Let's Get Physical: What's Happening Now?
U.S. movement teachers prefer either a hybrid or an integration of disciplines in the service of training the actor's body
By Nicole Potter
Top row: Janice Orlandi's summer program at Actors' Movement Studio (photo by Elke Van Dyke); Daniel Stein with Brown University students (photo by Mark Turek); Marianne Kubik demonstrates the biomechanics etude "Throwing the Stone" (photo by Richard Termine); Robert Francesconi's mask class at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts in 2009 (photo by Donald Dietz); Dusty Alvarado and Tro Shaw in Commedia Project at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Mellon University (photo by Louis Stein); Bottom row: Daniel Stein's Still. Going Forward Backward at Dansville, Ky.'s Centre College in 2008 (photo by Adam Brown); Scapino, directed by Robert Francesconi at UNCSA (photo by AAycock); Janice Orlandi's summer program (photo by Elke Van Dyke).
While sharing his thoughts on the current state of movement training for actors in the U.S., Daniel Stein speaks of a play he's written called Still. Going Forward Backward. "It's basically about men and women using the same words but speaking a different language," says Stein, the director of movement and physical theatre for Brown University/Trinity Repertory Consortium. "I know my wife uses words that I use, but she doesn't mean the same thing. That different usages are perpendicular, because they intersect, but they're coming at the same word from completely different angles. And I can't impose my meaning on her words—I have to try to figure out what she means. That perpendicularity is not a problem to be solved—it's a communication to be savored."
Stein's metaphor resonated powerfully and often as I conducted interviews with a broad swath of movement educators and practitioners: People who teach movement and artists who are involved in physical theatre use the same words to mean different things. Take, for example, the critical word "integration," which is employed by all practitioners, in many different contexts. In some situations, educators agree on the meaning of integration, but in others, the usage of the term is perpendicular. Everyone would agree a well-trained actor has an integrated set of skills that comprise a technique, but there are different ideas about how to arrive at that integration. Many would posit that every artist ultimately creates his own technique; therefore, synthesis of skills occurs within the individual. Others, like Kari Margolis, artistic director of the Margolis Brown Adaptors Company and creator of the Margolis Method, champion a completely integrated training system, encompassing voice, movement and acting.
Barbara Adrian, professor of theatre arts at Marymount Manhattan College and author of Actor Training the Laban Way, has merged vocal and physical training into a rigorous and highly successful course. Robert Francesconi, assistant dean of acting, movement and masks in the professional actor training program at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, like Daniel Stein, points to his program as a model of integration, not because multiple skills are taught in one session but because the faculty shares a language and references each other's work. (Even this little contemplation of a single word has reminded me of the importance of shared language!)
Integration also refers to the ultimate goal of somatic training, which is mind/body/spirit awareness and harmony—although some practitioners favor somatic training purely because it teaches efficient usage of the body, and not for the other parts of the trinity. Integration is also used in conjunction with another term, "psychophysical." "The mind and the body must both be engaged. It is not pieces, it's one," says Deborah Robertson, professor in the school of theatre and dance and associate dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts at Northern Illinois University and president of the Association of Theatre Movement Educators (ATME).
Janice Orlandi, artistic director of the Actors Movement Studio Conservatory and a senior lecturer at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, is trained in Williamson Technique, but also teaches integrated systems. "This semester it's a study of psychophysical techniques that I am crossing—one of them is Williamson, one is Michael Chekhov and the third is Rasaboxes. I'm using the framing of these different pedagogies to enhance and to expand one another," says Orlandi.
Other practitioners claim that everything they teach is a result of integration. Stein says, "I don't feel that I have invented that much. I feel I've synthesized from remarkable minds and remarkable bodies." Or, as Stephen Cross, assistant professor of movement/acting at Syracuse University, puts it, "I work from a POV and steal anything I can find to teach it."
Integration can also refer to bringing those studying different aspects of theatre together so that they have a better understanding of each other's work. Christopher Bayes, associate professor (adjunct) of acting and head of physical acting at Yale University School of Drama, says that, when possible, directing and playwriting students participate in the movement program alongside the actors. Kari Margolis pushes that further, envisioning an empowered actor as a fully merged theatre artist: performer/playwright/director.
Finally, integration also refers to the various media that must come together in order to create any live performance. Although the practitioners interviewed here may have different visions for the theatre, I think they would all agree with that.
