Monika Pagneux at the Soho Laundry

Thank you, Mark, for your article about Monika Pagneux, in the ‘Against the Canon’ TDPT Special Issue, and for so beautifully providing a description of the essence of her work. I am one of those many people who were deeply and profoundly affected by her teaching.

In the autumn of 1992, as a young movement coach at the Stratford Festival, Canada, I had the good fortune to study with Monika Pagneux at the Soho Laundry in London, as part of two intensive three-week courses that she co-taught with Rick Zoltowski. One three-hour class occurred each morning (Movement and Clown) and another three hour class occurred each evening (Movement, Rhythm & Performance). Each afternoon I would return to the garden flat where I was living for those three weeks, eat lunch, and in front of the warmth of a gas fire, spend the remainder of the afternoon recording into my notebook the exercises and explorations that we had worked on in class that morning, as well as on the previous evening.

My classmates included Rachel Weisz, Irina Brook, Hélène Patarot, and Greg Thompson, amongst many others.

My first impression:

Upon entering a studio I see an older woman, wearing a black tunic and trousers, sweeping the studio floor; I assume she is the custodian. Much to my surprise, this woman puts the broom aside, walks over to a group of us who have assembled, and introduces herself as Monika Pagneux. She asks if any of us know anything about Clown. You could hear a pin drop. Then she says, “good, let’s learn about it together.” That was the spirit in which she worked: with a genuine passion and curiosity that was grounded in extensive experience and masterful teaching.

Over those three weeks, Monika changed how I saw movement for actors; her work elicited simple, beautiful authenticity. Although I did a lot more training after those courses at the Soho Laundry, I continue to teach material that I learned from her all those years ago, and to be inspired by the spirit in which she taught.

Teaching with the special issue: ‘Against the Canon’

A collaborative document, with contributions from: Mark Evans, Cass Fleming, Rebecca Loukes, Sara Reed and Amy Russell.

This piece of writing aims to offer reflection and provocation on the ways that the TDPT Special Issue ‘Against the Canon’ might be used as part of teaching and learning activities within theatre, dance and performance courses and training programmes. We write this as academics and artists, aware of our position as white and privileged – and we invite critique, challenge and debate.

For work ‘against the canon’ to have continuing impact, it needs to reach out beyond the page of academic journals and start to affect the ways in which pedagogy operates and the ways in which teachers and students engage with canonical forms of training and canonical content. Editing the special issue has brought to the fore for us so many questions about deep assumptions underpinning much practice in Universities and conservatoires. The changes being wrought by #MeToo and by the Black Lives Matter (BLM) campaign also offer profound challenges to the ways in which training for performance is structured, taught, assessed and perceived. The suggestions and provocations outlined below are offered only as a number of possible starting points and are in no way definitive – they should themselves be open to challenge and critique. We suggest that those interested in this work should approach it collaboratively, as befits the subject matter, working in partnership with students, colleagues, industry partners and interested communities.

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