Category: Physical Theatre Exercise

Devising Theatre – suggested timeline

Assuming you have ten weeks to develop your piece, your time might be used in the following way:

Week 1

Improvisations around stimulus. Research on stimulus (if appropriate). Decide on style. Building the ensemble. Discuss creating and rehearsal process. Do as much research as you can during the first three weeks of the process. This is the time where you are likely to be experimenting and therefore not needing to do much work on the piece itself in between rehearsals, such as learning lines. Once you have decided on the theme/s likely to appear in your piece, research them, and make sure you allocate time to share your findings. Also, do not forget to look into which theatre practitioners are likely to influence you. Again, you will need to research their work.

Week 2

Share your research. Decide on where the piece is going. Maybe the full storyline. Maybe a strong definition of characters.  Begin research on themes.

Week 3

Continue improvising. Individual character work. Character profiles. Research on practitioners suited to the piece.

 Week 4

Set the story line and outline of the piece. Begin CREATING the piece. Order of scenes. What happens in each scene. Begin scripting. Start thinking of set and costumes.

 Week 5

First drafts of set and costume designs.  Continue creating the piece. More character development. Character-led improvisations which will lead to development of plot.

 Week 6

Begin rehearsals. Continue Development.

Week 7

Final set and costume designs. Purchase or identify set and costume elements. Continue rehearsing and development. Ask people to be your “outside eye”.

 Week 8

Rehearsals. Define scene changes (if applicable).

Week 9

Have written down the final script. Run-throughs. More rehearsals.

Week 10

Tech Rehearsal. Dress Rehearsal (x2 if possible) Performance!

Once a schedule has been created, suggest that it is revised at the end of each week. If a group manages to hit on a wonderful storyline on day 2 of Week 1, then maybe they can start detailed character work earlier on so they can give themselves some more rehearsal time. Devising is not only group specific, but project specific too and the process varies continuously.

At the end of Week 1, ask the students to discuss how they envisage carrying out the creation and devising process as a group. Will each member be responsible for a session? Will they want a tutor to run a session on Character Development so that all group members can work on character at the same time? Similarly, ask them to discuss who will be running the warm ups for each session. For some sessions they will need longer warm ups than others, but you should encourage them to always do SOMETHING together, even if it is a quick game of tag to get them all making physical contact with each other before beginning each rehearsal.

Just as it is paramount to schedule an exercise to bring everyone together at the beginning of the session, it is vital to wrap up the session too. Five minutes at the end of each session to reflect on what has (or hasn’t) been achieved are very useful, as is making sure that everyone agrees on what the next steps of the process are and what shape the next session will take.


Building the Ensemble – The Empty Chair

This game works best with at least 7 people. Distribute evenly the same number of chairs as people playing across the space. Everyone but one person, the Walker, sits on a chair. The empty chair must be at one end and the Walker will start the game at the other end.

The aim of the Walker is to sit on a chair. S/he will do this by walking towards it at an even, slow pace. Everyone else must prevent the Walker from sitting on the empty chair. This is done by leaving their chair and sitting on the empty chair. This will leave another chair empty. The Walker will then try to get to it but someone else from the group should go towards it and sit on it. Everyone but the Walker can move as fast or as slow as they wish.

Note that once a member of the group lifts their bum from their own chair, they can’t go back to it and have to sit somewhere else. When the Walker finally sits on a chair, the game ends and whoever was not sitting down, becomes the Walker.

Once you have played this game a few times and are familiar with the strategies that work, try to play the game in silence. Of course there will be cries and laughter but try to avoid communicating with words and avoid telling others what to do. This will help you to develop your ensemble skills, where everyone in the group shares the responsibility of achieving a common goal.

Building the Ensemble – Grandmother’s Footsteps

One performer (the “grandmother”) stands facing a wall. Everyone else stands behind him/her at the other side of the room. The object of the game is for the rest of the group to creep behind the grandmother and tap her on the back. The grandmother will turn every few seconds and when she does, everyone must freeze. If she sees anyone move in the slightest, they have to go back to where they started. Whoever reaches the wall, becomes the next grandmother.

This game wakes up the body and mind and, though competitive, encourages performers to work in physical closeness to each other sharing the same space.