Trying to define what movement training for actors is, at the end of the first decade of the 21st century, a tricky business. Language is imprecise and usage is subjective, even though every person I spoke to used each word "specifically," as theatre artists always do.
A dozen-and-a-half program directors, movement teachers, acting teachers and physical-theatre teachers were interviewed for this survey. With regard to their own training, all of them have extensive experience in a wide variety of physical disciplines: Decroux, Lecoq, Grotowski, biomechanics, Williamson Technique, Rasaboxes, Michael Chekhov, Laban/Bartenieff, ballet, modern dance, combat choreography, Feldenkrais, Viewpoints, Suzuki, Theater Games and Alexander, to name but a few. Some movement educators insist that they were basically self-taught, although their resumes reveal extensive training.
Jewel Walker, for example, is considered one of the first inspiring movement teachers in the U.S. Until Walker came along in the second half of the 20th century, movement for actors was not really taught in the U.S. Before initiating programs in the theatre department at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee and at the University of Delaware, where he currently teaches, Walker worked with Étienne Decroux in France, and at Carnegie Mellon University, where he, incidentally, taught and inspired Daniel Stein. He now says he got more training out of playing minor league baseball than he ever did in a theatre class. "Suppose I hit a line drive over the head of the second baseman," Walker says. "I'm off running right away. And I'm watching the ball, and there comes the possibility I can get to second base on this hit. My body knows without looking where first base is, and I need to watch only the ball and the fielder. If I have to look down at my feet, I've lost. That's like being on stage—you have to be super aware."
Some movement teachers wince at the term "movement for actors," finding it either an amorphous term, or, as Wendell Beavers did, a limiting one. "I don't think I want to teach 'movement for actors,'" says Beavers, who is chair of Naropa University's MFA theatre program, "because it presupposes what an actor might be doing."
What Is the Goal?
"When we look at the concept of movement training, we think of it in terms of how it fosters a full-bodied physical style of acting," writes Barbara MacKenzie-Wood, Raymond W. Smith Professor of Drama at Carnegie Mellon School of Drama, in an e-mail. "We teach a number of skills simultaneously in separate classes, but they all relate back to acting. We are concerned with properly laying the foundations. You separate at the beginning in order to isolate the details and foundations. Ultimately, the goal is to bring all the skills back together and to understand how all the elements support each other."
According to Ellen Orenstein, associate professor of acting at Marymount Manhattan College, a "basic movement for actors" class should encompass "any work that develops not only the actor's creativity but also the level of concentration. Actor concentration is typically weak; any kind of movement or acting class needs to address that muscle."
Says Jeffrey Fracé, an assistant professor of acting and movement in the professional actor training program of the University of Washington's School of Drama, "It's essential that actors have discipline—the discipline to to train toward something, to change and to improve."
Still other movement teachers look at goals in terms of the current era. "What is essential?" asks Jim Calder, artistic director of Continuum Company and head of movement of the graduate acting program at Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. "It tends to change, depending upon the time period. I've been teaching for a long time, and students used to be a bit more out there and crazy: curious, and wildly splattering themselves on the walls. So it was a matter of focusing that wild energy. Students coming in now are better trained, in many ways, and more disciplined. Sometimes you want to tweak that wildness."
Of course, the population the teacher engages with influences her view of the desired outcome. Says Lesley Ann Timlick, chairperson of acting, voice and movement at Florida International University, "I was brought here primarily because they wanted the students here, most of whom were Hispanic, to be free of their cultural bindings and be able to cross over into different possibilities in terms of professional work."
Adds Calder, succinctly summarizing a predominant point of view: "Of course you want limber bodies, and of course you want bodies that are expressive. Everyone agrees, but then how do you get there? And then everyone disagrees."
Who's Teaching What?
Most teachers I spoke with have roots in a specific pedagogy, although all of them would tell you that what they currently teach is, at least to some degree, based on their own experiences in the classroom. Here is a sampling of the disciplines and approaches currently used in training, accompanied by practitioners' thoughtful comments.
Biomechanics was the creation of the 20th-century Russian theatre director Vsevolod Meyerhold. His star rose and fell in the early days of the Soviet Union (he was murdered by the Stalinists). His reputation was resurrected decades later and biomechanics was reconstituted from the memories of former students, from still photos and from director's notes.
