It’s Thursday, the start of the 4th day of my 6 month stint at Ecole Philippe Gaulier… and I’m now into 2 courses at once: Melodrama and Masked Play.

I have things to say about both courses already, but this morning I was mulling over something else. A particular perception of Gauiler that often comes up when I try to explain the teaching here to… you know… “normal people.” (and to other performers too)

I often describe the style of teaching here like this:

“Gaulier gives you an exercise to do. It’s usually not clear what the exercise is exactly.

You get up on stage and you start. If Gauiler doesn’t like what you are doing, for any reason, he bangs his drum, gives you an insult, and sends you off stage.

You’re lucky if you last more than 20 seconds on stage.”

Cue shocked expressions from people. It sounds harsh. And, in a way, it is… but is it really harsh?

Before I came here to Gauiler’s school the first time back last summer, a friend of mine – an amazing improviser – said that she wouldn’t ever want to learn under Gauiler. I forget exactly what she said, but it was something like “I have no desire to be shouted at by an old French man for weeks.”

Thing is… the more I am here (and bear in mind, it’s now been a 6 week course in summer and now 3 days this term so far) the more the insults become a bit invisible or irrelevant. They’re part of the teaching method, but they are just a game and they are never harsh.

As my dad said when he joined me on the course in summer “I never saw Gauiler get angry.”

Yes, Gauiler insults you, often. But he does so in such a charming and playful way.

Once you get over the “shock” of the insults – which, for most people, happens very quickly… probably within a few days but certainly within a few weeks – you see the charming and caring teacher “beneath the insults.”

Yes, Gaulier can be a pain sometimes. When he sends you off stage for something you don’t agree with. When he fixates on some detail that seems irrelevant – e.g. the position of the back curtain on stage – and it becomes the focus for a whole hour of class. When he gives you 10 seconds on stage and someone else 20 minutes for reasons you can’t see… it can be annoying.

But the more you see him, the more he is clearly a caring teacher that just wants the best for his students. And, as one of my classmates said this week, that’s actually pretty rare in the world of acting.

In the world of acting teaching, there are plenty of teachers with big egos and questionable talent who care more about themselves than their students. I grew up around acting teachers (my mum was a voice teacher) and I often saw glimmers of this dynamic.

Before I came in summer, I did a day long clowning course with the charming Zach Zucker. He said to me something like “Gauiler is such a lovely man.”

And he was right.

I feel that my improviser friend I mentioned before, who is also a lovely person and very astute about people, would actually say the same thing about Gauiler if she were to come for a course. Not that I’m saying she “should” come, it’s just an observation.

The “mystique” around Gaulier and his meanness is important. If you expect to come here and be mollycoddled, you are going to suffer… a lot.

But if you come with an understanding that it will be hellish and you will be insulted on a daily basis, you’re actually in a good position to get a lot from the teaching.

Coming back here now, after a break of 3-4 months, I feel a lot more at ease. I know what the teaching is like, so I am more comfortable. Less uncertain than I was back last July.

Of course, it is still only week 1.

I expect – and indeed look forward to, in a way – plenty of crises of identity for me and low points over the next 6 months. I may even find myself hating Gauiler on some days. Or at least not feeling strong enough to handle his insults on some days.

But that’s okay.

As long as I keep up my self care, I hope I will be strong enough to remind myself of what I have just written when times are harder.

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