Neutral Mask





“The Neutral Mask is the basic mask that drives our understating of all other masks. It is through the Neutral Mask that we are able to wear other masks…It helps us discover the space around us, and the rhythm and gravity of things.”

–Jacques Lecoq. Theatre of Movement and Gesture.


The aim is a body that is organized to move with minimum effort and maximum efficiency, not through muscular strength but increased consciousness of how it works.”

-Moshe Feldenkrais

In English, to ‘mask’ something is to hide the reality. Yet when fifth-century Greeks spoke of masks, they had only the word prosopn, the regular term for face. This in turn derived from the preposition pros (‘before’) joined to ops, a noun related to words for seeing and the eye. ‘Before the gaze…’ yet the gaze in question might equally belong to me the seer or you the seen. Slippage from seer to seen was easy in a classical world where I am coincides with who I am seen to be.

Later Greeks coined the word prosopeion to separate false faces from real ones, but no such distinction was made in the age of Sophocles, when donning a face was no negative act of concealment but a positive act of becoming.

Roman terminology is a step less remote from ours. The Latin term for a theatre mask, persona was not the same as vultus, ‘face’, and it gave birth to handy modern terms like ‘personality’, the front that we present to the world. This brief journey through semantics reveals something of how other people once saw the world.



Aristotle claims:

Imitation is natural to man from childhood; he differs from other animals in that he is most imitative. Then too all men take pleasure in imitative representations…The reason is that learning things is most enjoyable. Thus for Aristotle, miming is part of the learning process.[1]

The neutral mask affirms Aristotle’s claims, namely an affirmation of knowledge accrued through movement. This is both self knowledge and knowledge of the world in all its material, ideological and conceptual complexity…

The practice of Neutral Mask operates at two reinforcing levels: as metaphor to facilitate a different way of seeing and being in the world, and as pragmatic teaching instruction to help students open themselves up corporeally and psychologically to a range of possibilities which will help them as actors and theatre makers. [2] It is the discovery of the self but not through the self.

For Lecoq, the mask facilitates a discovery of the central point, the essence of a relationship, or a conflict. [3]

“Neutral” Lecoq explains, “Does not mean absent. It means without a past, open, ready. One cannot act psychologically because the eye doesn’t travel. The eye is replaced by the head.” These constraints, along with others develop a sense of space

for the actor improvising. “To be an author of space we must build an awareness of space…it is a fundamental element of acting”[1]

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As all masks are a structure of movement, this mask, then, is a reference point, a basic mask, a fulcrum mask for all the other masks. Essentially the neutral mask opens up the actor to the space around him. It puts him in a state of discovery, of openness, of freedom to receive.

Before wearing other masks, the questions then become:

Is there a place somewhere, where we can go back to, where all departure is possible, where you can distance yourself from emotion, a place of calm, but not a place of sleep? Through being ‘nothing’ can we contain and all potentiality?

What is the tool of the theatre? What is the material of the theatre? Transformation. If so, where do we do it? On stage? The whole notion of Peter Brook’s idea was Space.

We not only transform ourselves but we transform space, we mask it.

What is the importance of the breath in the transforming and masking of space?

How can the actor create space? Where can they come from?


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[1] Jacques Lecoq. Theatre of Movement and Gesture.


[1]Felner, Mira. Apostles of Silence. London, 1985, pg 147.


[2] Simon Murray, John Keefe. Physical Theatres: A Critical introduction. Routledge,   New York, 2007, pg 146.


[3]Felner, Mira. Apostles of Silence. London, 1985, pg 157.