top of page

#14 - The Clown Diaries - Characters

Post-Traumatic Gaulier Disorder

After spending three weeks in London over the Easter break I have concluded that coming to Gaulier is the same as being indoctrinated into a cult. Once a Gaulier student, always a Gaulier Student. No matter how much cinema, theatre, music or live comedy you watch to push away what you experienced in the upstairs theatre space of the tiny school in Etampes, the catch phrases, insults and the haunting sound of Philippe's drum ring constantly in your ears like an insane mans' litany. The school affects your pleasure of everything. During any sort of performance you analyse it with the school's vocabulary of:

-"She pushes too much."

- "No pleasure!"

- "You don't want to be major!"

- "We don't see your fun!"

- "There was no game!"

- "This performance was Montezuma's revenge!"

- "The actor had no fixed point."

Withdrawal symptoms from the school come in the form of nightmares centred around Philippe's drum and an incantation of "Twenty Kisses. Is she the Brigitte Bardot of the class? Watch out! The Truck is coming!". The sound of whistling naturally causes me to jump and turn behind me, expecting to see Philippe sludged over his drum, waving the stick in the air like a mad conductor.

The school has even started to affect basic interactions. A friend recently joined me at a house party where a large number of attendees where Gaulier students. "You are like a sect" he said. Not a compliment, but as I followed his eyes around the room it seemed hard to disagree. Everyone was talking about school.

The stereotype of drama schools is often the sense of a 'clique' that forms amongst the students, however, when one witnesses the intensity of what the students experience in class it is hard not to see why. It's not something I like, but it is interesting to observe and worth noting in myself, especially when moving out of the intimate and claustrophobic environment of the school and leaving to go back to the real world of my home city, London. No one likes someone who just talks about school. Let's hope that after these final 10 weeks I am able to carry on as a normal human being, remembering that not everyone has had an old man hit them and make them dance to Edith Piaf for 20 minutes on stage and shout "Dad! I am beautiful!".


Last night, for half an hour I was stripping clothes off a fellow Gaulier student in my bedroom. It was less perverse than it sounds. Philippe told Joey she needed a new costume - one more 'masculine'. For that reason she entrusted me with finding her a new identity - as my wardrobe is masculine. Whilst she patiently stood in my room amongst the Johnny Depp posters I decorated her in cotton wool, wigs, fake moustaches, hats and jodhpurs - resulting in a persona less like a 21 year old professional dancer and more a 45 yr old homosexual graphic designer from Berlin. It was fun and reminded me of the days when I used to spray tan my brother, dressing him up as my favourite female pop stars after church on Sundays.

This experience best summarises our first module of the term: that nostalgic childlike feeling of falling into your mum & dad's dressing up box, pulling anything and everything out, trying it on and playing, without any need to worry.

"But what is your first module of the term?" I hear you ask.


"What's that?"

Well, for three weeks we dress up as a character, we build them, we play with them, if they don't work we throw them away and start again. When we find a character that the audience can 'dream around' we write a play about them. The only rule for the character we create is Philippe must not be able to recognise us.

Thus, our class, by the end of week one, was unrecognisable and a sea of international accents, fake moustaches, big Kardashian bottoms, breasts, big lips, overly made faces and cross-dressers. It was bizarre how many women looked so becoming dressed as men and how many men looked truly gorgeous as women.

During class Philippe makes you improvise basic well know improv scenarios such as "You are a criminal and you want to murder the other character without them realising" and "You are in a job centre, but whenever you are boring Broadway Music comes on and you must sing and dance until you find the pleasure again". You know, the usual. So far our classes have resembled scenes from 'Six Characters in Search of an Author' by Luigi Pirandello - except without any of the incest, suicide or prostitution.

On the first day of class Philippe made us impersonate objects such as a washing machine, a pressure cooker and a steel train taken over by red indians. After each student impersonated these to the best of their ability, (Thank you René as your mime from last term proved incredibly useful), Philippe then asked us to apply text to the rhythms of the things we had imitated. Now as a pressure cooker I had to tell you about my holiday. Now with the rhythm of a washing machine I had to tell you about who I had fallen in love with. It was an entertaining introduction to how to build the voice of a character and how to find pleasure and fun in doing something peculiar.

We are halfway through the module now and it is clear that through the freedom to be someone else so many people who have struggled in previous modules are starting to light up on stage. For some reason the concept of 'disguise' seems to allow people to be vulnerable and happy to 'show their beauty'.

This leads onto a lovely thing that Philippe said at the end of class last week:

{please add in your own french accent, croaks, coughs and mumbles for added Gaulier authenticity}

"Bo. When I taught at Le Coq - at the end of the year the school would 'kick out the bad students'. To decide who these were the teachers would sit together at the end of each term, discuss the students and then vote on who they would like to leave the school. At the end of the first term, there was one list. In Easter we would meet again and discuss and vote again and this time it was a totally different list of students. The third term, the same again, and again, a different list"

He breathed/coughed.

'Each term it was a group of entirely different people. Bo. You cannot tell and predict when a student will become beautiful and when they will find their pleasure on stage. As a teacher, I am happy to see you become beautiful. That is the job of a teacher.'

He then pointed to me and said "For example - You've been bad all year, really awful. But, bo, then you started finding pleasure in Bouffon. Now in Characters you've not been too bad."

Thanks Philippe.

260 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page