Neutral Mask

It has been 2 weeks since we presented the first installment of ‘Place Jules Joffrin’.  With a cast of 35, we showed a 15 minute take on 24 hours in the life of a very busy urban plaza.

It was not a disaster.  Thanks largely to a group who met yesterday to plot out today’s rehearsal.  Another group had planned the day before ( I was part of that group and we weren’t quite as organized ) I think the plan for ‘direction’ is only now gradually coming into focus.  Each day we will have a group of 5 to determine what we do the next day.  This way everyone gets a voice.  I suppose it is part of the challenge to figure out for ourselves how we are to direct ourselves.

I am cast as the head waiter at Cafe Nord Sud – the only commercial business – and I went up to have a cafe there last evening before our LEM class.  It is a very common but classic Paris style restaurants.  The waiters are older and brisk with a dry sense of humor.  They wear white shirts, black vests, bow ties, and white aprons – quite distinct from many of the more casual cafes and bars in Paris where the staff looks like a bad rock band.  The bistro is colorful and popular but not quaint or cute.  You will not see an Amercan romantic comedy filmed here.  It serves a very business lunch and cafes and Pernod on the sidewalk all day.

The main criticism was that our piece was too technical – we focused too much on insuring we had found the rhythms of the crowds and tried to squeeze them into 15 minutes and did not find the life or some lively moments.  They felt we could be less structured and looser with our ‘plan’.  All true, I suppose, but we are often discovering the goal of each exercise only after we have done it – I suppose that is arts education. ( I know my students complain of the same thing.)  They certainly never have trouble finding fault with our creations.

We also began this week working with the neutral mask.  This prop is the core of Jacques Lecoq’s work and holds a mystical place in the understanding of his performance teaching.  Essentially, the masks are dark leather representations of men and women. Handmade and exquisitely beautiful, the masks are entirely neutral in emotion or feeling.  When a performer wears one his facial gestures disappear and the movement of his body (and his eyes) take on greater presence.  There seems to be a delicate balance in performance style required.  The actor’s movements must be simpler and more direct but also honest and clear – it amazing to see the other students perform with them.  Instead of hiding their faces the mask lays bare our true selves.  We communicate so much with our bodies, perhaps more honestly than our faces.

About Russell Parkman

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