experience is like? What sort of exercises were you required to perform while in the mask? I realize it is probably a difficult concept to communicate in words, but if you had anything else about it to share, I would be appreciative.

As for taking such a workshop myself, I would perhaps consider it, if not for the fact that I doubt there is anyplace local that would offer such a workshop. I will keep my eyes open, however.

Playmaker said...

Sure. There are two exercises that I recall most clearly:

Lying on the floor, asleep. Waking up, walking forward and looking at the horizon. Seeing something on the horizon. Picking up a rock and throwing it at whatever it is you saw, and returning to your spot and going back to sleep.

The second exercise was just as simple. Entering a room where there was a chair with a table. On the table was a book and a teacup. Enter, sit. Open book and read a page. Have a sip from the cup. Leave.

So, if your objective in performing these exercises is to be as neutral as possible, without character or expression, you'll quickly learn that we're never not giving away something with our bodies. The trick is to be doing it on purpose and not because ingrained habits force us to.

Whether its shoulder tension or a habit of twitching your foot-- whatever--neutral mask exposes those quirks. You're relying on your instructor and classmates to see for you, of course, but watching others work through it with you is just as educational.

It's about awareness-- what am I doing with my body that I don't even realize? If I can get to a place where I'm always aware, then I also can choose what will be most effective for whatever role I'm creating.

I thought I read something about a workshop being offered recently in the DC area, but maybe I'm wrong. I think a lot of movement classes offer at least a bit of neutral mask, though.

Ty Unglebower said...

The more I hear the more interesting it seems.

The notion of finding out how hard it is to remain neutral, in order to better control your actions when you are not being neutral is simplicity at its finest.

Sometimes the most profound things, not just in theatre, but any avenue of life, or those that are simplest to understand, but quite difficult to master.

Anonymous said...

Appart of being aware of your body the neutral mask allows your body to learn how it relates to the space. And the technique is also used to explore different rithms in the nature like the elements, animals and matirials among others. Your body will remember them and consuslly or unconsuslly will put them in practice while your working on a certain role.

I myself studied in the lecoq school and im a teacher of neutral mask.

Sorry for my horrible english.