#7 PART ONE - The Clown Diaries - Greek Tragedy, Harsh Criticism and Tears
Be warned, this is a long one!
So much has happened in the last week that I have decided to split this week's blog into TWO PARTS! Lucky you! The first part being entirely dedicated to the course and the second part dedicated to subjects such as fashion, food, paris gossip and restaurant recommendations.
Unfortunately since I wrote last Wednesday I have been suffering with a nasty concussion. Clumsy-me accidentally cut the top of my head open last Wednesday night, in a moment visually reminiscent of the prom scene in the film Carrie. Because of this and also due to a developing flu virus I have been feeling far more fragile and tender than normal!
Apologise therefore for more spelling and grammar mistakes than normal! My dyslexic mind is working even slower this week!
I never knew that much about Greek Tragedy until I studied at Gaulier.... about the stories of Antigone, Medea, the cruelty of Kreon and the violence of Dioynnus. The Greek Tragedies were something faintly known and often crudishly recited, such as the story of Oedipus and his relationship with his mum. However, only here have I started to understand the beauty and power of the stories and how they all intertwine together.
In our room at home Ryan and I share the same dog-eared copy of the plays of Euripides. It is now underlined and marked with our various notes, Conversations over wine are on analysis and understanding of the characters.... ‘Is Medea in love with Jason? Does she hate him? Is she insane when she kills her children?" etc etc.
Gaulier has a very specific artistic manifesto as a teacher and director. From 45 years of teaching he has developed a definite view on what makes good theatre and a beautiful performance. For those who have come from drama schools where there is a focus on realism and naturalism Gaulier’s training can seem a complete push against their honed craft. He hates 'mumblers' and he hates Stanisklavski and any other teacher of ‘method’. If you truly believe you are the character when you are on stage rather than enjoying ‘pretending’ to be the character, you are doing something terribly wrong. He doesn’t want you to feel anything except the pleasure to play and pretend on stage. You need to enjoy being with the audience. If you come on stage feeling the sadness of Antigone, you are what he calls ‘a fanatic’ . You shouldn’t feel anything according to him- let the audience do the feeling! In that respect you could argue that the performer for Gaulier is a heightened version of a marionette - with only pleasure and happiness in their body as they perform to what he calls 'the rhythm and music of the character'.
His way of commenting on you as a performer is one of the coolest parts of the school’s teaching. Gaulier encourages honest, blunt criticism - no one hides the truth from one another. Phrases such as “You were funny at the start and then you lost it” or “You were crap at the beginning AND THEN something happened and you became beautiful” are common when you hear students chatting over their performances in class. The trust between students has changed and evolved significantly as the term has gone by. If you were shy at the beginning of the course when telling another student what you thought of their performance, that shyness has fully evaporated now. You talk frankly with eachother. Gaulier teaches you to not be afraid to be the first to say in front of the class that you thought a piece of work was "fucking boring". Because of this it is easy to understand why so many people from the school form theatre companies with fellow students afterwards - you have learned a very liberating and honest way of creating work which is unique to the school.
This aspect of school means that class can sometimes be incredibly emotional as a performer and hard to watch as a fellow student or audience member. Yesterday for example I spent 30 minutes on stage in tears for the entire time* as Gaulier interrogated me and directed me to perform in a multitude of ways: as a tree, a rapper, a singer, a child with a doll, in order to open up a part of me as a performer that I am not used to playing or showing on stage. It was, as Ryan said, "fucking intense".
Despite the harsh words and overt offenses which Gaulier is known for as a teacher, it is all thrown at you with kindness. As a director he has great compassion. He can pick out your bad habits in an instant and can comment deftly on what is holding you back as a performer - doing so in a charmingly cruel and clownish way. As he said to me after my gruelling stage time yesterday: “You are almost beautiful on stage, but you dont’ want to show it to us. You don’t want to be beautiful. You need to want to be beautiful." In some ways he is un-teaching all the habits I have picked up and learned as a stand-up comedian.
Thus, although class is getting tougher each day, with more students shedding their skin and becomming more vulnerable, the teaching is invaluable. With less than 3 weeks left I am excited and nervous to see what will come out of us all by the final performance!
Right, I must go now, I've got to try and learn an Antigone monologue in time for this afternoon.
*I put this partly down to hormones, being concussed, being ill and also being completely vulnerable and emotionally knackered.