What is Physical Theatre?
Physical theatre is a theatrical performance genre that primarily emphasises the actor’s physical actions, movements, and expressions rather than the spoken word. While traditional theatre relies heavily on dialogue and script, physical theatre uses the body as the principal means of communication, storytelling, and expression. It can encompass many styles, including mime, clowning, dance, and other forms of movement-based theatre.
Importance of Physical Theatre in Drama Education
Including physical theatre in drama education offers students an alternative means to engage with storytelling, character development, and expression. By focusing on the body, students are encouraged to explore non-verbal communication and to interpret and convey complex emotions, narratives, and ideas without relying solely on words. Physical theatre thus becomes a tool for broadening the theatrical landscape and diversifying the modes of expression available to students.
Benefits of Incorporating Physical Theatre in the Drama Classroom
Enhancing Body Awareness and Expression
Physical theatre heightens students’ awareness of their bodies, helping them understand the range and potential of their physicality. This enriches their performance capabilities and instils a deeper self-awareness and confidence in their movements.
Developing Physicality and Movement Skills
Through dedicated training in physical theatre, students acquire a larger set of movement skills, from broad physical gestures to subtle bodily differences. This skill set is transferable to other theatrical genres and can enhance character portrayal and storytelling, even in dialogue-heavy performances.
Fostering Creativity and Imagination
Without dialogue constraints, students are challenged to think outside the box and develop imaginative solutions to portray emotions, relationships, and narratives. This nurtures their creative thinking and encourages them to experiment with diverse theatrical techniques.
Approaches to Teaching Physical Theatre
Exploring Laban Movement Analysis
Developed by Rudolf Laban, Laban Movement Analysis (LMA) offers a structured methodology for understanding, observing, and describing movement. It breaks down the complexities of movement into components such as body, effort, shape, and space. Introducing students to LMA can give them a comprehensive vocabulary and framework for analysing and creating movement in their performances.
Integrating Mime and Gesture
Mime is a silent art form that uses gesture, expression, and bodily movements to tell a story. Students learn to communicate without words by studying mime, relying solely on their physicality. This can deepen their understanding of non-verbal cues and enhance their capacity for physical storytelling.
Incorporating Viewpoints Techniques
The Viewpoints method, derived from postmodern dance, offers a set of named principles related to time and space. It encourages spontaneous, ensemble-based improvisation. Students can further explore spatial relationships, timing, gesture, and movement in a group setting by incorporating Viewpoints into drama education.
Warm-Up and Physical Awareness Activities
Unlike traditional drama, physical theatre often requires a more dynamic range of movements. Therefore, a proper warm-up is essential. Warm-ups serve multiple purposes: they prevent injuries, heighten awareness, and mentally prepare the student for the activities ahead.
1. Neck Rolls
- Instructions: Guide students to slowly roll their necks in a circular motion.
- Focus: Pay attention to any tension or discomfort, aiming for a smooth and fluid movement.
- Learning Outcome: Increases awareness and flexibility in the neck area, which is crucial for head and upper body movement.
2. Arm Circles
- Instructions: Students extend their arms out to the sides and perform small to large circular motions.
- Progression: Start with small circles and gradually make them larger.
- Learning Outcome: Enhances shoulder mobility and prepares the upper body for expressive movements.
3. Side Stretches
- Instructions: With arms extended above the head, students bend from the waist to each side.
- Activity: Hold each side stretch for a few seconds.
- Learning Outcome: Increases lateral flexibility and awareness of the torso’s range of movement.
4. Quad Stretches
- Instructions: Students grab one ankle and pull it towards the glutes, maintaining balance.
- Focus: Ensure that the knees are close together and the posture is upright.
- Learning Outcome: Helps in preparing the quads for any high-energy or dynamic activities.
5. Hamstring Stretches
- Instructions: Students extend one leg in front while sitting and reach towards their toes.
- Activity: Hold the stretch for a few seconds, aiming for a sensation of elongation rather than pain.
- Learning Outcome: Improves flexibility in the hamstrings, essential for movements that involve the lower body.
6. Ankle Rolls
- Instructions: In a seated or standing position, students rotate their ankles in circular motions.
- Activity: Perform the rolls in both clockwise and anti-clockwise directions.
- Learning Outcome: Enhances ankle mobility and prepares the feet for various types of groundings and levels.
7. Walking Exercise
- Instructions: Ask students to walk around the room barefoot.
- Focus: Pay attention to the sensations in their feet and the connection to the ground.
- Learning Outcome: This activity aims to improve general spatial awareness and grounding.
8. Rolling the Foot
- Instructions: Students stand stationary and roll their feet from heel to toe.
- Activity: This exercise should be performed slowly, focusing on each foot segment as it contacts the ground.
- Benefits: It helps students understand the mechanics of their feet and enhances their connection to the ground.
9. Balancing on One Foot
- Instructions: Students balance on one foot for a set amount of time.
- Challenge: Introduce slight movements or distractions to test and improve their balance.
- Learning Outcome: This activity aims to improve focus and body awareness.
Other Physical Theatre Exercises and Activities
The world of physical theatre offers many different exercises for students to enjoy in the classroom.
10. Spatial Awareness Walk
- Instructions: Begin by having students walk around the room.
- Progression: Ensure they do not touch or bump into each other. This can progress into different speeds or levels (walking, jogging, running, or crawling).
- Learning Outcome: This activity helps students become aware of their surroundings and their peers.
11. Levels Exploration
- Instructions: Assign different parts of the room as ‘high’, ‘medium’, or ‘low’ spaces.
- Activity: Instruct students to move and interact in these spaces, taking note of how their body feels and reacts at each level.
