Last weekend I was running a Category 3 TaPS workshop in Dubai, where we were looking at Theatre of the Unfamiliar. I was training the teachers in Kathakali, but we also had a visiting expert in Balinese theatre forms (Rucina Ballinger) run 3 different master classes with us. One master class focused on Topeng masked dance drama from Java. If you want to read more about the form itself, then see the students blog on Topeng, and the resources list at the end of this blog. What this blog will share with you are ideas we had, as a group of teachers, about ways into the theatre tradition, and links we could make with other theatre styles.

Watch Topeng Masked Dance intro video to give you a good introduction to the tradition of Topeng masked theatre and its relation to trance.


Exercises on focus and passing the focus:

  • Line focus 1 – stand in a line and all look down, all look up to the person on the far right of the line. All look down again then up to the second person in the line. Add emotion and movement when the focus is on the individual.
  • Line focus 2 – all sit in a line on chairs and number the chairs 1 upwards. Say, 1 to 3, 3 to 6. Get a rhythm going. If some misses their number then they move to seat number 1 and all move up in the line. The goal is to keep the rhythm going as group focus and be seated at the end of the line for as long as possible.
  • Mask work 1 – do neutral mask exercises where the facial focus is to the audience and characters are portrayed through walks, entrances, gestures and physicality
  • Mask work 2 – look at the Togeng masks and enter with the movement and pace of their chosen character


Commedia – explore the physicality and movement of Commedia masks and characters, with a focus on stock characters and stock lines.

Topeng – introduce the groups of Topeng characters and how they move, and who is silent

Group characters – choose masks from each character group and enter the space to a count of 8 (to show character movement, mood and intent) to end in a character freeze. Create one strong image that shows a moment when all the characters interact – create with the entrance of each character individually.

Form & improvisation

Topeng is improvised around a structure. Carry out some improvisation exercises that incorporate story-telling techniques, then play around with the structure of a Topeng performance (see below) as an improvised performance:

  1. Full face characters enters – Prime minister: he doesn’t speak
  2. Story-tellers (half mask) introduce the story – The first (Wayan – older) enters to start telling the story – no idea of place.
  3. Second story-teller (Ketut – younger) philosophizes about the culture
  4. Introduce the king
  5. Clowns enter and carry on the story
  6. Antagonist king ends the story



Introduction to Topeng masks & trance:

Topeng and Temple ceremonies:

Types of mask dance:

‘A meeting of two spirits’:

Mask resources:

Trestle Theatre mask work, official site:

Trestle on youtube:

Trestle Theatre workshops/shows: