physical theatre

   Physical theatre focuses on the visceral qualities of theatre, and is characterized by an emphasis on the actor’s body as the primary sign; it is rooted in the belief that the actor is the ‘total resource’ for ‘total theatre’. Physical theatre is a broad church which includes hybridized forms previously labelled ‘visual theatre’ (The People Show), ‘dance-drama’ (DV8), ‘mask theatre’ (Trickster), which demonstrate the mutations and cross-pollination which have impacted on theatre since 1960. It has strong relationships with mime, circus and commedia styles, elements which figure in training and praxis. Design is frequently an integral force, with actors involved in creating environments with and without ‘props’.
   Many contemporary practitioners have trained with Jacques Lecoq, and more have been influenced by him via workshops conducted by his alumni. Training is handed down through this ad hoc oral and experiential process, although skills sharing and self-teaching are crucial factors, which may account for the multiplicity of styles under the umbrella term ‘physical theatre’. Two key concepts underpin the process by which somatic creativity is harnessed in Lecoq’s training, which aims to promote creative autonomy: the notion of individual ‘neutrality’ where actors aspire to a ‘state of readiness’ in which they are physically alert, mentally open and imaginatively charged, ready for any stimulus to provoke a spontaneous creative response; and the importance of imaginative ‘play’, or ‘le jeu’, an openended approach to improvisation where actors develop complicité, a shared belief and understanding which is the crux of ensemble practice. The term complicité is also used to describe the relationship struck between actors and audience in physical theatre, where no fourth wall exists and the intention is to keep open that invisible loop which enables an imaginative collusion to operate between stage and spectator. There is a tendency towards the comic, an acknowledgement perhaps that the concept of the ‘hero’ has been replaced by the grotesque clown: some teaching concentrates on discovering the ‘clown within’ and ‘bouffon clowning’.
   Physical theatre techniques are applied to ‘serious’ texts (for example, Kaos Theatre). Steven Berkoff has developed his own distinctive brand of physical theatre, forging texts in powerful brawny language which act in counterpoint to a heightened gestural style. He, like most practitioners, is confined to the margins, although the National Theatre has twice invited Theatre de Complicité to work there, firstly with the devised Street of Crocodiles, then with Caucasian Chalk Circle.
   See also: modern dance
   DYMPHNA CALLERY

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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