“Mask class” and the importance of faces.


Every now and then, it’s good to remind ourselves how important the human face is. It’s why I devote so many blog posts to the subject of faces— be they  good,  bad, or ugly.

Halloween masks.

Most kids enjoy wearing masks, tho many will strip them off the minute they get hot and sweaty or become a nuisance. People  with congenital facial deformities like my cleft lip and palate leave the masks on despite the hardship because they are reborn as normal. Elsewhere I’ve written about the joy I felt as a kid wearing Halloween masks. No one could see my scars or asymmetrical 

Even those with acquired deformities from disease —like Lucy Grealy who wrote about  her deformity from cancer surgery in Autobiography of a Face—or accidents truly appreciate masks. Grealy writes about the freedom she felt wearing a Halloween mask. 

I didn’t know till actor Kevin Spacey appeared on “The Charlie Rose” show recently, that some actors take a course called mask class. Spacey took his first mask class at  the Julliard School where he studied drama between 1979 and 1981. Perhaps because he had tried his luck as a stand-up comedian (mostly entering bowling alley talent contests) and failed, he found mask class to be extremely helpful.

Mask class for actors.


Kevin Spacey believes mask class allowed him to forget about himself in acting school.  He feels good acting requires an actor lose himself in a role. He should know as he’s a highly regarded actor who’s the winner of Oscar’s Best Actor and  Supporting Actor awards, among others. 

For what it’s worth, Julliard’s Mask classes are currently described thusly:

Developing Character through Masks: The mask is a powerful tool that enables the actor to free his/her instincts, impulses, and imagination. In this course students work with the neutral mask, animal mask, and character mask as they learn how to transform into different characters. The mask work teaches us how to communicate a truthful physical manifestation of a character’s inner state. Students explore the character’s physical, emotional, and psychological aspects in order to embody the life of the character. (Graduates only)

Seminar in Masks Work: The challenge is to create, through the use of a given mask, the body, mind, and heart of an eccentric — often comedic — character. The change of physical identity involved breaks down inhibitions and serves not only to release the student’s imaginative capacity for transformation, but to prepare the way for equally courageous characterization without a mask. This class meets once a week as a whole group to explore the power of transformation in utilizing the wide variety of character and animal masks. (Combined studies) Traditionally, the first project of the Second Year has been a project that the whole group participates in, with an emphasis on asking the students to characterize and find truth in extended transformations. (Combined studies)

As a footnote, a write up in The Hollywood Reporter suggests that New York based Juilliard School can boast some famous alum besides Spacey: Jessica Chastain, Laura Linney, Viola Davis, Patti LuPone, Kelsey Grammer, Robin Williams. According to the story:

To learn about CLEFT HEART: Chasing Normal, click the Amazon or Barnes & Noble buttons in the margins. Or click the image of the book cover. My coming-of-age memoir has intertwining love stories, mystery, tragedy, and triumph.

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