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BWW Blog: Through the Mask

Acting without your face is easier than it sounds.

BWW Blog: Through the Mask

When half of your face is covered it would seem almost impossible to deliver a performance. How could you express your emotions and convey the ideas of your piece when an audience cannot even see your mouth move? In order to stop the spread of the coronavirus this school year, all college students have been required to wear masks. Pursuing a theater degree while fighting off a virus presents numerous challenges, but adapting is necessary for safety and growth. Surprisingly, it is possible to act in a mask; and not only that, but the exercise is revolutionary.

Wearing a mask while acting, whether it be a monologue or scene, can help you grow as an actor - something I noticed while reflecting on my first semester. The cloth material flush to your face muffles sound, so performing under these conditions forces you to project. You don't fall into a bad habit of speaking without energy or relying on whispers for acting purposes. The audience cannot read your lips, so speech has to be as loud and clear as possible. What is most important is how well you speak with a mask on. Can you annunciate all of your words clearly without sacrificing your pace or tone? With practice, you can and you will. Yes, masks are prohibitive, but since they are a necessary part of in person training at least they can introduce new areas of focus.

When you act your most important tool can be your face. That being said, many actors from an early age learn to copy and model other performances rather than be in the moment themselves. This develops into a recurring habit that hinders a show and craft based on truth. Put on a mask and you take away that crutch. You are no longer relying on a certain face to depict an emotion, and no longer wondering how you look in the scene. Acting becomes the story of your eyes, just as it should be, and that is how you find your truths. There is no mockery and no gimmicks, only you navigating a piece and sharing your thoughts with the audience. Yes, it is important to have your entire face, your whole body, connected in your thoughts and acting, but it does not have to be your whole performance. The audience is taken in by the fire and energy behind your eyes, and when that is not shrouded by excessive pouts or smirks it can create something truly beautiful.

Masks have given the audience the gift of imagination. When viewing a performance, people can create the stories themselves. When hearing your inflection, the viewers make a decision for themselves whether that was a phrase of pain or sadness, anger or pure rage. This then helps theatergoers become invested in the story. As they are part of the narrative, they can focus on the meaning of the piece with their own vision of it. Each person can come away from the same performance with drastically different opinions and truly understand the collaboration that occurs within theater.

Yes, creating theater during these times is extremely difficult. There is less inspiration and freedom as we make it through this pandemic. Masks are necessary for saving lives and stopping the spread of COVID, though they can be tiresome as well. Reflecting on the positives from the fall semester, it was interesting to see how much I had learned while wearing a mask. I find that I can speak with much more clarity as I rely on my intentions to drive my piece and allow the audience to join the narrative. In the bright future when it is safe to remove masks, I will see how I have grown as a performer and a person, and I know that I can depend on my training from the pandemic to propel me forward.

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From This Author Student Blogger: Grace Cutler