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Theatre professional offers tips on speaking through a face mask

Dennis Perkins is the Artistic Director at Knoxville Children's Theatre who teaches those communication techniques to young actors.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn — Knoxville Children's Theatre has continued to present live performances during the pandemic. The actors practice and perform in masks.

They have learned skills that could help all of us now that we spend so much time wearing face masks. 

Dennis Perkins is the Artistic Director at Knoxville Children's Theatre who teaches those communication techniques to young actors. 

"We have a pretty standard warm up and vocal technique procedure that we use for most of our shows," he said. "What we do is make sure that we have good warm ups so our voices are warmed up and also our face muscles. And we make sure we help  the actors learn how to breathe right. So we took all those techniques and just enhanced them and paid a lot more attention to the way we formed sounds, our vowels and consonants."

During warm ups they practice annunciating similar-sounding consonants. For example, they will go back and forth between b and d. 

He also suggests speaking from low in your body with strong breath support. 

And, of course, body language is more important than ever. 

"It's very subtle. Without the use of this (lower) part of your face you want to make sure that you're really concentrating and putting energy into your eyes and making sure that you open yourself up," he said. 

The actors usually practice in cloth masks but then switch to the lighter medical style masks for performances. 

Credit: WBIR
Artistic Director Dennis Perkins coaches young actors on communicating while wearing a face mask

Dennis Perkins said really paying attention is the key to communication.

"The most important thing is to listen and to be patient," he said. "It's a good time to slow down and try to communicate with people and make sure that you are expressing your meaning."

"If we could just chill out a little bit, take a moment and communicate and assume that other people are communicating kindly to us rather than the other way around," he said. 

You can see the actors with Knoxville Children's Theatre perform this weekend and the following weekend, through November 15. 

They are presenting a live production of Shakespeare's "The Tempest."