14 Dec 2012

The Magic of Trestle Workshops

Our Associate Director, Oliver Jones, muses on the enduring success of Trestle masks and the enjoyment he takes from delivering Trestle workshops and training.
‘Delivering a mask workshop is very much like being Santa Claus delivering presents at Christmas. You are pretty much guaranteed that the young people are going to love it. Their faces light up with delight and their laughter fills whichever classroom, gymnasium or studio theatre you are freezing in. A Trestle workshop certainly warms the heart, the soul, and the rehearsal room!

It is no secret that Trestle Masks are a hugely significant tool in the teaching of drama predominantly in the UK, but increasingly overseas as well. Teachers find them thoroughly engaging with multiple uses across all aspects of the curriculum, from exploring physical theatre, to teaching Greek chorus, to devising through character. It is also exciting to be able to plot a journey with the masks, through basic, intermediate and advanced stages, witnessing students growing in confidence and ability. Recently I have been working out in Saudi Arabia, where the masks proved a huge hit. There is little culture of physical performance over there, and the masks really helped the participants that I was working with to explore using their bodies, and to find tangible ways into creating character. Similarly, Emily Gray (Trestle’s Artistic Director) has been spending time out in India, working with teachers to introduce them to our mask work. She has found again that they provide an engaging, immediate tool for exploring physicality and character. The masks cross cultures and borders and really highlight the universality of the human experience.

Having delivered hundreds of Trestle mask workshops and trained a plethora of teachers and practitioners in Trestle mask techniques, I often ask myself why their appeal is so enduring, and why they are as successful as they have been. They work. They always work. But why, and how? Firstly, I think it is the inherent nature of masks. They both hide and reveal simultaneously. They hide the face, yet they reveal the thoughts and emotions so clearly. They are both simple, and incredibly complex. They are safe, but also very exciting. This duality makes them so fascinating to watch and to wear. Secondly, Trestle Masks are very well designed. They are archetypal, instantly recognisable characters. They are very funny to watch, with the Basic Set being cartoonish, but you can also develop very serious and moving mask work with them especially with Intermediate and Advanced Sets. Thirdly, Trestle has such a strong track-record that the games, exercises and techniques we use are incredibly well honed, and offer students of all abilities and experience a genuine grasp of working in mask. They are in this way, very democratic, enabling ALL students to be able to have a degree of success in their work.

I am sure that Trestle masks will continue to be a popular and integral part of drama teaching in the UK and abroad, and very soon we will be launching a new half-mask set. Watch out for details! I will continue to immensely enjoy spreading the Trestle magic to schools, colleges, universities and theatre companies alike.’

Oliver’s simple tips for creating great mask work:
  • Keep actions simple
  • Keep contact with the audience, but remember that the mask needs to inhabit a world which is entire within itself for stories to remain believable- waving, giving thumbs up to the audience, etc. can jeopardise this.
  • Transfer expression and energy from the face to the body (normally we look at the eyes and interpret the face, in mask we look at the face and interpret the body)
  • Be aware of and observe body language
  • Stay focused
  • Remember that the angle of the mask as you present it will have an effect on how its expression is read.

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