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Physical theatre sounds quite abstract, doesn’t it? Well, we’re about to explore what it is and why it’s a helpful tool for an actor to learn and practice. Let’s get into it!
Here’s the physical theatre definition:
Physical theatre can be defined as a form of theatre that places emphasis on movement rather than dialogue. Although, there are many variations of physical theatre as the genre covers a very broad spectrum of work. However, simply put, it’s anything that employs the human body as the centre of the storytelling process.
As a result of this, physical theatre often incorporates techniques such as mime, gesture, and modern dance to create powerful performance pieces, often highlighting complex social and cultural issues.
Whilst physical theatre is focused on movement, it can also include other elements for example spoken work, music, dance, the use of media or visual images. Here’s an example of a way you could incorporate physical theatre into your own performance – you could reach out to the audience in a way that challenges the so-called fourth wall, making the audience a collaborator in the action. In fact, audience participation is common in physical theatre.
That’s just one suggestion but look at our list of physical theatre techniques below for inspiration.
So, if there is little to no dialogue, how do you tell the story effectively?
Here are some common physical theatre techniques/ examples of physical theatre that will help with that:
Miming is used frequently in physical theatre, and can be either stylised or realistic movement.
A gesture can be something small, which has a big impact, or it can be a particular movement that defines a certain character.
This can be shown by use of levels, distance, strength of contact or a combination of all of them to portray status effectively.
This is simply, how close, or far you are from the other performers, which can be really impactful.
A strong stance is usually associated with strength and authority however a weak stance often shows a lack of confidence or status. This can be achieved through your posture.
Perhaps the most common technique, every movement needs to be well thought out and practiced to be effective.
Surprisingly, a lack of movement can also be really effective to show contrast to the other characters.
If actors wear a mask over their face, their physical movement becomes even more important as their facial expressions can’t be seen.
You don’t need to be an experienced dancer to incorporate dance work into your performance. It’s more about the movement and meaning behind it than your ability to dance well.
This is the repeated use of a movement pattern which reminds us of the meaning and central theme of the performance.
Here are 3 of the most well-known UK-based physical theatre practitioners:
DV8 are a renowned London-based dance-theatre company who integrate interviews, current events, and stylized movement to address social, psychological, and political issues. They have toured world-wide, showcasing 18 theatre pieces, and have also lent their unique theatrical style to film, creating 4 different award-winning films.
Complicité is an international touring theatre company, based in London. It was founded in 1983 by Annabel Arden, Fiona Gordon, Marcello Magni and Simon McBurney. The company has played in more than 40 countries across the world, won more than 50 awards and been described as ‘…the most influential and consistently interesting theatre company working in Britain’ by The Times.
Frantic Assembly physical theatre has become one of the UK’s most successful theatre companies. Their ambition is to remain committed to making bold and brave theatre. They have toured all over the UK, and have worked in over 40 countries worldwide, collaborating with inspiring artists.
Frantic Assembly are so highly regarded that they are studied as leading contemporary theatre practitioners on five British and International academic syllabuses.
You can spot moments of physical theatre in lots of pieces of theatre, start looking out for where it’s been used. It could be movement in between scenes or a sequence of movement which suddenly interrupts a scene. Or perhaps, you might notice, the characters are all using stylised gestures throughout an otherwise naturalistic performance.
Question why these moments of movement have been included in the performance and if they work effectively? Do they enhance your experience as an audience member and add to the play?
You now know what physical theatre is, but is it right for you? Using your body to tell stories is a vital part of being an actor or performer and learning physical theatre techniques will help develop your acting skills whilst adding to your acting toolkit. It’s a very transferable skill and you’ll notice the benefits in all your future work.
If you’re developing a section of physical theatre in a show or you just want to learn more about how to effectively move your body during performances, definitely give physical theatre a try!
That was our guide on physical theatre, we hope you’ve enjoyed learning what physical theatre is, how you can practice it and which techniques are used. Be bold and brave with your work, and try out different elements of physical theatre and see which work for your future performances. Best of luck!
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