Neutrality can be postulated as a pre-social condition exhibiting an absence of emotion, meta-cognition, prejudice, expectation, dependency, conflict or story. This does not mean to be dead, or passive, but rather to be available, disponible and able to engage simply and directly with the environment. It is typified by pure denotative physical action, in silence, and with a balance and harmony in which one might say every cell in the body is in agreement. One can imagine an equivalent level of concentration shown by an Olympic high diver, standing on the edge of the board, the pool a blue postage stamp set into the concrete below.

Being non-dramatic, neutrality is primarily useful for training, not public performance. When studying neutrality without benefit of mask, students can explore economy of effort and simplicity of action, and learn about their own characteristic movement patterns. Economy and simplicity do not imply restriction, compression or underplaying, only that there is no superfluous expression, especially of the kind that comments on the action.

The Neutral Mask, however, presents an additional challenge. While still maintaining economy of movement and an absence of story and emotion, the mask requires a heightened presence; a purity of style; a passionate embodiment of the environment and an amplification of the physical expression to match the level of the mask.

Sounds a bit much? Don't worry. Neutrality is a condition for which to strive, not a state one can ultimately attain. I emphasize to my students that the performer's success at achieving neutrality is only relative to the powers of observation and interpretation of the people watching. We might discover that we cannot find the words to describe what we have seen - a test of neutrality, but a Peter Brook might enter the room, raise an eyebrow and share a long list of descriptors. Think of neutrality as a point on the compass, not a place on the map.

Although the work with Neutral Mask can be an intense, revelatory personal experience, it is essential that the classroom explorations simultaneously remain acts of communication with an audience. In the theatre, if no one hears it, the tree hasn't fallen.

‹« Glossary
Jonathan Paul Cook © 2010 - 2022