Introduction to physical theatre

Topics: Theatre, Jacques Lecoq, Complicite Pages: 7 (3370 words) Published: September 19, 2014
Theatre is not just about conveying the written text; rather that through the body, by trying to find a simple language of gestures and sounds, we can communicate at a much more powerful level; that there is a universal language for the theatre, regardless of cultural differences. There is a recognition that if you want ‘realistic drama’, television and cinema are far more effective than theatre. What is unique about theatre is its relationship to its audience: the fact that actor and audience share the same time and space in a ‘live’ experience. It is basically a physical experience in which the actor stimulates the active imagination of the audience.

An Introduction to the thinking behind Physical Theatre

First of all the characteristics of physical theatre are many and varied; in fact, the term is virtually impossible to define. However, the emergence of physical theatre over the past fifteen or twenty years clearly represents a significant change in the nature of acting in response to a shift away from text-based theatre and the Stanislavskian notion of interpreting a role. Increasingly companies, not only in the way they devise their own work, but also in the way they train and work are now focused on exploring and expressing their ideas principally through the body.

So what is physical theatre?
Physical theatre is a general term used to describe any mode of performance that pursues storytelling through primarily physical means. There are several quite distinct traditions of performance which all describe themselves using the term "physical theatre", which has led to a lot of confusion as to what the definition of physical theatre actually is. A simple definition (to be expanded/revised/thrown out/begun again):  Physical theatre:

goes beyond verbal narrative, incorporating physical and visual elements on a level at least equal to verbal elements is more than simply abstract movement – it includes some element of character, narrative, relationships, and interaction between the performers, not necessarily linear or obvious includes a wide variety of styles, approaches, aesthetics – can include dance-theatre, movement theatre, clown, puppetry, mime, mask, vaudeville, and circus

At its best, all theatre is physical. At its simplest, physical theatre is where the primary means of creation and communicating occurs through the body rather than through the mind. This is true whether the product is an original devised piece or an interpretation of a scripted text. This doesn’t mean that the intellectual demands of the idea or the script are abandoned – rather the ideas are grasped first through the physical engagement of the body because, as Lecoq puts it, ‘the body knows things about which the mind is ignorant’. Think about how we gain our first impressions of a new person or place – it is almost always dependent on what we see; it is a visual / physical response, not mental or intellectual. British theatre, however, is traditionally text-based; it has been primarily a matter of putting the playwright’s words on stage – a literary, therefore intellectual exercise. Physical theatre offers a different way. Of critical importance is the fact that physical theatre accentuates the audience’s imaginative involvement and engagement with what is taking place on stage. At its most basic, the more the actor asks the audience to imagine, the more actively involved the audience will become. Rather than show a literal replication of life, actors and designers exploit the power of suggestion. If the actors and set designers have done all the work already, what is left for an audience to do but to sit back and passively admire their work? But if the actors and designers meet the audience halfway and say, ‘Together we can go anywhere, imagine anything’, how much more active is their participation. What is vital is that the theatre event is alive here and now, shared physically by the actors and audience alike at the same...
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