How a Parisian Clown Helped Me Prep for Commercial Auditions

July 20, 2018

At the fruitful age of 19 years old I moved to Paris to study at the school of a notorious and famous master clown and pedagogue: Phillipe Gaulier. 

 

This man was nothing like I had ever seen. He was small, round and could've been anywhere from 55 to 75 years old. I couldn't tell, and never found out. Age was a non issue for me back then. He had thick rimmed glasses, wild, shaggy grey hair and a constant frown on his eyes and mouth. He held a drum and drumstick in his hand at all times to shut his students up when we were acting badly. Which, on our first day it became very evident, was all the time. 

 

The following is my personal take on his technique. He taught Greek Tragedy, Shakespeare, Chekhov, Melodrama and more through a clowns perspective. Actors at all stages of their careers and from all around the world would come to his school to hone their craft. The school was unscripted and anarchistic and with the backdrop of the Parisian landscape, it felt unbounded by my previous social constructs. 

 

Gaulier would encourage students to speak their mother tongues in class because physicality of the Actor is always major and text is always minor. This posed a challenge because we were often partnered off and made to improvise a scene with people we couldn't understand. We relearned how to study body language and subtle nuances of the face. But we never got far before he would bang on his drum and start insulting us, our scene partner, and the countries in which we were both from. He did this in a playful way that made the rest of the class laugh... and made you, the receiver of insults, cry. 

 

What he was doing was not done to bring us down, but rather, he wanted to highlight our flaws and our deepest insecurities so that we could eventually laugh about them too. By vulgarly humiliating us we slowly began to play with a sensitivity and strength that showed beauty in our ugly sides. It also was part of his acting method. He did not want us to play out our real emotions to the audience, he wanted us to always show happiness to PRETEND to be sad or PRETEND to be angry. Always give your audience joy and love, never your real pain. That real pain is beautiful in the real world, and the older you get the more raw baggage you accumulate through loss, heart break, disillusionment and betrayals. But don't give that to your audience even though you should be proud of your life flops. 

 

Fast forward to 2018. I am living in downtown Toronto and auditioning for Film, TV and Commercials. Casting directors may as well have a drum and stick because the format is just like with Gaulier. Brief moments on the mark to show our beauty, love and joy while being well aware of our flaws, doubts and disillusionment. Often it's a flop and we deal with the rejection. We have 8 seconds to prove ourselves. But Gaulier taught was to keep going and grow hungry for the stage. He used to have a bell too, and sometimes on a day you were particularly beautiful he would listen to the whole monologue and then ring the bell instead of bang the drum. 

 

Now in audition rooms, I keep going for that bell and to hell with the damn drum.

 

For more info on the school visit http://www.ecolephilippegaulier.com/ 

 

 

 

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© Zoe Georgaras 2018.