Category: Physical Theatre

Street Inspiration

I can’t help it. Even if I no longer create theatre, I’m still drawn to theatrical figures, especially when they are created with a hint of surrealism. Here are some photos of street art I came across while in Holland. I’m not sure how much these images will be of help to you, but I thought they were worth sharing.

Maybe they’ll prompt you to ask some questions to create characters or even some kind of plot?


(With thanks to kevinkoekoek for the photos.)

A lady (look at her handbag) hiding her face?
A lady (look at her handbag) hiding her face?
A lady with trousers - not sure why I find this strange...
A lady with trousers – not sure why I find this strange…
A lady with her shoes by her side. Why?
A lady with her shoes by her side. Why?


Who hides under the mask?


And why is this mask by their side?
And why is this mask by their side?









Medieval vs Contemporary
Medieval vs Contemporary
Did he just land here from the future?
Did he just land here from the future?

Questions on Teaching Physical Theatre?

I don’t teach the subject myself anymore, so I’m a little thin on inspiration. If you have any questions, or need specific advice on teaching or studying physical theatre, let me know by commenting on the Visitors Page. Hopefully I can help you and come up with some content for a new post! All posts are moderated before they are published, so if you want your post to remain private, just let me know.

Instant Composition

As the cold weather makes me lazy, I am very happy to leave you once again with guest blogger María Ferrara. (If you missed her previous post on Action Theatre, do have a look.) In this post, she continues to talk about the magic of sharing your improvisation in real time with the audience.

What is Instant Composition?

In an instant composition piece, the performer is creating the material, composing it and showing it simultaneously. Thus, the performer is working from the void in real time to create something new in every performance.

The origins of instant composition date from the 1960’s, the dawning of the postmodern dance movement, which questioned traditional aesthetic values and the share of roles that makes the dancer a mere executor of the choreographer’s creation. This followed on the path opened up in the 50’s by conceptual art, installations or performances. These movements challenged many accepted views such as the boundary between art and everyday life, between different art forms and even between performer and spectator. The pieces tended to be open ended, engaging the audience to complete what they were witnessing with their own perception or understanding. In performing arts, this multidisciplinary approach erased the distinctions between dancer, musician, actor or singer and the word “performer” emerged to refer to the person that performs the action which is witnessed and shared by the audience.

The preparation for this type of performance includes training awareness of what takes place within and outside of oneself in order to keep an ongoing interaction with the here and now, developing creativity, imagination and intuition and, finally, finding fluidity in decision making, both in order to follow impulses and to inhibit them.

The final aim is not to let oneself get carried away, but rather to compose a moment in a space, giving a collective sense to the elements present. In this context, the word sense does not refer to objective meaning, but to subjective understanding: how the patterns, pictures, rhythms, planes, sequences, counterpoints, intensities, images etc. develop and interact sequentially.

Instant composition invites the spectator to accompany the performer into an experience in which neither of them knows what will happen.

Currently, digital media allows for audiovisual content to be saved and reproduced ad infinitum with great ease. It is precisely in this era in which the eternal seems to be within reach for everybody that the ephemeral, the immediate and the transient acquire a renewed value as the epitome of life itself. Instant composition invites the spectator to accompany the performer into an experience in which neither of them knows what will happen, to walk out of the known territory of habits, preconceptions and expectations. One’s own perceptions, in real time, become the final element that makes sense of what has been witnessed.

María Ferrara is helping to promote the 2ND INTERNATIONAL ACTION THEATRE AND PHYSICAL IMPROVISATION FESTIVAL in Berlin this May. For more information on the festival, you can contact her on kontakt[at]
To find out more about what Action Theatre is, check out her last post: Action Theatre: The Improvisation of Presence.

Using Music in Your Piece

Music can trigger off a whole range of emotions much faster than the spoken word. If you want to move your audience, look for a piece of music that will help you do this. Don’t settle for the first thing that comes to mind, especially if you choose a song or piece because YOU already have an emotional connection with it. Look for music you don’t usually listen to: film scores of films you haven’t watched, bands and genres you don’t usually play.

