Words Describing Facial Expression In Performance

Here is an updated list of words describing facial expression in performance which should prove useful for students of drama and theatre.

Often as part of their coursework, students undertake a written analysis of a live theatre performance. Part of this task normally involves evaluating the actors’ use of expressive skills.

Sometimes theatre students are also required to analyse and evaluate for assessment their own solo or ensemble work developed in the classroom. This can involve describing their use of facial expressions.

Responses requiring words describing facial expression in performance are often needed in written drama and theatre examinations, also.

Ever found yourself repeating the same old words or phrases in a class essay about how an actor used facial expressions in a performance? How many times can you say she had a furrowed brow, pursed lips, or conveyed a gentle glance to another character on stage? Don’t worry. You’re not alone!

Students of drama and theatre often find those tiny movements of lips, eyes, cheeks and skin notoriously difficult to describe. Part of the problem lies in the fact that they are so small. It’s relatively easy to describe an actor’s movement on stage because it is usually clearly visible and easily interpreted. But not so with facial expressions.

While musical theatre is renowned for having actors use large facial expressions to convey emotion, straight dramas are another challenge altogether. Subtle use of facial expression is often deliberate in stage plays and can convey a lot about a character. But once you have spotted them, how do you describe them in detail, academically, and without sounding clichéd?

This curated list of words below should prove helpful for students trying to successfully describe an actor’s use facial expression in performance.

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absentfadedprudish
aggressivefaintpuckered
agonisedfakepursed
alluringfixedpuzzled
almondflaredquivering
angryflushedquizzical
angularflutteringradiant
anxiousfrustratedregretful
apologeticfullrelieved
appealingfurrowedroguish
bashfulfurtiveround
battedgazingsad
beaminggentlesardonic
befuddledglancingsatisfied
biliousglaringscarlet
blackglazedscornful
blankgleamingscowled
blazingglossyscrunched
bleakglowingsearching
blissfulgraveset
blithegrievingshamefaced
blue-eyedgrimsheepish
boredgrimacingshocked
broodingguiltyslack-jawed
brown-eyedhappyslanting
bug-eyedhardsly
bulginghauntedsmall
burninghauntingsmile
calculatingheart-shapedsmirked
cautioushonestsmooth
chagrinedhopelesssmug
cheekyhorrifiedsnarling
cheerfulhostilesolemn
cheerlesshotsombre
cholerichuntedsorrowful
clenchedhurtsour
coldhystericalsparkling
compassionateidioticsquinted
composedimpassivesquinty
concealedindifferentstern
concentratinginnocentstolid
confidentinscrutablestraight-faced
coolinterestedsulky
coyjeeringsullen
creasedjoyfulsurly
crestfallenkeensurprised
crimsonknittedsweet
crinkledlanguidsympathetic
curiousleeringtaunting
curvedliftedtaut
darklonelytear-filled
deadpanlovestrucktense
deceitfulmaskedthick
dejectedmeaningfulthin
demuremeditativethoughtful
derisivemesmerisingtight
despondentmildtight-lipped
determinedmischievoustrembling
disappointedmiserabletroubled
disapprovingmoodyturned up
disbelievingmorosetwisted
disgustedmournfultwitching
distastefulnegativeundecided
dolefulobstinatevacant
douroptimisticveiled
downcastovalwary
dreamypainedweary
droopedpalewhite
ecstaticpallidwide-eyed
enragedparanoidwithdrawn
enviouspeevedwithering
etchedperpelexedwoeful
evilpetulantwolfish
evil-lookingpiercingworried
exasperatedpityingwrathful
exhaustedpleadingwrinkled
expressionlesspoutingwry

Not sure of the meaning of a word on the list? Look it up in the dictionary.

5 Responses

  1. Edie says:

    Accusatory?

  2. Hazel says:

    Mild is repeated once. Just thought I’d tell you.

  3. List of words now alphabetical by column, repeated words deleted, optimised for mobile view.

  4. Angie says:

    Hi Justin,
    I’ve always found these really useful. I could really use a list like this for each of the performance skills. Is that a resource you would consider creating?

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