Philippe Gaulier (born in Paris, 4 March 1943) is a French master clown, pedagogue, and professor of theatre. He is the founder of École Philippe Gaulier, a prestigious French clown school in Étampes, outside Paris. He studied under Jacques Lecoq in the mid-1960s and was an instructor at L'École Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq in the late 1970s. As well as performing as a clown, he is also a playwright and director. He has published The Tormentor (Le Gégèneur), a book discussing his thoughts on the theatre and containing exercises designed to develop an actor's skill.
Gaulier is known for performing both clown and bouffon comic genres and is thought by some to be the world's leading authority on the Bouffon, a comic genre he holds as a sort of inverted Clown, where a balance is struck between grotesqueness and charm.
Approach to training
Gaulier's methodology of teaching is designed to allow the student to discover his own beauty and the pleasure of being on stage. For example, with the clown, he helps students uncover their own clown. There are philosophical principles involved, but his training is not mired in technicalities. "I don't teach a special style; what I teach more is a wonderful spirit. People have to find a way of being beautiful and surprising." By beauty he means "anyone in the grip of pleasure or freedom".
In this, his approach notably differs from that of his teacher, the famous late master 'bouffon' Jacques Lecoq, who some criticised as being overly doctrinaire. "You can always tell a Lecoq student," Gaulier states. "Too much emphasis on image."
Philippe Gaulier's way into acting (i.e. he also teaches Shakespeare, Chekhov, Melodrama, Farce) is also thoroughly grounded in the principle of Le Jeu - 'the game'.
Gaulier popularised the bouffon genre of theatre in the 1960s, a school which had originated with the "Ugly People" of France during the French Renaissance. Gaulier said excessively ugly people, lepers, and those with disfiguring scars or deformities were "banished to the swamp", except during festivals, when the bouffon ("ugly people") were expected to entertain the "beautiful people". During these performances, the bouffon's goal was to get away with insulting or disgusting the beautiful people as much as possible. Typically, the bouffon would target their attack on the leaders within the mainstream of society, such as the Government or the Church. Theoretically, the ideal performance for a bouffon would be one in which the audience was wildly entertained, went home, realized that their lives were meaningless and tried to change it.
Gaulier's teachings, similar to Lecoq, work on a 'Via Negativa' approach wherein he encourages students to find the most successful performance outcome for themselves, by harshly rejecting their technique or creative ideas with insults if he considers the concept to be 'rubbish'.
École Philippe Gaulier
Founded in 1980, the École Philippe Gaulier is a theatre workshop based around play or 'Le Jeu' being the core of making and performing theatre and promotes the theory that acting is a child's game played with great pleasure and dexterity that forms a rapport with the audience by speaking to their imagination.
In 1991, the Arts Council England persuaded Gaulier to move the École Philippe Gaulier to the UK where it was based for eleven years until 2002. In 2005 it reopened back in Sceaux, Hauts-de-Seine until 2011 when it moved again, this time to Étampes which opened there in summer 2011. Former students at the school include the theatre director Simon McBurney, whose company Theatre de Complicite has been influenced by Gaulier's work, and the actors Emma Thompson, Astrid M. Fünderich, Marcello Magni, Kathryn Hunter, Cal McCrystal, Philip Burgers, Lucy Hopkins and Sacha Baron Cohen.