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Neutral Mask: An Examination on Jaques Leqoc Pedagogy (Part 2)

Updated: Apr 21, 2022

Along with distilling bodily expression, which in turn rids the practitioner of uneconomical movement while enhancing active presence, a Jaques Leqoc pedagogy invites the performer to practice simplicity through an imaginary identification with the natural world: earth, air, fire, water, liquids, paper, glass, silk, metal, insects, animals, etc. (Within the exercises, identification eventually leads to embodiment; transitioning from “feel the waves” to “become the waves”.) In identifying with nature and natural elements, a person creates a muscular vocabulary that allows for physical expression beyond typical human movement. Undergoing a process of identification causes our bodies to dig out new pathways of physical expression, with an intended goal of expanding our physical awareness and allowing us to draw upon said pathways when exploring and devising a persona. This occurs when performers, as suggested by L. Everett, undergo the practice of "transferring these movement experiences into characterizations that are beyond realistic representations and closer to anthropomorphic depictions”. This process, however, should not be confused with miming. Darren Tunstall elaborates on the topic.

“Lecoq does not intend the actor to signify objects or actions in a pantomimic sense: 'If I mime the sea,' he writes, 'it is not about drawing waves in space with my hands to make it understood that it is the sea, but about grasping the various movements into my own body: feeling the most secret rhythms to make the sea come to life in me’ ”.

Practicing impracticable characterization frees the practitioner into a state of explorative embodiment, pushing them well beyond natural human movement and integrating the biological and experiential. This is why, as Dymphna Callery states, “Corporeal impression is more important to Lecoq than corporeal expression”.

Naturally accompanying a pedagogy built around ideas of exploration, while attempting to embrace the problematic fulcrum of ‘active stillness’, is the high probability of confronting degrees of failure. When first attempting Lacoq’s exercises, you are not told how to do it, you are simply told you must do it - sometimes in front of a classroom of observers. Likewise, when traversing a mode of identification (asked to transition from being affected by waves to becoming waves) there's no tutorial or example given. Neutral Mask exercises are built around what is unfamiliar and, in the moment of exploration, undefined for the practitioners involved. This promotes a true sense of discovery while engaging in a process that advocates an atmosphere of personal failure. This is, in fact, a purpose within the process. A purpose Jon F. Sherman explains well.

”Lecoq's pedagogical strategy—the 'pedagogy of risk'—requires students to accept that failure will be an inevitable part of their experience[...]Lecoq was positively dedicated to the generative powers of mistakes".

This is beneficial in that it aides a performer's personal development by teaching them the necessity of taking risks while enriching their ability to release the effects of perceived failure. It is truly a practitioner's journey; a journey meant to continue beyond the discovery of active presence and serve as a foundational tool in understanding other forms of mask work, including: full expressive masks, half masks, commedia masks, clown nose, etc. At the center of a Leqoc-based education is the truthfulness of physical action within performance, and the type of relationship truthful-action develops between the physical actor and the audience. According to an anonymous writer,

"It was Lecoq's most deeply-held principle that actors should be the fountainhead of creativity in the theatre. After all, he insisted, it is the actor, not the writer or director, who must get up on stage and convince the audience”.

Questions to consider:

  • Are you a performer intuiting that you are physically doing too much?

  • Do you feel a need to ‘be doing' in order to maintain a presence on stage?

  • Are you looking to expand your physical vocabulary?

  • Do you want to challenge what you know about physical theatre?

  • Are you looking for an environment that allows you to face fear?

Consider Leqoc.

Below are tools for further research on the topic.

  • Sherman, Jon F. "The Practice of Astonishment: Devising, Phenomenology, and Jacques Lecoq." Theatre Topics, vol. 20, no. 2, 2010, pp. 89-99, doi:10.1353/tt.2010.0104.

  • Tunstall, Darren. "Shakespeare and the Lecoq Tradition." Shakespeare Bulletin, vol. 30, no. 4, 2012, pp. 469-484, doi:10.1353/shb.2012.0092.

  • Everett, L. "Moving Bodies : Jacques Lecoq and Drama Education in Australia." NJ Drama Australia Journal, vol. 31, no. 2, 2008, pp. 73-82.

  • Anonymous. "Eloquent Bodies." The Economist, vol. 352, no. 8136, 1999, pp. 93.

  • Stephen Knapper, "The Review of the Moving Body. Teaching Creative Theatre, by Jacques Lecoq with Jean‐Gabriel Carraso and Jean‐Claude Lallias. Translated by David Bradby." Contemporary Theatre Review, vol12, no. 1-2, 2002, pp. 284-287,

  • doi:10.1080/10486800208568673

  • Camilleri, Frank. " 'Yours Neutrally, Habitational Action' Performed between Theatre and Dance." New Theatre Quarterly, vol 29, no 3, 2013, pp. 247-263

  • Allain, Paul. "Through the Body: A Practical Guide to Physical Theatre by Dymphna Callery, London: Nick Hern Books; New York: Routledge, 2001. 238 p. £12.99. ISBN: 1-85459-630-6." New Theatre Quarterly, vol. 18, no. 72, 2002, pp. 398.

  • Eldredge, Sears A., and Hollis W. Huston. "Actor Training in the Neutral Mask." The Drama Review: TDR, vol. 22, no. 4, 1978, pp. 19-28.

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