When people think of Mark Bowden, they might think of his 2010 book, Winning Body Language or see his techniques and coaching used by Stephen Harper in the 2011 election debates, or perhaps they think of his high-level training for high-level politicians and business leaders. But do people think of Mark beyond these terms?
I can’t speak for anyone else, but I do. When I met with Mark recently, we talked about things other than the obvious business stuff, things like clothing and theatre and how they have affected him in different stages and incarnations of his life.
When I met him, we wore a navy pinstripe Etro jacket with a fabulous patterned lining. His garb was simple and elegant with minimal but bold accessories. He likes Paul Smith and Ozwald Boateng of Savile Row for suits and sides with me on the importance of tailoring.
Mark is deliberate and likes to draw attention to small but substantial details in his dress because besides being stylish, these details can actually serve a purpose. He likes weighty French cuffs that are visible under his jacket sleeves to draw the eye to his hands (he works with them, you know), and he loves to wear red socks and red cotton shoe laces to go with his handmade Jeffery West red-lined shoes from Jermyn Street in London – the bright socks keep people interested and visually engaged during long presentations, you see.
We agree that looking one’s best is not only a positive reflection of ourselves but it is an act of respect for others.
“I care for my audience so I make an effort,” as Mark puts it.
We have other commonalities. For instance, Mark and I actually come from the same place, the theatre, but I studied design and he studied performance. Though the disciplines might be different, we both understand that theatre is about illusion and potential (i.e. not what it is, but what it could be), and we both use these theatrical concepts in our work.
Knowing about Mark’s performance training really adds a fascinating dimension to his professional body language and presentation services and I can appreciate the complex emotional power behind his work.
Mark studied performing arts at Middlesex University, London, under one of Europe’s leading practitioners of mask theatre, John Wright. As a performer, he describes his training as “liberating, using the mask as a tool to disguise yourself from the audience and subsequently feel more free to give deeper emotions and dramas to them.”
The actor uses the mask to acquire a deep connection to the character, a concept with very primal roots, back to the age of hunters who wore the heads of the animals hunted to absorb the spirit of the animal and as a disguise to trick the spirits.
While at Middlesex, John sent Mark to Philippe Gaulier, a performance master who impressed Mark with Melodrama, or “cheers and tears” as Mark described it.
This theatrical genre can give an audience clarity and perspective, causing people to “gain consciousness in the horror of their real lives,” he says. It also has the capacity to quickly change the way an entire audience feels with its pathos and big, passionate emotions. Mark learned how to master his emotions and the emotion of breath patterns to influence and interact with his audiences, so not only is he affecting the way people feel, but the potential for them to feel.
3 Roles, 3 Costumes
As an actor, Mark must incorporate costumes into his character as if he (as the character) really owns the clothes or as though he really is the embodiment of the creature he is dressed as and make it seem natural.
I wanted to know about his favourite roles and the costumes he wore for each to illustrate how powerful the costume can be not only to the actor but also to the audience. It so happens that his physical comedic roles are the stand-outs. Mark explained that comedy is about contrast, building tension, and then breaking the tension, and the costumes for these roles provided hilarious visuals.
The False Corpse: An ironic one-man comedy. His character in this play is a comedian who is going to commit suicide while on stage. For this role, Mark put together a jumble of iconic comedic costume pieces: large clownish collars, tights instead of trousers (to show the movement of the legs and their “speech”), and a proper gentleman’s tail coat as a topping contradiction.
Hamlet: Mark played a gravedigger, comic relief to the heavy play. His costume was another jumble of pieces, but this time of Viking armour! He said he put on anything he could get his hands on including breast plates, horned helmets, and several swords in an effort for the character to take on a “god-like soldier guise to give the mortals in the play a hand”.
The Hobbit: Mark played one of the trolls in London’s West End in the J.R.R. Tolkien story. The three trolls wore large, heavy, difficult costumes, built on football player shoulder pads that had to be lowered over the head (not unlike those animal heads that the hunters wore for disguise, I imagine). The second tricky piece of troll costume was the footwear: Cothurni. Cothurni are elevated boots originally worn by Greek actors to increase their height and visibility to theatre audiences.
So Mark and the other trolls lumbered around on the raised platform Cothurni, arguing over whether they should roast, mince, boil, or squash the freshly-caught dwarves into jelly, using large body movements, having fun with each other and knocking each other around. Often, the plat-formed trolls would fall over and the smaller dwarves would have to help them to their feet. The costumes here brought out a “playfulness and cheekiness” in the characters that I’m sure absolutely delighted the audiences.
Less is more
Having explained all that, sometimes Mark doesn’t wear any clothes at all. In 2007, he was hired for a Nike commercial to streak through an English football match wearing nothing but a scarf and Nike Shox shoes; “a celebration of being free,” as he put it. For those of you who have been to a nude beach, you’ll understand this concept of freedom and having done so myself, I can tell you that communal nudity is amazingly liberating.
But I digress.
Clothing, or costume, is powerful. It creates different feelings within us and without us, and the people who see us will interpret our visuals and treat us accordingly.
“People make judgements based on what they see, and we have a limited time to make a good first impression,” Mark tells me.
Whether our wardrobe is for business or pleasure, or to create emotion in our audiences, we have the choice in the visual messages we send, and this is a powerful opportunity that should really be taken seriously; it is another tool of influence.
You cannot climb the ladder of success dressed in the costume of failure.
-Zig Ziglar, American author and motivational speaker