Classroom and Rehearsal: Mask Work Can Free the Actor’s Body

Masks make for insights for actors.
Masks make for insights for actors.

Working with masks offers various challenges to young actors. This is because masks take away one of an actor’s primary methods of communication- facial expression. But it also works to free the body. Here are some suggestions on how to utilize mask work in the classroom when working with young actors. To get your students started on creating and using their own mask see the following mask exercise by Laura Cole.


Do basic improvisations with masked actors. Put two or three in a scene by secretly giving each the following information for their improv character:

  • Who am I?
  • What just happened?
  • What do I want?
A mask can change someone instantly.
A mask can change someone instantly.

It’s interesting to first improvise a scene without masks and then to go back and do the scene again with the actors wearing masks.

Scene Work

Adding masks into a scripted scene that students are working on can also be revealing. The idea is to use the masks to make discoveries and to then use those discoveries in the scene when playing it without the masks. More often than not masks work in these situations can result in new ways of discovering how to say lines and how to utilize body language. It’s always important to discuss your observations regarding what the actors did and their insights into how the masks influenced the scene and how they played it. Try to find aspects of the scene played with masks that you can use in the scene when it’s played without the masks.

Creating Characters Through Physicalizing

Neutral masks eliminate all personality from the face.
Neutral masks eliminate all personality from the face.

Masks are wonderful to use when trying to create characters through by primarily using physicality. Although the exercise associated with this blog focuses on students creating masks that capture and emotion and possess a personality, you may also choose to purchase some inexpensive neutral masks. (You may purchase these at about $6.00 each.) Neutral masks eliminate all personality from the face and make the actor focus entirely on creating through movement.

Mask Work Makes the Actor the Creator

When you have actors make their own masks and then use them in improvised scenes, you’re giving them the power to create in many different ways. They are using their imaginations and artistic abilities to create an object that will define their character on stage. Thus, the fine arts come into play. Then as actors in a scene they use the performing arts to utilize what they have created, as they bring a character to life. Have fun with masks. They will open up a whole new creative avenue for your actors.