a clown with a red nose gesturing on stage - image credit Helikos

Summer Session 2022 #1: Journey of the Mask

Come join international pedagogue and all-around performance hijinks creator Giovanni Fusetti for the annual Pig Iron Summer Session. Over three weeks - June 13—July 2 - workshop participants will engage in the Journey of the Mask from the Neutral mask to the playful half-masks and on to the red-nose clown.

This workshop is ideal for those searching for a deeper connection to their physical presence, looking for a renewed sense of play onstage, and discovering the possibilities of the clown, the idiot, and the stupefied human in awe of this complex world. The daily training will whip your performance muscles into shape as you delight in the infinite wisdom in the body and ignite exquisite moments of performance within this community of fools, daredevils, and performance-makers.

The program invites participants to enter into a rigorous theatre-making practice that involves movement, improvisation, and creation. Each day will focus on tuning the performer’s instrument and building skills in physical virtuosity, unbridled play, listening and spatial awareness, improvisation and ensemble creation. The program concludes with a public showing of projects created during the three weeks, hosted by Giovanni Fusetti.



Week One, June 13-18:

  • Monday-Friday
    • 9:30am - 4:30pm each day (with one hour lunch)
  • Saturday
    • 9:30am - 1:30pm
  • Creation Time: Thursday and Friday
    • 5:30 - 7:30 pm

In the first week of the workshop, participants will be introduced to the Neutral Mask and the roots of physical theatre, a key step in the training of the Poetic Body: the Mask behind all masks.

This “silent” mask doesn’t have any dramatic expression, and allows the actor to explore a state of presence, in the here and now of the theatrical space, a state of calm and availability. With this mask the actor explores the state of readiness that exists before the action. The Neutral Mask has no memory and no plan, it lives in the present, and allows the actor to discover the difference between movement and drama, between dramatic character and theatrical presence. To explore the fluidity of the body and the essence of human gestures. The Neutral Mask teaches the actor to unfold and calm their “individual physical dramas” in order to reach the silence of the Poetic Body, and eventually play physical characters with further accuracy and theatricality.

We study movement in all its forms but in particular the Neutral Mask engages with the natural world - the ocean, mountain, forest, desert - which provides dynamic rhythms and spaces that grow one’s physical presence.  The Neutral Mask is a search for what all human beings have in common - breath, presence, and an engagement with the world in front of them.

Once the actor has discovered this space, they become like "a white page, ready to be written on in the future dramas" (Jacques Lecoq).

Week Two, June 20-24:

  • Monday-Friday
    • 9:30am - 4:30pm each day (with one hour lunch)
  • Creation Time: Thursday and Friday
    • 5:30 - 7:30 pm

The second week looks at a different family of masks including the masks from the Commedia dell’Arte and other half-masks. Through covering the facial expressions of the actor, the mask allows them to go back to the roots of their own presence in space. Gestures are amplified and transposed, and everything is brought back to the body, thus giving the actor a complete new sense of space, presence and dramatic expression. The voice has to be masked too, in order to match the level of playing of the mask. Half-masks introduce the actor to a precise physical definition of a character. They are very defined forms in which the main dynamic of the characters appears, as well as his opposite aspects, the so called counter-mask. In Commedia, the actor is faced not only with
the mask as a character, but also with a high level of play, brought by the depth of human archetypes. These masks play in a world of survival, where passions, urgencies and human behavior are pushed to a permanent extreme. Half-masks have a specific tragic depth and can bring the actor to a very high level of poetic transposition, where laughter and crying are intertwined.

Improvisation skills, and a technique of play based on the constant unfolding of a comic theme, train the actor both to enjoy very physical and rhythmical play and to develop a sense of playwriting and dramatic crescendo.

This incredibly vital style teaches the actor to truly experience what improvisation means, and how theatre can represent the wonderful madness of human beings, in a jubilation of rigorous fun. These masks demand a lot of the physical performer, training an actor to embody each archetype’s fundamental drives, each thought, reaction, and feeling as a gesture in theatrical space. The utter delight in this week comes from the performer’s ability to fully transform and to share the many ways these characters are struggling to survive.

Week Three, June 27-July 2

  • Monday-Friday
    • 9:30am - 4:30pm each day (with one hour lunch)
  • Saturday
    • 11am - 7pm (public showing at 5pm followed by a reception)
  • Creation Time
    • Wednesday and Friday
      • 5:30 - 7:30 pm
    • Saturday
      • 4 - 5 pm

The third week focuses on the red-nose clown, the “smallest mask in the world” that gives the performer permission to see and be seen and to play in direct contact with the audience, exploring the poetry of personal stupidity.

Everyone is stupid in a very unique and personal way! In terms of movement, no body is neutral; every body carries profoundly expressive themes, embodied in everyday movement. There is a web of "non-neutral attitudes" and physical and emotional “background noises"; within each person’s movement and physical presence. If observed through the reference of the Neutral State, they appear like patterns that tend to become a form of character. They are “dramatic” in the etymological sense: they contain a drama – an action.

The use of the Red Nose as a mask, and the amplification and articulation of these very personal themes allow the actor to enter the Clown state. The clown before being a character – is a state of playing where everyone has access to the key question: what is so
funny about myself?

To discover one’s own clown is to reveal one’s own unique comic persona and turn it into a universal comic form. As a theatre style, Clown has a deep poetic potential because it allows the performer to explore and play with the naiveté and the vulnerability of the
child, and with the rigor and the technique of the adult, thus revealing the poetry of the ridiculous, and a unique personal poetic power.

The discovery of your personal Clown is a powerful, raw, personal, challenging, empowering, revealing, and extremely rewarding process... It’s the exquisite pleasure of touching the empty space of complete comedy, the delightful performance of one’s own sublime stupidity.

The clown arrives with little in terms of a plan, and is forced, therefore, to make it all up in front of a crowd. Improvisation in Clown is the art of playing with everything and find play

The culminating week is a true discovery: when donning the red nose, what stirs in you? What are you willing to reveal? How far will you go to make an audience laugh?  Courage and vulnerability are on display every minute of the third week.


Application Details

  • Application Cost: $20
  • Session Cost: $1500 - 10% will be taken off if amount is paid in full by APRIL 15TH
  • Requirements: in addition to filling out the form, applicants must provide one (1) letter of recommendation
  • Applications will be accepted until all spots are filled. All applicants will be informed within two (2) weeks if they are accepted.


Image Credit: Helikos