Behind the Research: Jessie Poole on Natural Mask in Theatre

25 Apr

Jessie Poole (second from left, top row) with other students at the Natural Mask Comprehensive Summer Intensive at the Academy for Classical Acting in Washington, D.C.

Imagine, for a moment, being an actor on stage. As you speak and gesture, the audience is naturally drawn to your face, which conveys emotion and imparts nuance to the text. But now imagine your face covered by a mask, a “neutral mask” without any expression, prompting you to think differently about the most effective ways to communicate with your audience. Such was a kernel of the teaching of 20th century French actor Jacques Lecoq, whose work with masks has deeply influenced many students of physical theatre. UMBC acting major Jessie Poole chose to study Lecoq’s neutral mask concepts as her URCAD project for 2011-2012, conducting research at a workshop at the Center for Movement Theatre, the “Neutral Mask Comprehensive Summer Intensive” at the Academy for Classical Acting in Washington, D.C.

What are the goals of your URCAD project?
My overall long-term goal is to create new performance pieces focused on movement in connection with human emotion and experience. In the acting program at UMBC, we are taught not only movement and voice work but also how to connect to an active inner emotional life. When combined, skills in these disciplines contribute to vulnerable and compelling performance.

How would you describe “research” in theatre?
Most of the work we do in our acting classes is experiential, and we work to translate cerebral techniques into our physical bodies. A theatre student can research by reading and studying acting theory or method text, but it doesn’t do any good if it cannot be implemented with the body. Professor Lynn Watson, who was at the time my academic advisor, and Professor Wendy Salkind, a movement and acting teacher at UMBC, both suggested the neutral mask work. Ms. Watson offered to be my mentor. I did some research on neutral mask and the work of Jacques LeCoq, but I knew that a workshop where I could try it out for myself was imperative.

What are your plans for after UMBC?
I hope to go to graduate school for theatre, and hopefully continue this dialogue about what theatre is and how we can make it new.

Jessie’s research, “Lecoq’s Natural Mask: The Readiness Is All,” will be presented at 1:15 in Fine Arts Building Studio A.

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