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Undergraduate Researchers

Jessica Poole

Jessie Poole, Theatre

The Body as a Vehicle for Performance

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. I would like to further bring together body and inner emotional life through the study of physical theatre, specifically through work with “neutral mask.” Neutral mask, as developed by theatre luminary Jacques Lecoq, helps the actor achieve greater expressiveness by developing movement and gesture that is free of mundane, pedestrian patterns. This work is important because performers share traits with athletes. We must have strong, present, and enlivened bodies because our bodies are the vehicles for performance. My own experience has shown me that I have access to more compelling performance choices as I study and practice various movement disciplines. I plan to pursue my research at a workshop at the Center for Movement Theatre called the “Neutral Mask Comprehensive Summer Intensive” at the Academy for Classical Acting in Washington, DC. The workshop is taught by Dody DiSanto, a teaching protégé of Jacques Lecoq. I plan to hold workshops with my peers culminating in a performance at URCAD, which will incorporate and demonstrate my research. My overall long-term goal is to create new performance pieces focused on movement in connection with human emotion and experience.

How did you learn about the URA program at UMBC?
I first learned about the URA program through our department chair Dr. Alan Kreizenbeck and my academic advisor, and now URA mentor, Ms. Lynn Watson. I went to them knowing only that I wanted to take the acting training I’ve received so far at UMBC and explore new ways of creating theatre. What I would do, or how I would be funded, came later with my application and acceptance into the URA program.

What kind of research do theatre students do?
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.

How did you decide on the project you proposed? How did you find a mentor?
Ms. Lynn Watson, who was at the time my academic advisor, and Ms. 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. Luckily a student of his, Dody DiSanto of the Center for Movement Theatre holds workshops in DC, and I applied and was accepted.

Was the URA application difficult? Did your faculty mentor help you?
I found the application difficult because it was early in the process. I knew what I wanted to study, but I wasn’t sure where it would all take me, I wasn’t sure of the outcome. Ms. Watson assured me that it is a process, that it was okay to be in the middle of it. And that it was important to be open, I didn’t have write the ending to my story before the beginning.

How much time do you put into your project?
The majority of the workload is still to come. In June I participated in the six-day workshop in downtown DC. Since then, I’ve spent a lot of time note-taking about my experience. Now that the workshop is over I can respond to the information my body received and start the process of creating my performance piece. I’ve also been exploring further the work of Jacques LeCoq and his L'École Internationale de Théâtre in Paris. Next I plan to research other types of masks beyond the Neutral Mask, and explore what a mask does to a ritual or performance.

What has been the most rewarding thing about the project?
So far, the most rewarding part of the project has been the dialogue I’ve begun with myself, my professors and my colleagues at the workshop about what theatre is. The workshop was an incredibly diverse group of people, I was one of only two undergraduate students. Everyone else was either a professional actor, a theatre professor or a graduate student, and all were participating in different facets of theatre art.

The most unexpected? The most difficult?
The most difficult and yet most surprisingly unexpected part of my experience thus far was that my training at UMBC has prepared me for the professional environment at the workshop. However, it was still difficult at times to keep up, and important to not worry about “being good” at the work, but to just do it.

Would you suggest that other theatre students pursue funded research through URA?
Absolutely! There are so many things to do and learn, and people to meet and connect with, that as artists we simply cannot afford to miss out on this opportunity.

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.