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About Masks in Actor Training

Jacques Copeau
1879 – 1949

The tradition of actor training with masks in the modern western theatre tradition began with Jacques Copeau at the Theatre du Vieux-Columbier in 1913. Copeau was interested in finding a way to awaken the actor’s imagination as well as create a state of being that directed attention toward the telling of a story rather than a total focus on the presentation of the self in performance. To teach this he reached for the mask. He began with a simple removal of the face through hoods and fabric, moved to a primitive neutral mask and eventually graduated to masks from cultures other than his own.

Jacques Lecoq
1921 – 1999

Copeau had worked with nearly all of the great French Theatre artists of his time and had met and corresponded with other great theatre teachers, innovators and performers throughout Europe including Gordon Craig, AdolpheAppia, Emile Jacques Dalcroze and Constantine Stanislavski. The experiences and correspondence with these great artists influenced Copeau and led to the development of his school that existed for a brief time at The Vieux Columbier.

Copeau’s students and company members went on to influence theatre around the world. They include Louis Jouvet, an original Theatre du Vieux Columbier company member and collaborator; Suzanne Bing, an original company member and one of Copeau’s closest colleagues; Charles Dullin; Etienne Decroux, a student of Ecole du Vieux-Colombier; Jean Daste; and Antonin Artaud, a student for a brief period of time. Pupils of some of these individuals include, Jean Louis Barrault and Marcel Marceaux. Jouvet later became a professor at the Paris Conservatoire and resident director of the Commedia Francais. Michael Saint-Denis, Copeau’s nephew, helped to found five major theatre training programs in Europe, Canada and the United States: the London Theatre School, The Old Vic Theatre School, the EcoleSuperieureD’ArtDramatique, The Drama Division of the Julliard School and the National Theatre School of Canada.

Sandra Mladenovitch

Jerzy Grotowski, one of the great master teachers of the 20th century referred to Saint-Denis, as “my spiritual father.”Other students of Saint-Denis have gone on to develop programs and teach at major universities in the United States. These schools include: the School of Drama at Yale University, Harvard University, and Depaul University (Formerly The Good man School of Drama). Copeau’s influence has been profound and persists to the present day. His initiatives continue to permeate drama training on all levels.


The school most closely linked to, and inspired by, the teachings of Jacques Copeau is Ecole Jacques Lecoq in Paris France. The further influence of EcoleLecoq is profound and has influenced a growth in theatre worldwide. Former students of Lecoq are performing on stages in film and television and teaching in Universities on every continent They include artists such as Dario Fo, a Nobel Prize winning playwright, Geoffrey Rush, an Academy Award nominee, the founding artistic ensemble of Cirque du Solier, and Julie Taymor.

In addition to The International School of Theatre Jacques Lecoq in Paris, France two major training programs steeped in mask training are The London International School of the Performing Arts, located in London, England and the Dell’Arte School in Blue Lake California.

Master teachers trained at the Lecoqschool also teach workshops world wide. DodyDisanto teaches at The Center For Movement Theatre in Washington, DC as well as at workshop locations regionally within the United States. Sandra Mladenovitch who taught along side of Lecoq in Paris is now teaching in the International Acting With Masks Program, a collaboration between Oslo University College in Oslo Norway, Nanjing
University in Nanjing China and DAMU in Prague and is an associate professor of acting at Nort-Trondelag University College in Verdal, Norway. Both Sandra and Dody are pictured above.

Mask Training Resources

by Jonathan Becker.

Who is Jacques Lecoq and what is his contribution to the field of actor training? These two questions and their answers, together with the importance of Lecoq’s work has not been fully understood by the educational community in the United States. This thesis examines the strengths of Lecoq’s pedagogical approach and the understandings it inspires within the student.

This thesis discusses: The concept of the body as text, students and the teaching environment, teaching and methodology, the essentials of movement training and the importance of a unified vocabulary for the teaching of movement.

Here are my top picks for resources on the masks in actor training. Amazon.com has provided the descriptions of these books. I have added a little to each.

In this book, Murray explains how Lecoq came to acting from sports, which caused emphasis and exploration focused on the physical rather than the psychological. He explains his techniques and looks at the work of companies created by Lecoq-trained actors, the most famous of which are Theatre de Complicite and Mummenschanz.

This is a great book for actors, dancers, choreographers, directors, teachers and all kinds of performing artists. Its texts reveal a way of perceiving the art of performers in scenic situations considering the physical qualities and possibilities of their bodies, but also of not so obviously visible paradigms such as energy, presence, balance, dilation and so on. Its photographs and illustrations are clearly demonstrative of the topics approached.

TIME Magazine and The Power of Print

This week’s cover of TIME magazine created more buzz than any many cover in recent memory… and it did not have to do with a celebrity or scandal.  It dealt with a very real subject with a very real human being.  Here is the cover to judge for yourself and here are two of the many links in which I have offered my views on the subject matter:

The first is in the LA Times and the second is in CommPro.biz

In short, in this digital age where everything travels faster than a speeding bullet, this cover, in print, has been able to stop people in their tracks, create a conversation and carry on with the conversation like no other medium has done before.  There is still plenty of life in good print.  There is a print life after digital.  Today and tomorrow.  So, never underestimate the power of print in a digital age. Never!

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