THE DESMOND JONES SCHOOL
OF MIME AND PHYSICAL THEATRE
1979 - 2004
In August 2004, The Desmond Jones School of Mime and Physical Theatre closed its doors after twenty-five years — the longest running school of its kind in Britain. The school welcomed students from around the world, training many who would go on to become performers and even teachers themselves.
Desmond Jones, the school’s founder and principal instructor, approached his teaching with a variety of techniques, mixing Etienne Decroux’s Corporeal Mime with an improvisational physical and verbal approach in the vein of Jacques Lecoq and Keith Johnstone. “I did not want my work to be characterized by a specific style,” Jones says, “but simply that my pupils had a high level and broad range of physical expertise, and that they could work with anyone.” The curriculum included study of Commedia dell’Arte, storytelling, colors, chimpanzees, timing, children, men & women, scenes from life, physical, verbal, and psychological improvisation, and was augmented by many visiting specialist teachers who were leaders in the fields of clowning, masks, Commedia, acrobatics, and Keith Johnstone’s Impro techniques.
The school opened on April 23, 1979, with a class of eighteen students, at The British Theatre Association in Fitzroy Square WC1. During the summer holiday a structural fault was found in the building and the school was unable to continue there. After some searching for a new space, it relocated to St. Luke’s Church Hall in Shepherd’s Bush, West London, and from September 1979 this was the home of the school for the next twenty-five years. “It was a very large hall, a very light and creative space,” Jones recalls, “and we did great work.” At first, the school operated three-month courses, developing later into four terms, culminating in an end-of-term performance.
Jones used the school to coach professionals in the film world as well. “We used the hall also as a rehearsal space when I was training the actors for Jean-Jacques Annaud’s film Quest for Fire. It was a strange sight to see fully-costumed, and made-up cavemen sitting having a coffee-break on the grass outside! As well, I used it to experiment with movement and advise the actress Jane March for her part in the controversial The Lover (also directed by Annaud).”
Desmond Jones brought the experience of an established performer to his school. “A good teacher needs huge working knowledge and experience in all the performing media,” he affirms. “When I began teaching I already had a very varied stage and TV career, both as an actor and choreographer. I had performed with Peter Cook, Monty Python, Keith Johnstone (Impro!); I’d acted in countless TV dramas and sitcoms, and over one hundred commercials. I trained actors for films, and performed in films, choreographed in the West End, directed in Hong Kong. I worked with Robert Towne (Greystoke, Chinatown), Jean-Jacques Annaud (Quest For Fire, The Lover), Victor Spinetti, Arnold Wesker, Ridley Scott, Mike Alfreds and many others.” He remembers, “ . . . when I opened my school at the age of forty-two I already had a lot under my belt.”
Jones had studied for two years in Paris with Etienne Decroux and for shorter periods with Jacques Lecoq, but incorporated his full range of training and experience in teaching his art to others. “Although I based my work on Etienne Decroux,” he explains, “I began to forge my own path using everything I knew, all my varied experience, to teach a kind of movement-based theatre that could be used in everything from street theatre to straight theatre.
“I believe a good teacher needs much more than theoretical knowledge. Otherwise you can merely reproduce what you have been taught, without personal depth, and relying on other people’s creativity. It is important to do more than just reproduce other people’s ideas. The richness and uniqueness of your teaching lies in the way you unite all the strands of your knowledge and experience into a coherent philosophy, and of course in having the personality and energy to put it across memorably. This is what I strived for and hope I have achieved.”
Over the years, The Desmond Jones School taught pupils from over fifty countries. Jones’ name became especially well known in Brazil, from where the school always had a great number of pupils, largely because Denise Stoklos, a pupil from the very first term, became one of Brazil’s leading actresses and constantly recommended the school. Luis Louis, another ex-student, is also very well known as a talented teacher in Brazil. In latter years, Ris Widdicombe (Advanced Class, 1991) also taught at the school. Many other pupils have gone on to perform and teach all over the world—some on the stage, TV and films; others in university departments and already established schools, and some opened schools of their own.
Although leaving his long-running school behind, Desmond Jones is not retiring, but rather wants to “expand my horizons and apply my expertise in new directions,” he says. He plans to continue his work as an independent teacher, choreographer, and director.
To learn more about the history of The Desmond Jones School of Mime and Physical Theatre, and about Desmond Jones’ background and his ongoing work (including upcoming workshops), please visit the following websites:
School: The Desmond Jones School of Mime and Physical Theatre
Current activities: Desmond Jones Mime and Physical Theatre
Lorin Eric Salm is a Theatrical
Mime performer and instructor, and the author and administrator of this website.
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This page last updated 28 June 2005