Why Decroux?

What is Corporeal Mime?  I have struggled for years to find an adequate response to this question.  It comes up every time I try to explain my profession.  But perhaps the better question is why?  Why should budding actors take an interest in this little known physical discipline created by an obscure Frenchman?  And the best way I know how to answer that  is to explain why I study it.

Etienne Decroux, “Sport” 1948 (Photo: Etienne Bertrand Weill)

I first discovered Decroux’s technique through a mime workshop with Wesley Brainard and was immediately intrigued.  The basics I learned that week cracked open a window to a form of physical expression with amazing subtlety, depth and clarity of intention.  Suddenly something as simple as leaning forward presented me with a series of choices – am I all in, risking my whole weight on the tips of my toes – or am I hedging my bets, breaking at the waist while keeping my center of gravity safely over firmly planted feet?  Turns out, leaning with a unified intention is harder than it sounds.

This is just a small, simple example of what Decroux brings to the actor.  Perhaps the single most important skill it taught me was how to articulate the chunk of body between my neck and legs.  The torso is where all emotions grip us, and the ability to infuse each element with the desired energy, direction and amplitude is key to dynamic physical expression.  A voice may catch our attention, causing us to turn our head.  But a voice we know and love will engage our hearts and cause us to turn from our chest.  Hand wringing may communicate the idea of fear, but the feeling of fear wrenches our guts, hollowing and twisting our waist.  The torso is also home to our breath, and therefor our life, the most essential thing connecting us to every other human being.  Corporeal Mime sees the torso as the source of an actor’s vitality.

So in a nutshell, I return to Decroux’s work because it gives me the tools to connect with my audience non-verbally, intuitively in a way that is nuanced and does not rely on facial grimaces and hand gestures.  It is not sign language – it is human language.

4/24/15 Update: Steve Wasson and Corinne Soum, who are my teachers will be teaching a weekend workshop in Minneapolis May 16th and 17th. Find out more and register here

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