Last Updated on April 9, 2023 by Sammie
"I'll give you five seconds. Five. Four. Three. NO! You don't get the last two seconds. You are too bad. Leave. I've never seen such horror in my life." Philippe Gaulier
I paid for these insults.
Let’s paint the scene shall we? It’s the first day. I walk in with my two other cast-mates to a small theatre room with 30 chairs lined in 6 rows facing the intimidatingly tiny stage. There’s one man. THE man sitting in the front row, smack dab in the center. Was he plotting the days torment? Possibly thinking about the lack of talent he will have to sit through for the coming 5 days? Or maybe…how he had just run out of…Perrier. No idea. But I will hide in the background for as long as Philippe Gaulier doesn’t notice the 3 westerners in the group of Chinese and Hongkongers.
First things first, we meet everyone. We had a few full time performers, some theatre teachers, a Youtube Star (who the girls swooned over), and an Immigration officer (he clearly was a hoot post work hours). We played some name games to get familiar with everyone and even a few rounds of Simon Says. I was beginning to get confident in my workshop abilities. It was common for each of our early mornings to start with either a game, some double dutch, or something else that usually involved invading people’s personal space.
The work with Philippe Gaulier begins.
Then the work began. The workshop was neutral masks. More specifically commedia dell’arte. These masks originated from the 1500s depicting common exaggerated character types of the time. Some examples being Pantalone; the old greedy man always protecting his money. Or il Capitano; the young excitable foreigner looking for the next big adventure. Personally I had never worked with masks before but I’m not sure what the biggest challenge was. Either giving life to a plastic expression or working with the notoriously unimpressed Gaulier.
Philippe Gaulier had this hardened furrow in his brow and a beard that could hide a faint quiver of a smile. I would say you never knew what he was thinking but the man said EXACTLY what he was thinking. Everything from “All you Americans are the same, too loud, too much.” To “I would pay you good money to stop.” He had a way with words… At one point it was so ridiculously cruel I felt tricked into paying for an act. But maybe that’s what I wanted? Honestly, all I saw on the internet was how tough Gaulier was. I was excited at the beginning of the week, I wanted to put my ego to the test. I wanted to prove to myself I could take criticism.
By day three…
the only thing I learned was how to use the mask to scrape up my tears as I was being yelled at to get off stage. By day four I was broken. I didn’t want to walk up those godforsaken steps only to be asked if I GENUINELY think I’m funny. (it was rhetorical, the answer was no. No sir, only my mom laughs at my jokes, is that what you want to hear?). Maybe I was learning that comedy derives from pain. Or maybe we’re all a bit sadistic and the only thing that makes something comical is when it’s at the expense of someone else. Either way my onstage presence was deteriorating into a wall flower with a mask. I actually convinced myself I would learn better from my chair for the remainder of the five hours. I waved my white flag. I’m going to sit and watch.
And by day five…
I was finito. That’s it. I’m done. I’ve had it. You’re old and mean and I don’t like you. I’m funny damnit. It was the top of the fifth hour and I had one more opportunity to wear the honorable mask. I grabbed it from the table, put it on with a bit of mustard and walked front and center for my final seconds. The acts go like this. Grab a neutral mask (the white ones the Jabbawockeez use) and go on stage. Then the all too famous Philippe Gaulier says something ridiculously vague like “Be the color purple” or “Be a bird” and you do your best interpretation. If you’re good you stay and you graduate to a commedia dell’arte mask. If you’re bad, leave. Quickly.
The most terrifying thing for me was the speaking. If you were on stage long enough you went from body movement to body movement with sound (EX: what does Earth sound like if Earth could narrate). Then add in the masks and voila! You’ve mastered the workshop. I digress, I was scared of speaking gibberish and frankly annoyed as hell with the fact that he hated how anyone speaking english sounded. At this point these last few moments were mine and it had been 5 days since I’ve laughed in this clown workshop so I was going to get my money’s worth.
Your “Earth” is yours and yours only.
Therefore my Earth sounded like a really old french women with a smoking problem who also has dementia. (It helps since I couldn’t remember any of my third grade french). And just like that I heard him chuckle under his silver beard. Well hell, if I had known not trying to make him laugh was how to make him laugh I would have tried to not make him laugh from day one.
So I was insulted by Philippe Gaulier for a week, now what?
I would like to say that I had life altering experience that shaped me into a newly minted artist but what I’m going to say is that I learned how to be awful. That’s it. I learned how to suck. And I learned how to suck better than anyone else. It’s not an easy thing to learn, how to suck. We grow up our entire lives trying to “correct” the behavior of making mistakes. But making mistakes is how we grow, and if we learn how to stop making mistakes then we are essentially learning how to stay in an acceptable box.
Philippe Gualier strips your ego and once your ego is gone and you’re raw on stage, that’s when it gets interesting. Nobody is going to pay to watch what everyone else does. And in order to not do what everyone does you first have to do it and get it out of your system. Fight your instincts but go with your impulse. Being with Gualier for a week made me question if I was good at acting. But it also made me realize everyone sucks, and the ones that are good at being bad are the ones that are making a living. Try not to overthink it. Just be purple.
Ecole Philippe Gaulier
“Theatre is serious game as children play”
For more information on his school and how to apply
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