Work with opposites, they’re quite interesting. If you have a sad scene, why not play it against an incredibly cheerful song? If you have created a physical comedy sequence, try it out to a slow ballad. You get the picture.

Juxtaposing speed of movement and rhythm is also fun: try slow motion sequences against upbeat music.

Finally, when including music in your piece, don’t forget to try the most powerful sound of all: silence.


Action Theatre: The Improvisation of Presence

I am delighted to introduce this guest post by María Ferrara, a performer, yoga teacher and gestalt therapist who uses her three lines of work to enable her to explore human nature and being in the moment. In this post, she discusses the importance of awareness, how improvisation has helped her to find freedom in performance once again and she recommends a book on improvisation.


This is the title of Ruth Zaporah’s first book. An absolute gem. It offers her approach to improvisation in bite-size pieces:  a sequence of exercises to do individually, in pairs or in ensemble.

My first surprise was to find a theatre approach to improvisation of this kind. Improvisation in the context of theatre tends to happen in devising processes, or in small sections of a fixed show or within frames such as Theatre Sports. The open-ended, more lyrical, more abstract improvisation seemed to belong to the field of dance.

The most visible current in this sense came from dancers in New York in the 50’s and 60’s, who started to question the rigid format of dance in many ways. One of them was improvisation. Many of them, like Trisha Brown, also experimented with their voices and even text, which blurred the boundary between dance and theatre.

What is what? Is it really that important when what we’re interested in is opening up our expressive possibilities to create a performative event in a given  space and time?

Action Theater has offered me the tools to bring together body and voice, movement and speech

I encountered improvisation as something that could be performed per se through dance. And there seemed to me to be a gap between what I was doing when I improvised in dance contexts and what I was doing as an “actress”. Action Theater has offered me the tools to bring together body and voice, movement and speech. The wealth of possibilities has increased my awareness about the power and connotations of each of them.

Regular practice makes me discover new depths all the time. At one time, improvising meant following my impulse. As my palette becomes more diverse, I find choice moment by moment. I am no longer riding a wave of energy that takes me wherever it fancies, but composing. Gradually, I’m noticing how my awareness of what there is (inside and outside of me) in a given moment is increasing. The material that the input inspires is becoming more subtle and varied. I am gaining freedom so that I respond rather than react, so that I subordinate my choice not to my personal fancy, but to the aim of “creating states in which others have the possibility of creating other states” (Carlos Osatinsky and Fernando Nicolás Pellicccioli).

I have used and am using “Action Theater: The Improvisation of Theatre” extensively. It is absolutely practical and also includes plenty of material for thought. I welcomed this too, as I find improvising is putting me in touch with plenty of conceptual and philosophical issues. A welcome manual to explore one’s personal creative material in the here and now.

The 2ND INTERNATIONAL ACTION THEATER AND PHYSICAL IMPROVISATION FESTIVAL will take place in BERLIN between 6TH AND 12TH MAY 2013. María Ferrara is organising accommodation with Berlin hosts or for the cheapest possible price to encourage international participation. If you are interested in improvisation and instant composition, this is an extraordinary opportunity: a whole week of workshops, performances, jams and exchange in Berlin, an inspiring city for anybody involved with the arts. For more information visit or get in touch with Maria: kontakt[at]

Creating a Theatre Piece from Fairy Tales

Yesterday, Jake posted a question on the Your Handy Companion to Devising and Physical Theatre’s Facebook page, asking for tips on creating a physical theatre piece based on fairy tales. The answer is far too long to be posted on a Facebook page, so I thought I’d write a post instead. Jake: thanks for the inspiration.

