Hello everyone and welcome to the weird and wonderful workings of my mind after three weeks of Philippe Gaulier.
Let’s cut to the chase; I don’t know who I am anymore. I mean, I still look like me. Even after a month of pastry and wine and cheese I am still managing to look like me, because thankfully we start each day with yoga and acrobatics and my body is furiously working overtime trying to keep me warm. But metaphorically, I feel like an old version of myself has cracked into a thousand pieces and I’m standing in the middle of it all wondering what to do next.
To put it in context, we are currently studying Melodrama. Yes it’s a totally outdated form, but it is an excellent exercise because it requires you to be huge on stage but fill out the gestures and text with your spirit. Philippe teaches you the essentials of the style, and then it is up to you to play. His fundamental philosophy is this: be beautiful, be sensitive and for god’s sake, DO NOT be boring. If you are, which is often the case, a brutal but remarkably precise summation of your work will ensue. The first week I was shocked at the things he said to people. “Do we think she is a fantastic actress or an old vacuum cleaner from the Soviet Union?”, “You look like you got Syphilis in Beirut” and “What are you doing? You were supposed to make a wonderful entrance. You entered like a fart on a plastic bag.” Even writing them now they don’t seem that bad compared to some of the more recent ones. Yesterday he asked a group of six people who had just finished a scene to leave the stage for a minute. When they had exited (but were still completely within earshot) he said to us “Now they’re gone, do we feel better? I felt a bit sorry for them, but he doesn’t do it to be nasty. He just tells it like it is and makes a ridiculous game of it all. If you are boring he will generally say “Ok, two possibilities. One – are you bored? Two – are you fucking bored?” and then proceed to ask three or four people in the class for their answer, whilst you stand on stage waiting to see whether he will work with you or say “Thank you, goodbye.”
He also playfully stereotypes everyone according to their nationality. For example, last Wednesday we were doing an exercise where we were all lined up in a mock firing squad. We had to wait for him to yell “Ready! Aim!” and just before he said “Fire!” we had to do something brilliant to save ourselves. We could break into a wonderful scene or sing a beautiful song, but we had to do something special. The first time around, it went like this “Ready! Aim” then someone would start to sing “I dreamed –“ and he would bang his drum and say “Thank you that was ABSOLUTELY awful.” After we were all terrible, he gave us a second try. “You have to give something special,” he reminded us. I got up again and was banged off in about a nanosecond, but something had shifted in me and I was emotionally charged and ready to go somewhere. He saw it straight away, so he brought me back on stage and asked me to sing a song at my pretend fiancé’s pretend funeral. He asked me “What are all the men in Australia called?” and some idiot called out “Bruce!” so I had to sing to Bruce, my pretend dead fiancé and then say “Goodbye Bruce” to the heavens over and over again. I was crying and crying and finally he banged the drum and said “Beautiful… alors, the name of this play is Goodbye Bruce” and that was that. It was my first experience here in truly giving something of myself, but unfortunately he now he makes me sing love songs and cry all the time. F**king Bruce, he’s not even real.
That’s just a snapshot of the kind of stuff we do here. It is bold and scary and I feel like I’ve just opened a doorway and have absolutely no idea where it’s leading. But even though it’s confusing and lonely at times and I have no home yet and my nose keeps spontaneously bleeding because it can’t cope with the cold, this work is making me fall in love with theatre again. That is what it’s all about for Philippe; he wants to see you as you were when you were seven, having fun and pretending to play. If you’re hiding behind technique or just going through the motions, it’s obvious. Sure, it’s a little difficult to have fun when you’re told you’re missing a few chromosomes and he wants to send you to Iraq with a sign saying “I hate Muslims” so that you die instantly, but in some weird way, it works.
Anyway, this is going to be a short column because as you can see my brain is a little overloaded. But I just wanted to touch base to let you all know I’m alive. I’ve figured out that when I’m feeling frazzled, going to a museum or gallery connects me to that sense of childlike wonder that I’m trying to cultivate. So I’m off to the Louvre to spend some time with Mona.