The basis of Meyerhold's work is the premise of the duality of the actor—he is the Player as well as the Instrument (A1 and A2). A2 must be vigorously trained to physically communicate the intentions of A1. Biomechanics is based on balance and counter-balance. The body is in a dynamic negotiation between the forces seeking to topple it and the will to keep it upright. Meyerhold also believed that every action could be broken down into three parts: the preparation, the action and the finish, and he developed very specific, often acrobatic, exercises known as études to practice these concepts. Many of the exercises are done in pairs or groups to heighten the sense of ensemble.
Says Marianne Kubik, associate professor and head of movement of the University of Virginia and current treasurer for ATME, "Teaching with a foundation in biomechanics is rare in American actor-training, and I think what makes it distinct is the serious discipline it requires and the expressive play it inspires. American actors sadly tend to relinquish training that requires endurance, repetition and discipline, in favor of exploration and play. But the acting instrument is an instrument; a musician knows that she must master technique before the expression can emerge. That's what I've appreciated about biomechanics from the start, this insistence on the collaboration between the artist and the technician, and the importance of training the technician." Kubik is quick to point out that she does not attempt to teach "pure" biomechanics.
Laban movement analysis (LMA), created in the early-to-mid-20th-century by the Austrio-Hungarian choreographer/teacher Rudolf Laban, provides a comprehensive framework for observing and analyzing movement. This system is rooted in the four major concepts: Body, Effort, Shape and Space. Barbara Adrian, a teacher of LMA, explains, "The core of what I teach is observation and self-awareness. Through the Laban lens, I help actors identify their habitual patterns of movement. Then through observations of others, coupled with their newfound self-knowledge, I train them to expand their movement potential beyond their personal affinities, and this leads to character work." Adrian says this approach is accessible to everyone: "While training in LMA can be physically demanding, you don't have to be able to put your leg behind your ear to be successful. LMA also encompasses expanding one's expressivity in everyday movements and behavior, which is why it is embraced by so many actors as immediately applicable to their craft."
Feldenkrais, one of the better-known somatic techniques, is named after the work of Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais, an engineer, scientist and sports enthusiast. His interest in functional movement and consciousness was sparked by an injury he sustained. He created Functional Integration, wherein the practitioner uses a hands-on technique to guide the student to a better usage of his body, as well as Awareness Through Movement, in which students are led through a series of specific motions with an emphasis on increasing awareness and reducing effort.
Feldenkrais work encourages mind/body integration, stressing that a change in any aspect of the organism affects the entire person. Movement is easily altered, and therefore is the easiest point of entry for change. The training is valuable to actors (in addition to the obvious functional benefits) because heightened mind/body awareness expands the actor's sense of his own transformational possibilities.
Lesley Ann Timlick is certified in Feldenkrais as well as in Michael Chekhov Technique. She says, "I think one of the things that attracted me to the Feldenkrais and Chekhov work is that both of them were sort of wandering souls for many years. I thought my students would latch onto this, as many of them were from exile families themselves. I use the Feldenkrais as a foundation—here's the way we were biologically meant to move. The problem with Feldenkrais is that it doesn't go beyond that. When we work on character, we do more Laban work, Lecoq work and Chekhov."
Two other areas of training that have become de rigueur for American actors are mask and clown work. Both have been a part of Western theatre for eternity, but both were eclipsed during the heyday of 20th-century naturalism. Two master teachers who approach the teaching of these arts from different angles are Christopher Bayes and Robert Francesconi. Says Francesconi, "I deal with various forms of the mask, including the red nose. One is the full-faced character mask; it is a nonverbal mask. I follow that by the neutral, universal mask—also nonverbal—and that I follow with the character half-mask, which is a verbal mask. All of that is followed by the red nose, for what I call contemporary classic clowning."
Bayes takes a different approach: "At the Lecoq School, usually they do clowning at the end. I feel like it's the hardest work, so I want to do it at the beginning. Once you begin to discover the personal clown and the personal inner clown, it's really a rediscovery of the self—in a way, a discovery of the un-socialized self. And you find a kind of playfulness in your body. The coolest thing about clown is all the playfulness and the vulnerability that it demands, which helps the actor begin to listen again." While Francesconi values "the use of silence and the specificity that demands from an actor," Bayes prefers to "work with speech right away. We do a lot of spontaneous singing. I am a great advocate of the idea that the clown must talk."
