The frozen face: discourses of mechanization in neutral mask training

Purcell-Gates, L (2009) The frozen face: discourses of mechanization in neutral mask training. In: Theatre & Performance Research Association, 7-9 September 2009, University of Plymouth, Plymouth, UK.

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On a sunny afternoon in the third floor studio classroom of École Philippe Gaulier, the atmosphere shifted almost imperceptibly. Five students stood in the center of the room with white expressionless masks in their hands, looking confusedly at the grizzled man who sat slumped in a chair at the center of the row of student spectators, cradling his frame drum on his lap. Philippe Gaulier had just finished his instructions for that afternoon’s Neutral Mask exercise: “Neutral Mask walks forward, sees ocean—when see ocean, big emotion comes in.” Gaulier’s use of the word “emotion” in connection with the supposedly emotion-less Neutral Mask marked a significant moment of student struggle to come to grips with a mask form steeped in discourses of mechanization and interiority, discourses closely tied to mime developments in early twentieth-century France. During this time mime practitioners were working with and often explicitly against the mime traditions of the nineteenth century which had seen a split between the cold, mechanized and the grotesque, naturalistic body. Their work was set against the backdrop of increasing physical mechanization and, alongside this, shifting cultural values placed upon the “natural” self and the expression of emotions. This paper looks at the Neutral Mask as it developed in the twentieth century as a pedagogical tool within French mime training. It takes as its departure point a Neutral Mask workshop taught by Gaulier in which I participated as both student and researcher. By interweaving practice-based research with historiographic analysis that traces ideologies of the body through nineteenth- and early twentieth-century French mime, I tease out the multiple and often competing discourses that inform how bodies act and are understood within a contemporary Neutral Mask classroo

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Divisions: Bath School of Music and Performing Arts
Date Deposited: 05 Mar 2013 12:19
Last Modified: 15 Aug 2021 09:33
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