Frog Prince

Fairy tales are a wonderful stimulus to devise from: they have strong stories, well defined characters and you can set them wherever and whenever you want. They are usually set in interesting locations that will give you a lot to play with: a forest, a castle, a hut, a cottage, a tower… all locations which you will not be able to create literally and so, you HAVE to use your imagination and stimulate the audience’s to take them where you want to.

So, your first questions should be:

– When are we setting the piece?

– Where are we setting it?

– What style shall we use?

The term “physical theatre” is very broad – will you use masks, still images, will your characters have stylised physicalities, will you have one or more narrators, how will you move between scenes? What visual experience will the audience have: A black and white one, a colourful one or a mixture of both?

Will you be telling the story linearly or start at the end, for example, your story could begin with a woman who obsessively cuts her hair. When somebody suggests that she try growing it, just to “see how it looks”, she tells them the story of how she hates her long her: she grew up in a tower, enduring her mother climbing up her hair constantly. (In case you haven’t guessed, I’m talking about Rapunzel.)

Sleeping Beauty poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson
Sleeping Beauty poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson


Working with more than one fairy tale – do your research.

If you are working on more than one fairy tale, just pick three. Three is a nice number to give you enough variety. See whether you can link them in some way: by theme, location or character. Or decide to make them completely different.

When Forbidden Theatre Company created Spell, the story began with Frog Prince, where a Prince was so annoying he was turned into a Frog by a witch. The woman in question did not know that she was a witch, but her rage at being ignored by the arrogant prince turned into magic powers. This was the first time that she realised she had magic powers and she decided to use them for good. But after helping the King and Queen conceive, they neglected to invite her to the child’s party and she began to use her powers in an evil way (Sleeping Beauty).

In order to link a few fairy tales together, you will have to read plenty of them, to spot the possible connections.

Don’t just take the story that you all know as your starting point. Look at poems, ballets, films, paintings and illustrations that have been inspired by the tales and all the different versions  that have been created.

Split personalities

Fairy tales are beautifully crafted stories. There will therefore be a moment in the hero/heroine’s journey when they have to make a decision that moves the story along. What would have happened if they had made a different decision? If you are working on one tale, this can be the moment where you can change the story, by showing a different resolution or by presenting more than one story.

Use improvisation to try this out – it will be hard, as the well known decision will be on everyone’s mind, but it’s worth seeing where your instinct takes you.

Arthur Rackman's illustrations can be used as inspiration
Arthur Rackman’s illustrations can be used as inspirationing where your instincts take you.

Create new characters

Make the stories your own. Don’t just create your characters around the obvious protagonists (and definitely stay away from using the Disney versions as a base, look for the Grimm/Andersen /Perrault which will be darker and hence, more interesting). Create characters from inanimate objects. Going back to Spell, the Spell Book became the Witch’s sidekick and was able to provide a different perspective and energy on stage.

Use music and movement

There is no faster way to take an audience somewhere else than through the use of music. Look for instrumental pieces that are rarely heard, to avoid the audience making connections to their own memories. Search the Foreign Film Soundtrack catalogues, they’re a great source of inspiration.

Use movement sequences to show us what a character is thinking, to accentuate an important moment in the piece and to move the audience.

This is by no means a guide on how to create a theatre piece from fairy tales, but I hope it can inspire you or start you off. Do leave your comments and questions below, maybe we can come up with more tips together.

Why I Loved My!Laika or Why Your Characters Should be Strong

MyLaika6-mime2013Yesterday I watched Popcorn Machine by French company My!Laika, as part of the London International Mime Festival. Ironically the ensemble does not have any French performers: they come from Argentina, Germany, Holland and Italy, something they use to add to the chaos on stage as each performer speaks their language at some point.

Don’t get me wrong, the “chaos” is highly orchestrated to add to the “domestic apocalypse” in which the piece is set. As most theatre incorporating text, visuals, music, circus, movement etc, it’s difficult to decide which genre it sits in but this (luckily!) has become less and less important – who cares!

