A couple weeks ago I took a trance mask intensive offered by the Hideout Theatre, taught by two visiting instructors from Europe, Alex Fredera and Will Steele. It was one of the more fascinating and transformative experiences of my life and I suspect I'll do more of it moving forward.
It occupies from my angle an interesting space, at an intersection of theater, psychology, and spirituality.
The use of masks to channel spirits is apparently common in non-western cultures, and improv theater guru Keith Johnstone took the practice into the theatrical realm where it can be used as a training tool and a theatrical form in its own right.
My own take is that something about the trance mask experience facilitates entering into a child or animal-like state, where present-moment consciousness is enhanced and ego is put to the side.
In thinking about it this way the characters Pee Wee Herman and Kramer came to my mind insofar as they seem to lack normal adult egos, while still being somehow adult human animals. I always loved those characters, and I loved the characters that showed up in the mask intensive for similar reasons, namely the profound innocence, at least on significant levels.
From a therapeutic point of view Johnstone was aware of therapy practices of his day and compared the tone of mask work to that of group therapy and psychodrama environments; this was a small part of my interest in the intensive as I've been getting interested in the so-called expressive therapies (pychodrama, dance/movement therapy, art therapy).
My own experience was powerfully therapeutic - I had experiences in mask that were corrective, you could say, for a little child inside of me. In one scene my Mask (a capital M is used when referring to the character one portrays or channels when in mask) was encouraged to be more assertive with others who had messed up his space than he was inclined to be, while in another a more frightened Mask than mine found some comfort in my Mask, giving some young part of me an experience of being not-such-a-bad-little-guy-after-all. (Yeah historically I have had some troubles with shame.)
As theater training goes, I'd consider this a good one: since the training I've found myself more comfortable and confident on stage and seem to generate and sink into characters more easily.
Alex and Will are both beautiful guys, wonderful facilitators, and I'm grateful to them for their good work. Check out this trance mask work either as a participant or audience member if you get a chance.