Manifesto for Physical Theatre

Our imaginations are boundless. Our lives are surrounded by stories of all kinds: urban myths, fairy tales, stories which are so rooted in real life that we mistake them for the truth. We explain the world around us through myths and stories, even through fables whose characters are not human.

As audiences, we enjoy stretching our imaginations. When creating a piece of theatre therefore, we can allow our imaginations to run free. We do not need to limit our situations to those which are “believable”: our characters can travel across rivers, fly or exist in dreams and other surreal places. As humans we crave stories that will take us away from our ordinary world – that is why, despite the birth of film and television, theatre still has an audience today.

Theatre is a celebration of all that is human. The purpose of devising is to create together something which will be unique to each performance group.

Why Use Physical Theatre?

Whatever the stimulus for a devised piece (be it the work of an artist, a well-known story, a newspaper article), there is a need to ensure that the audience is taken on a journey. There might be elements of your story that seem difficult to communicate to an audience because it is difficult to act out their “reality”. However, physical theatre can help to communicate the most fantastical or abstract concepts.

For example, by using physical theatre we can:

• Depict fantastical physical journeys. For example, by creating the illusion of travelling through the air (without literally being flown through the space with a rope),
• Create surreal environments (such as somebody’s mind),
• Develop characters from another world (such as those that are half human and half animal or grotesque villagers),
• Have flexible, easy to use sets – created by the performers, as they become walls, rivers, furniture, etc.

Through full belief in what they are doing and commitment to the piece, the performers will carry the audience with them.

To clarify the need for using physical theatre, you will need to discuss the desired effects on the audience and encourage the students to evaluate its impact through collaborative discussion and the use of an “outside eye” such as yourself, other tutors or other students.

• If the intention is to convey EMOTION, the movement used can be choreographed, almost dance-like. In this way abstract sequences can be created, intended to make the audience FEEL in a certain way.
• If a human set is needed, the movement used (or stillness) will need to be more literal. For example, to create a wall, rigidity might be needed (or a crumbling movement if it is smashed). If you are depicting furniture, the performers will have to look like the real thing as much as possible.
• If the main aim is for the audience to fully understand the story, then maybe physical theatre might be used to create a range of distinct characters, while keeping their actions realistic. Dialogue and storytelling can help to make the story clear.

These are some examples of how physical theatre can be used when creating a new piece. In the next part of Manifesto for Physical Theatre, I will talk about the joys of working in an ensemble.


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