Lessons Learned from a Founder of Physical Theatre
It is hard to pin down one distinct origin of physical theatre. However, one clear contributor does seem to have a special place in its history: Jacques Lecoq.
Lecoq, a French mime, is not mainly remembered as a performer. His legacy lies in his teaching ability. He founded a mime school in Paris in 1956 that focused on using physical exercise to convey a story, rather than simple facial expressions. Lecoq was a deep thinker and his practices can be an inspiration to all creatives. Here are some things we can learn from his life:
Humor is crucial, and will take you far. The ability to make others laugh was a skill that Lecoq immensely valued and one that he placed at the very top of his teaching curriculum. His students were always given the challenge of making other classmates laugh not through cheap tricks, but through deep and precise body expression.
Having a good sense of humor goes hand in hand with having an optimistic outlook on life and being friendly. Keep laughing, no matter where your life takes you. Appreciate the little comedy in every day, and learn to harness this humor to empower creative thinking.
Do not accept the status quo. From the beginning, Lecoq rejected many of the already accepted aspects of mime. Namely, he refused to believe that every gesture had a defined and rigid meaning; he believed that physical expression involved a looser interpretation. Keep in mind, there were many people who passionately, wholeheartedly disagreed with him. Nevertheless, he stood by his thoughts, and ultimately left a far greater legacy in the fields of dance and acting.
Stand by your beliefs, especially when it comes to your creative endeavors. How you see the world is unique, and your viewpoint is invaluable. Try to play devil’s advocate; try to deviate from what your fellow performers determine to be acceptable. Push boundaries and think differently, and your unique view will allow you to go far.
Always stay willing to learn. Simon McBurney, founder and artistic director of the Theatre de Complicite in London, describes how Lecoq was interested in “creating a site to build on, not a finished edifice.” In other words, Lecoq tried to remind students that learning does not end when school is finished. He strove to create an environment where curiosity is rewarded and encouraged.
Always stay curious. Even after the performance is over, challenge yourself to keep exploring and keep pushing the boundaries of what there is to learn. You will never master physical theatre; you will never learn all there is to know about it. Do not let this discourage you, but instead use this as motivation to continue exploring and growing. You will not regret it.
Help others.The road to success, especially in dance and theatre, is not a straight and narrow staircase only wide enough for one. Help other performers; show them how to do things and always offer your skills. Your success will be greater if you choose to give advice and help others. This world and any success in it lies critically on the ability of people to help others.
Lecoq died in 1999, but his legacy still lives on as one of the founders of physical theatre as well as an exceptional teacher. He was a quiet, humble man who simply loved helping his students achieve greatness. The world owes him many times over.