Exploring Archetypes = Exploring Your Self

Yesterday’s workshop at ASU was intense, and fun


Ten participants, 6 hours of intensive work. We managed to explore 5 archetypes – Hero, Huntress, Child, Fool and Maiden.

I work with the Archetypes as devised by John Wright for mask training. John uses masks to engender movement qualities, extending the performer’s physical vocabulary. As one of the participants pointed out yesterday, you find yourself moving in ways you would never normally think you could.

Frankie Armstrong has also worked with John, developing the Voices of the Archetypes (There is an audio cassette available, with Frankie and John working together, but I can’t find it online. Worth hunting for). Frankie utilises story-telling and especially motifs from mythology to create imagined worlds for the students to inhabit, and she leads the students into vocal experimentation that is deeply liberating.  Frankie has also worked with Janet B. Rodgers to produce a book, Acting and Singing with Archetypes, rich with exercises for  applying the concept of Archetypes to text work.

My own work has evolved since I trained with John and Frankie, in a slightly different direction to that taken by Frankie Armstrong and Janet Rodgers.  I like to encourage students to transform between the Archetypes, and to discover that place of ‘unknowingness’ that occurs somewhere in between. It’s hard to describe, but once you’ve experienced it, you recognise it as an instant of complete openness and vulnerability. It’s pretty scary!

I introduce each Archetype by describing the mask, using Frankie Armstrong’s description of John Wright’s actual masks (on the audio cassette). The students are invited to imagine these features as their own, and then to explore how their bodies respond to the facial features they now support. We then explore movement, sound, and text from the physicality and perspective of those bodies.

Archetypes are ways of being human. They don’t actually exist, they are ideas that seem to be hard-wired into our brains, or woven into the fibre of our being. We recognise the idea of an archetype when it manifests in a particular person, or story. For example, after introducing Hero to the workshop yesterday, but before identifying the mask, one student commented that he thought he was Hugh Jackman.  Of course, Hugh Jackman is a real person, and an actor, but he is known to play heroic characters, and we recognise the qualities of the Archetype of Hero that those characters have in common.

So, lots of fun to be had, along with some extremely challenging and intense practice.  There are no quick fixes here, until the training is well embedded into the body. I wish my Phoenix students much joy and many exciting challenges as they continue their explorations into the Archetypes.

There is a handout available here with an essay on the nature of Archetypes, and some descriptions of the masks.