The piece is a mega-mix of highly-skilled acrobatics sprinkled with live music and flooded with dark humour. What holds it together is not a plot or a story but very well-defined characters, almost archetypes. We get to know the performers (he’s great at this, she’s great at that) and also the characters, who never cease to amuse us.

I loved the piece. It has stayed with me and got me thinking. What is it that holds our attention at the theatre? It’s not always a plot. Not always a “story” as we’ve come to expect it. Nothing much happens to the people in Popcorn Machine; they don’t really have a moment of realisation or of change. As characters, they probably leave the piece in the same way as they started. Maybe the characters are not much different from the performers themselves. Who cares? They still make us care for them – even if it’s just because we know we are going to love and admire what they do.

If you are creating a piece, be bold with your character choices. Start with an archetype. Start with someone who seems one-dimensional: the crazy one; the strong one; the lazy one; the studious one. Allow the audience to know where they are with your character so that then you can play with a more abstract performance style or work with a very simple storyline.

Stories keep us hooked – but that’s because they are about people. It’s the people that hook us. They allow us to project onto them our wishes and aspirations, even our own problems. They allow us to experience what we don’t dare to do ourselves. They allow us to see the world through somebody else’s eyes. Theatre is great fun to make but it also has the power to inspire; don’t forget that when you are creating your own work.

Popcorn Machine, with its dangerous acrobatics (which I could never even imagine myself doing), its dark humour (which touched the darker side of myself) and its absurdity did exactly that. Thank you.

Popcorn Machine is on at the Purcell Room, Southbank Centre, London from Sat 12 – Tues 15 January 2013.

Physical Theatre Bites

I am cleaning up my computer and found this video from our Freestlye Performances, days when we got to experiment with physical theatre by trying out our own work in front of an audience.

Key to this was giving the audience food during the intervals – watch the video, you’ll see all their happy faces! I suppose it was a bit like bribing the audience. But hey, no-one else was doing this: an Ensemble of young professionals getting together for the day to present short pieces written by themselves. The day was full of the spirit of collaboration, as different people took on different roles (writer/director/performers) during the day, supporting each other along the way. All put together brilliantly by our wonderful stage manager Tracey.

Here it is, enjoy!

Freestyle Performances from Pilar Orti on Vimeo.

Working with Masks

I had such a great time the week before last working with a group of drama students for a week, as part of a Forbidden Theatre Company project.

Masks are liberating – having something physical to “hide behind” can really free the actor or the student. That’s why they are such great training tools. Jacques Copeau used masks during rehearsal the first time when one of his actresses seemed completely unconnected to her body. During an emotional scene, her physical expression just seemed… well, wrong. Copeau threw a sheet over her head and, voilá, her performance improved and the first use of the theatre mask in training was born.

Working with the students reminded me how much performers often rely on words to express themselves and convey meaning. This is not at all a bad thing – but it’s difficult to know how to create a new language when words are removed. Somebody asked me if mask work involved a lot of “mime” – it depends on how you define mime, but if you mean replacing words with gestures which depict objects and actions, no. If, however, you mean, using the body to communicate with other performers and the audience, then yes.

It is difficult. The instinct of many performers when they first try to communicate wearing a mask is to find a direct substitute for words. Watching it is fascinating, and I found myself coaching from the sides saying “Don’t try to speak, don’t try to speak.” I think many of them understood what I was going on about as by the end of the week, many of them found an ease to communicate which involved a different way of thinking. A less literal way, a simpler way, as they let the mask find a language of their own.

Devising Theatre Stimulus: Goya’s Caprichos

If you are creating your own piece, why not make sure it is set in a different world?

In a distant place, full of grotesque characters who make us just that little bit uneasy to keep us intrigued.

Change your physicality;
Then let it affect your voice;
Find different ways of relating to others.

Using the same stimulus for all characters will give your piece a sense of Ensemble, a sense that you are all working in the same style, embodying the same space.

Here, try these.


For more, visit Goya’s Caprichos Wikipedia page.