Grandmother’s footsteps is used widely to teach acting and physical theatre. The game has the added benefit that half of the class can sit and watch. What makes a good piece of drama and what is interesting about watching actors suddenly becomes apparent: enjoyment, commitment, the need to take risks, the need to play within the rules, suspension… this game has all the ingredients of a good theatrical performance.

When we freeze as Grandmother turns, we don’t stop: our emotion is in motion. Our brains are ticking away, making sure that every single element of our body is still, we are holding on to our energy, not letting it go… and we are oh-so-ready, because at any point, Grandma will turn round and then….. we have to be ready to move!

Creating Text for Physical Theatre

Physical Theatre seems at its best when movement and text are integrated. If you are using dialogue you’ll need to decide whether you want it to match the style of the piece.

Using Poetic Text

A carefully choreographed sensual movement sequence might be accompanied by poetic text to heighten the beauty of the scene. The language doesn’t have to be elaborate, and the vocabulary can be simple. But playing with the rhythm of speech can communicate to the audience a state of mind very quickly. For example, long sentences might communicate a lucid state of mind, while short statements might indicate agitation. For fantastic examples of this, see the works of the master of the English language, William Shakespeare.

Here is an extract from ¨Goddess¨, a piece created by Forbidden Theatre Company. This is the first dream the Woman has, where she explores the idea of forbidden love through the story of Psyche and Eros, love between a mortal and a god. Here, Psyche is waiting to be sacrificed to a monster at the top of a mountain. Aphrodite, Goddess of love, jealous of Psyche’s beauty, has sent Eros to shoot his love arrows at Psyche, to make her fall in love with the monster.

When Eros is about to shoot one of his arrows at Psyche, he trips and shoots himself, falling in love with her. He takes her away with him making sure that she doesn’t actually see him, as he wants to keep his God identity from her.

(EROS spots PSYCHE and gets ready to shoot his arrow. Unfortunately right at that moment he clumsily trips, shoots himself (in the foot) and falls in love with Psyche. Silence. EROS looks at PSYCHE, but she can’t see him. EROS goes to Psyche, and unseen by her lifts her off the ground, teaches her to fly (teaches her to love?))

And then,
A breeze,
A breeze that far from hurting me begins to cradle me….
Then turns into….
A gust of wind, a gentle wind which lifts my feet off the ground
I surrender
A gentle wind…..

(Through the following dialogue, Psyche does not see Eros as he is standing behind her.)

Who are you?

That is not for you to know.

Soft breeze…
Do you love me?

More than you could imagine.

(He lifts her.)

Where are you taking me?

To our home

(EROS takes PSYCHE away from the mountain, saving her from dropping several feet every time she feels unsafe in the air. She tries to hold onto him but slips away, the third time this happens, she is held by the BROTHER, who appears during a sharp intake of breath from all characters, including the WOMAN. The dream freezes, the woman is not just dreaming of love, she misses her brother’s protection. Meanwhile EROS is holding the image of PSYCHE in his hands (she is still in the BROTHER’s arms.))

You cradle me,
Far from being scared I feel safe in your arms.
Do you love me?

More…. More than you can imagine.

You have given me back my life. I must see who has saved me from….

No! You mustn’t, you must never see who I am. We must love each other at night, in darkness….

(As the BROTHER passes PSYCHE to EROS.)

A gust of wind,
A gentle wind which lifts me off the ground
I surrender,
A gentle wind…..


As you can see, the dialogue is kept to a minimum, and is used to pass detailed information to the audience. For example, “Scared, I am left at the top of a mountain” immediately tells the audience where Psyche is. The performer can show by her movement that she is somewhere that is making her uncomfortable, somewhere where she is cold, from where she can look down. The text helps her pass specific information on.

Similarly, a carefully choreographed section can depict flying without the performers lifting their feet off the ground. In ¨Goddess¨, a sequence was created which gave the illusion of the upper body being lifted, – the rest was done by the text: “A gentle wind which lifts my feet off the ground.”

The whole sequence above is performed with the actor playing Eros remaining always behind Psyche.

Through the dialogue

“PSYCHE: Who are you?

EROS: That is not for you to know”,

we know that Eros is deliberately remaining out of Psyche´s sight.