- Examples: For instance, the ‘low’ level might involve crawling or rolling, while ‘high’ might encourage jumping or reaching upwards.
12. Obstacle Courses
- Setup: Arrange simple obstacle courses using props or furniture.
- Activity: Have students navigate the course.
- Focus: Concentrate on the fluidity of movement, awareness of spatial relationships, and creative use of their bodies.
13. Character Walks
Objective: This exercise aims to instil an understanding of how distinct physical attributes can communicate character specifics, enriching performance versatility.
- Instructions: Instruct students to walk as a specific character. The character assignment can range from specific (e.g., an elderly person, a soldier) to abstract (e.g., someone carrying a heavy weight, someone floating on water).
- Activity: Allow students time to experiment with their walks, focusing on the subtle differences each character brings to their movement.
14. Emotion Through Movement
Objective: This exercise seeks to heighten emotional awareness and its physical representation, essential for layered character work in physical theatre.
- Instructions: Assign an emotion to each student or permit them to select one of their own.
- Activity: Without employing facial expressions, students are tasked with conveying their assigned emotions solely through bodily movement.
- Discussion: Following the exercise, engage the class in identifying the emotions displayed discussing the effectiveness and challenges of conveying emotion through movement alone.
15. Physical Monologues
Objective: his complex exercise aims to challenge students in the construction of a coherent narrative using physicality alone, enhancing their ability to tell stories without the aid of vocal expression.
- Instructions: Provide students with a character brief.
- Activity: Students will create a silent monologue or scene, relaying their character’s story, emotions, and relationships through movement.
- Optional Enhancement: This can be paired with background music or sound effects for added emotional and narrative depth.
16. Group Dynamics and Energy Sharing
Objective: Cultivate a sense of ensemble and shared focus.
- Form a Circle: Have students form a circle and stand at an arm’s distance from each other.
- Introduce the Concept of Energy: Explain that they will be passing imaginary objects with assigned ‘weights’ to maintain a consistent level of energy in the circle.
- Begin with a Simple Object: Start with something light, like a feather. The first student mimics picking it up and passes it to the next person, maintaining the weight and quality of the object.
- Increase Complexity: Gradually introduce heavier or more complex ‘objects’ like a ‘ball of fire’ or a ‘slab of ice’.
- Discussion: After the exercise, discuss the experience. Was the energy maintained? Were there moments of disconnect?
17. Mask Work
Objective: To understand the power of physicality in portraying emotions and states.
- Distribute Masks: Give each student a neutral mask.
- Exploration Time: Allow students 5-10 minutes to explore movements with the mask on.
- Emotion Prompts: Call out different emotions or states (e.g., joy, sadness, curiosity) and have students portray them physically.
- Review and Discuss: Encourage students to observe each other and discuss what they noticed. Did the mask make it easier or harder to convey emotion?
18. Weight Transfer
Objective: To deepen understanding of weight and balance in physical performance.
- Instructions: Students stand on one foot and slowly transfer their weight to the other foot.
- Activity: Experiment with varying centres of gravity.
- Learning Outcome: Enhances balance and understanding of the body’s weight distribution.
19. Animal Studies
Objective: To break away from human movements and explore characterisation from a fresh perspective.
- Assign Animals: Assign different animals to each student.
- Research Phase: Give them time to study videos or images of their animals.
- Embodiment: Have students attempt to embody the animals, focusing on unique physical traits and movements.
- Showcase and Discuss: Each student performs their animal embodiment, followed by a group discussion.
20. Objects and Physical Storytelling
Objective: To enhance creativity and narrative skills using objects as props.
- Distribute Objects: Give random objects to students (e.g., a spoon, a piece of cloth, a stick).
- Creative Time: Allow 10-15 minutes for students to prepare a short story using only their objects and physical movements.
- Performance and Feedback: Students perform their stories. After each performance, encourage peer feedback focusing on clarity, creativity, and effectiveness of storytelling.
21. Focus Points
Objective: To enhance concentration and stage presence by employing focus points.
- Instructions: Have students pick a point on a wall or in the distance to focus on.
- Activity: As they move, students must keep their gaze fixed on this point.
- Learning Outcome: Develops concentration and a sense of purpose in movement, which can create a powerful stage presence.
22. Clockwork Movement
Objective: To develop awareness of timing, pace, and rhythm in physicality.
- Instructions: Students move like parts of a clock, exhibiting continuous, cyclical movements.
- Activity: Experiment with varying speeds and directional changes.
- Learning Outcome: Cultivates an awareness of time and rhythm in movement.
23. Contact Improvisation
Objective: To develop physical listening and the principles of weight-sharing.
- Partner Up: Pair students and explain the concept of weight-sharing and counterbalance.
- Initiate Movement: One partner initiates movement while the other responds, maintaining physical contact.
- Switch Roles: After a set time, switch roles between the initiator and the responder.
- Reflection and Discussion: What did they observe about trust, balance, and responsiveness?
24. Silent Scenes
Objective: To enhance non-verbal communication skills.
- Scene Setup: Assign pairs or small groups and give them a basic scenario to play out (e.g., meeting a friend, solving a problem).
- Silence Rule: Explain that the scene must be played out entirely in silence, using only physical expression.
- Performance and Critique: Groups perform their scenes and the class discusses the effectiveness of non-verbal communication.
25. Pass the Movement
Objective: To foster ensemble cohesiveness and adaptability.
- Circle Up: Students form a large circle.
- Initiate: One student initiates a simple movement.
- Pass Along: The next student in the circle picks up the movement, slightly changes it, and then ‘passes’ it to the next person.