Experimentation with the mask is fundamental. On the whole, we are talking about a pedagogical tool, conceived for the stage, whose main aim is to get everyone together in just one reference. Moreover, it is a mask that does not bring any conflict to the stage. In the end the mask brings up more questions than answers and it facilitates the pedagogical task as well as inciting thought and reflexion. One of the basic procedures for this work dynamic is the elemental voyage, not in the literal sense, but in the sense of the transit from recreation to performance.
In the first phase with the neutral mask you work on physical circuits, stage presence, situations, etc. The neutral mask is the first step in a series of levels of action aimed at creating a character: Pedagogically, the neutral mask opens new routes, one of which is the reconciliation with our mimetic capacities, that is to say, the game of identification. The neutral mask has the capacity to mime - not from the surface - with great depth; it mimics the dynamics, dynamic mime. We wish to trap the forces which intervene in the sea, the canter of horses, or any other thing.
These circuits will be the physical surface onto which the emotions will be printed.
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One of the key concepts to neutral mask work is exactitude, more than if it is right or wrong, and feeling whether the action is balanced or not. When the mask awakens, the first thing it discovers is the space surrounding it, and we have to be able to get up, discover it and create a whole landscape, or to make people believe that we are in the middle of an immense space with the sea way off in the distance.
On the other hand, the mask is theatre and the theatre has limits. We must work with limited time and space, for example the distance to the spectator must be precise, if we get to close or go too far away we must be aware that there are consequences. The mask we work with is called an equilibrium mask; it is expressionless and transmits a sensation of calm.
To make a neutral mask we must be good observers, have certain notions of anatomy and reflect humanity in a universal way. With the mask we must extract the common essence of all faces. In general we all agree that we have two eyes, a nose and a mouth, so we should leave any fantasy to one side.
Simplicity of form brings us to the basic geometry, enabling us to underline the indispensable, without decorations. Ideally we should find our own neutral mask, just like Jacques Lecoq did with the sculptor Amleto Sartori. They talk about five points on the mask if we look at it face on, the forehead, the nose, the cheekbones and the chin. Therefore if we turn it sideways we will see three points and if we turn it to the other side we will also see three points. It is a model devised to guarantee visibility for the audience.
Physically this comes across as retracted hips, broken bodies, which think behind the mask in a psychological tense or just because they have put the mask on as if they were wearing a plate on their heads. In all of these cases the mask exposes that something is wrong. This is precisely one of the properties of the mask: Without the mask, when we observe the actor, we move straight to the face, where we find all the information.
With the mask on, the face is the body, the eyes the head. It is extremely important to carry this idea of making everyone the same to its maximum consequences. With the mask we have to find the points that make us the same, before being different. Not equals, but the same. Norman Taylor says that Lecoq, on many occasions, would say: When Lecoq addresses the human being through the neutral mask in his school, he talks about humanity as a generic thing, that is, as something common to all of us.
Moreover, he also said that the mask works with common titles, such as going through the woods, surviving an earthquake, fleeing from a fire, crossing a river, etc. With this we enter into the logic of the working of the neutral mask; that is, to work with situations and not with characters, we speak of titles but never of characters. The neutral mask work is the first step in a process which aims to teach an actor how to create a character, but before establishing a character we must learn to create situations.
With the neutral mask we move from generic themes, for example we will never say: We will speak in generic terms because they are actions that belong to the history of man from the beginning of time; in this way we can progress towards grand themes. But in order to find the generic in pedagogical work we need to find situations and spaces where all humans fit in, all humanity could be present; this is why neutral space is adequate for situations of Man versus Environment.
In reality the neutral mask can talk about anything, it can evolve as much as we want, as long as we work along the concept of neutrality and we are very clear about what we are working on. The neutral mask is in a state of calm, available for any event, about to be discovered, always curious, slightly surprised, slightly innocent.
To be available means to be free from tics and parasitic expressions. We could say that the openness of the mask is an expression of an inner state, a blank page on which to inscribe the emotion and make the character tangible. Once we are more familiar with the neutral mask, Philippe Peychaud says: This is where the exploration of the collective body comes in to play, this relationship between the heart and the mask.
In fact, all along the voyage of the mask it is very important to join in group improvisations, in which all participants serve up the same image, in a common space, using the same fixed points. If we are in the middle of a forest then two or three of us pick up a tree trunk. The idea is to decentralize individuality through the heart. We, as actors, reveal ourselves since the mask shows our real selves, but our path has to be to defend the body.
The most important thing is for us to grasp our own neutrality, because through it is the way to find deformation, it is like a fixed point from which we can project.
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Neutrality, once the actor has incorporated it, is a reference that they will always carry with them, like a compass pointing north. The neutral mask is a pedagogical reference point for the actor and for theatre in general, a base structure from which an actor can stand stable in every other space. These permanencies are multiple birth, presence, availability, stretch, push, react The quality of our presence is related to the rigour of our work; the more we confront the ideas we are given voyages, cataclysms, exoduses the more we store a tacit sense of what our stage presence manifests.
This level of presence will be maintained with all the other masks. On the other hand, the mask puts us into a state of emergency. When we talk of urgency we refer to stepping out of everyday lives, that is, to block, to break the logic and reflexes of that behaviour, which is what Lecoq calls Recreation. From here on we put on a neutral mask and a state of urgency to create a stage presence. This is what Lecoq called the elevation of behaviour. Throughout neutral mask work we must settle our bodies on the third or fourth lumbar vertebra, an inch below the navel.
This makes us take on a certain stance, weight and breathing pattern, increasing our stamina on stage.
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Fons , if we look at neuroscience, more specifically Michael D. It is a case of stimulating there nerve endings, which make up the, so called, second brain.
Gershon explains that this Enteric Nervous System is connected to the Central Nervous System the brain via a nerve called the vagus nerve. Avoiding mysticisms - speaking in physical terms - we can say that this second brain makes sense because there is a whole neural network which is also activated the brain , and this proves the body-mind interaction.
So, from the centre we enter in economy of movement, from the support of our central axis we project. As Normal Taylor said: As soon as we start doing a structured job, the screen of the mask comes alive and starts to register. This is interesting to work on for students, as little by little they will acquire the concepts, the level of presence, the economy of movement and the situational work.
The neutral mask gives the actor a tangible bodily base which is very useful for any interpretative style. Be that as it may, the most important area is the performing capacity - innate or acquired - of the actor, as well as a certain minimum physical fitness. When we work with a neutral mask we see bodies moving about on a stage; the importance flows from the human body, because the mask does not let us talk, it erases our face, and you can only see the body.
With the neutral mask we have a blank screen on our faces which shows what we do with our body. One of the main attributes of the neutral mask is to promote bodily gestures in the actor and, in the end, be aware that the body is their face and the head their gaze. We know, for example, if someone is fleeing in terror, we can even imagine it. We see that it is important to move on a level which is still not a character; we work from effectiveness and equality. When I worked the neutral mask with Lecoq, it would help me to imagine those iconic little men who live traffic signals, I would move with this essentialist idea.
It has just the right amount of jealousy, just the right amount of happiness, and these exercises make us become more and more aware of the neutral mask as a fixed point. We find emotion in our physical actions; the more precise we are the more internal effect we feel - even though we are working from neutrality.
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