Some of the quarter masks CA teacher Shelley Bolman worked with during his summer intensive study.
“One of the beautiful things about mask work is that every person brings something different to it,” says CA theater teacher Shelley Bolman. “The same exact mask plays differently on me than it would on you.”
A Concord Academy professional development grant allowed Bolman to attend a three-week summer intensive in July at the Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre in Blue Lake, Calif. While his CA colleague Megan Schy Gleeson engages students with many types of masks in classes and productions, Bolman’s mask work had been mostly limited to the commedia dell’arte style, as in Molière’s Scapin, which he directed in 2018. He was eager to expand his understanding, he says, of “what mask is.”
A teacher and professional performer, Bolman, who joined the faculty in 2016, made the most of his time as a student. At Dell’Arte, he was surprised by how much fun he had working with quarter masks, which cover the cheeks, nose, and upper lip, leaving the eyes, forehead, and mouth free.
Mask work creates structure for movement as actors attempt to embody the nature of specific masks while improvising and interacting with an audience. “It requires empathy for the mask,” Bolman says. “It also requires resistance to the two great gods of the West, Trying and Doing, and embraces Being. This simplicity is a hard lesson.”
“Simplicity is a hard lesson.”
– Shelley Bolman, CA theater teacher
Bolman’s fellow students rehearsing a scene.
Just two of the many masks Bolman and his fellow student worked with at the Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre.
It’s one that his fellow Dell’Arte students — actors, dancers, directors, teachers, and designers — helped him learn. Once, while preparing a scene, he was fiddling with a prop. “They told me I was using it as a crutch and they were taking the prop away from me,” he says. “They were totally right. It’s nice to be called out on stuff like that!”
The summer intensive has informed the course he’s teaching this semester, Theater 2: Mask Work, in which students are exploring the fundamentals of mask play and expanding their physical capabilities. “Anything that encourages students to be comfortable in front of an audience,” Bolman says, “to speak without a text and to understand that they are enough, will help them in all walks of life, not just theater.”