Playing With the Classics

If you’re tackling a classical text, don’t worry too much about sticking to the original structure, unless your aim is to present the play to an audience in its original form.

Play with the text, divide it between people, see what that does to the piece. Maybe it doesn’t work: why? Ask yourself why: why is the that piece of text so attached to the character, what does it tell us about her/him?

Sometimes it might work, showing two separate sides of the character very clearly, and this might be an interesting choice to place in front of an audience.

You also have the less specific bits of texts like Chorus pieces or Prologues.

The prologue in García Lorca’s The Butterfly’s Evil Spell can easily be split between actors to introduce to the audience the concept of Ensemble. As I’m working on this translation at the moment, here it is, the prologue to this beautiful play, split up for a couple of you to try out. Play with it: do you prefer to just stand and say the lines? Can you pick up where the other left off easily? Does each person (here represented by just a number) have a different character? What does the text tell you? And what happens if it’s just spoken by one person? Does it work better? Is it just different? Have a play, enjoy!

Prologue to The Butterfly’s Evil Spell by Federico García Lorca

(Note that the original is spoken just by one person.)

1: Ladies and Gentlemen:

 2: The comedy you’re about to watch is both humble and disturbing.

 3: A broken comedy about he who, trying to scratch the moon, ended up scratching his own heart.

 1: Love, just as it travels with its mockeries and its failures down Man’s life, travels in this occasion to a hidden prairie populated with insects where life had been peaceful for a long time.

 4: The insects were happy,

 2: Their only worries were drinking dewdrops in peace and educating their children in the holy terrors of their gods.

 4: They loved each other out of habit.

 1: Love passed on from parent to child like an old and exquisite jewel that was received by the first insect from the hands of God.

 3: With the same peace and confidence that the pollen of a flower gives itself to the wind, they enjoyed love under the humid, fresh grass.

 2: But one day…. one of the insects tried to fly beyond love. He fell in love with a form that was way beyond his life… maybe he’d read, with some difficulty, the verses of a book left behind by one of the few poets who walk round the countryside, and was poisoned by “I love you, impossible woman.”

 1: That’s why I beg you all not to leave behind in the prairies your poetry books, because you too might be the cause of sorrow in other insects.

 3: The poetry which asks why the stars travel through space is hurtful to unopened souls.

 2: It seems useless to tell you that the poor little bug died.

 4: Death sometimes dresses up as love.

 1: Many are the times that the skeleton with the scythe we see portrayed in the prayer books takes the shape of a woman to fool us as she opens the door of her shadow.

 4: Cupid sleeps many times in the deep crevices of Death’s skull.

 1: Many are the old stories where a flower, a kiss or a look play the horrible part of the sword.

 3: An old sprite from the woods, who escaped from one of the great Shakespeare’s books; this sprite, who walks around the prairies holding his withered wings with a crutch, told the poet this story during an autumn night, when the flocks had left and now the poet repeats it to you, enveloped in his very own melancholy.

 1: But before we start, we want to ask you the same question the sprite asked the poet that Autumn night, when the flocks had left.

 4: Why are you repulsed by some clean and shiny insects who move graciously in the grass?

 1: And why are you people, full of sins and incurable vices, disgusted by the worms who calmly walk across the prairie sunbathing in the lukewarm morning?

 4: Why do you look down on Nature’s most negligible creatures?

 1: While you insist on not loving deeply the stone and the worm, you will not enter the kingdom of God.

 2: The old sprite also said to the poet: “The animal and plant kingdom will soon take over. Man forgets his creator, while the animals and  plants live very close to his light. Poet, tell Mankind that love grows just as intensely in all planes of life, that the rhythm of the leaf rocked by the wind is the same as that of the distant star and that the words spoken by the fountain in the shade are spoken in the same way by the sea. Tell Mankind to be humble: everyone’s equal  in Nature’s eyes.

 4: And that’s all the old sprite said.

 1: And now, listen to our comedy.

 3: Maybe you’ll smile when you hear these insects talking like young men, like adolescents.

 1: And if you learn a deep lesson from this story, go down to the forest, to thank that sprite on crutches – go down to the forest on an Autumn night, when the flocks have left.

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.

Being a Butterfly

Federico-G-Lorca1I’m in the very early stages of researching for my book on teaching Lorca. (Any thoughts on this are always welcome, by the way.) I’m just having a look at a version of The Butterfly’s Evil Spell which we performed as a Script in Hand Performance back in… I can’t really remember, the script is dated 2000, so around then.

The play is a real challenge to perform, mainly because the Butterfly in the title is a real butterfly, not just a symbol. The characters of the play are cockroaches. How do you play a cockroach? How do you stage a play where the characters are insects, without it becoming pretty much like a cartoon?

In the end, the challenge is the same as with any play: as actors, you look at the characters and make decisions based on what they say, what they do and what you decide they think. The movement needs a little bit more consideration, but hints of “insectness” is what we’re looking for. A commonality for all cockroaches, for example, and then individuality for each character.

mariposaAs directors, we’ll look at the play and decide what it needs. Considering that the whole play has a fairy tale quality to it and that the piece is really reflecting human nature; and given how contemporary audiences are willing to suspend disbelief when watching this kind of theatre, it wouldn’t make much sense to try to make everyone look like the insect they’re playing (although that’s precisely what Lorca tried to do during the performance of this play, as you can observe in this image). So we’ll need to decide how much do we want the audience to work their imagination and how we’re going to help them to immerse themselves in our very special world.

If you don’t know the play and like Lorca, do have a read. I will release my own translation in a couple of weeks but meanwhile, here are a few lines, from the first act.

You are discreet when you speak
Of the cause of your pain.
And where is your love? Far away?

He is so close
The wind brings me his breath.

A young lad from this town! You hide it well!
And does he love you?

He detests me.

That’s strange, you are rich!
In my time….

The princess he awaits for will never come.

What’s he like?

I’m enchanted by his small body
and his dreamy poet eyes.
He has a yellow spot on his right leg,
As yellow are the tips of his divine antennae.

That’s my son.

SILVIA (madly)
I love him!!!!!!

MRS COCKROACH (aside, as in a dream)
She’s wealthy.
The stupidity of my strange creature.
I’ll make him love her by force.

(If you’re a Lorca fan, have a look at my (much neglected) blog

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]