Our large group peformance based on a day in Selfridges went surprisingly smoothly, considering we hadn’t even run through the entire thing once. It was very rough and had several acres of room for improvement but I was pleased it all flowed together reasonably well, with few points where things were horribly, glaringly wrong. Having said that the teachers were, I think, unusually generous, having nothing bad to say about it. This is most unlike them and I’m a bit mystified by their praise, which left everyone feeling very positive about the whole experience (despite the difficulties of communally wrangling so many people into a cohesive performance; I can’t describe how frustrating I found the final couple of all-too-democratic rehearsal sessions).
This week we’ve been back in small groups of seven people, and on Monday we’ll be presenting a piece based on us all having to leave home and go on a journey during which an event happens. We’ll then have a few days to improve it before showing it again on the last Friday of term. This is to be performed wearing neutral masks, which means no speaking and seems to make us much more simple and stylised in our activities.
We’ve been working with masks every day for a few weeks now. Thankfully the unbearable reverence of the first couple of days has disappeared and now masks seem a useful way of having us focus solely on our body and what we do with it. We’ve been working on a “fundamental journey”: you begin as you’re tossed around by the ocean which eventually throws you out onto a beach; you walk up to a forest and venture through it emerging at the foot of a mountain; you walk up as the slopes get stepper until you have to climb vertical cliff faces to the top; you then run down the other side to a river; you leap across the river using stepping stones; you walk through grass-filled plains and a desert, ending as you watch the sun set.
I say “you” do such and such but it’s usually described as “the mask” doing these activities. We’re aiming for a performance in which we see the mask, rather than you. We don’t want to see Phil doing these activities but, I guess, some kind of universal person epitomised by the mask.
We’ve been working on representing each of these kinds of movements — being thrown around in the sea, walking up steep hills, etc — and it’s difficult. It’s hard enough just trying to banish the thoughts of “I’m in an industrial unit in west London pretending to jump across an imaginary river while wearing a mask; what would my friends say if they could see me now”, never mind portraying each activity convincingly.
Having pieced the journey together we immediately began looking at each section again but with nature turning against us: the sea is stormy; the forest is on fire; the mountain is undergoing an earthquake; the river is raging; the desert has a sand storm; and the sunset is replaced by a view of the town of our childhood burning down. How cheery!
I’m not 100% clear on all of the points of this at the moment, but I’m pretty confident that there are some and they’ll become more apparent. It’s certainly a good way to get used to using one’s body and find out where you’re least flexible. I was chatting to a chap from the second year who said that although you never get it all “right”, the feeling you learn from the journey with the mask stays with you long after moving on to other exercises and is a great foundation.
I’m wondering if all this solo mask work has a similar place in the Lecoq theories as all the solo exercises (endowment, sense memory, etc) do in Method-based work, but I don’t really know enough to be sure. Either way, and however useful it is, I’m looking forward to doing more work involving interaction between people