Prior to the clown work, Francesconi works with "movement improvisation, which is nonverbal. It is somewhat abstract, somewhat of a combination of modern dance and eccentric behavior, which is the basis, really, of physical comedy. 'Eccentric behavior' could be something as simple as a body part going out of control. It is essential that the early work be somewhat abstract and focused on the body in space, rather than on creating story."
Jerzy Grotowski's work went through many permutations, from the theatrical work he did initially, to the paratheatrical and more ritual-based work he did later in life. The training he offered was extremely physically rigorous (through exercises called corporels and plastiques) and its purpose was to train bodies that were so stripped down that inner impulse and outer reaction happened simultaneously. Truly psychophysical. Beavers, who is currently teaching at Naropa University, was one of the founders of NYU's Experimental Theatre Wing in the 1970s. Members of Grotowski's company also taught there, and the work is still a primary source for Beavers: "This technique allows the student to actually overcome the mind/body split situation in a cutting and inescapable way. It starts to rearrange the student's relation to his or her body, like what's driving what."
Beavers is credited, along with Mary Overlie and Anne Bogart (founder of the SITI Company), with the creation of the Viewpoints. He recalls: "With this technique, one could explore any kind of material spatially, with a much broader range and in a much more rigorous way. It was a way to get out of the mind, in the sense that it is really trying to get behind one's conscious frame. We were interested in the performer's inner process—but we weren't so interested in the product."
Of Naropa's physical-theatre training program Beavers says, "We are part of a lineage of physical theatre and new or postmodern dance that is probably unique and departs radically (even dissents, perhaps) from theatre as primarily a text-based medium with the actor as its central component."
Annie-B Parson, co-founder and co-artistic director of Big Dance Theater, currently teaches choreography for actors at the Experimental Theater Wing at NYU. She traces her approach to movement back to the Judson Church dance movement, although she is too young to have participated in it. "The Judson movement was breakthrough in terms of saying that the pedestrian body was an expressive tool. One of the really fun things about that work is that it is very elemental. They were very involved in space, time, motion, shape, dynamics, all those things."
"The hardest things to teach actors are that the pedestrian body embodies a kind of virtuosity, and that movement has a theatrical power that must be trusted in its own right," Parsons continues. "Actors want to act; they want to create some reason why they are standing on the stage. I take that away from an actor—I say, 'Oh, just raise your arm, just take four steps to the right, just bow your head'—it has meaning. The body is expressing things that are way beyond what you can impose on it in this moment."
Like the Viewpoints, the Suzuki Method is a relatively new form of training, originated in Japan by Tadashi Suzuki. Two practitioners interviewed for this article, Ellen Orenstein and Jeffrey Fracé, have extensive training in Suzuki. Says Fracé, "Many people think the Suzuki Method is a lot of grueling exercises that make them stronger. Indeed you will sweat, your muscles will be sore, you will spend a lot of time deep in your quads stomping and moving so slowly that all your muscles shake. But what's the difference between that and a really gruesome gym workout? Suzuki is actually actor-training. The strength and agility and the bigger voice and the better breathing that you get are good side effects, while you are actually practicing focus and commitment and imagination and awareness. But you can't practice those things without a rigorous form.
"If I could just use two words to say what Suzuki is about, I would say: whole body," Fracé adds. "The audience can see the whole body on stage, so you may as well be aware of what it's doing and be using it to say everything that you mean to say."
Orenstein speaks of Suzuki's psychophysical benefits: "Which came first, the psychological or the physical? A lot of people think that the psychological comes first. I think that the physical comes first, and the psychological can follow. If you can put yourself in a true physical circumstance—the more extreme the better—you don't have to generate anything. You can just live through it."
Williamson Technique was created by Loyd Williamson, who refers to his discipline as "the physical process of acting." The basic concept behind his approach is this: The five senses establish contact with the outer world, which leads to inner experience, which produces outer behavior, which leads back to new contact with the outer world.
Williamson is an accrued technique that can ideally be learned over the course of several semesters of study. It begins with heightening awareness of the senses, the imagination and the body, and progresses through learned movement phrases and character exercises, culminating in a Salon Project, an extended exploration of period and style.
Deborah Robertson and Janice Orlandi both studied extensively with Williamson (who is semi-retired), and both refer to him as a visionary and pioneer in the movement-training field. Both are also certified in Michael Chekhov technique and have made extensive studies of other actor-training approaches. They want to preserve the Williamson legacy, but also to keep the training current. Explains Robertson, "I have been working on a documentary about Loyd's work for the past five years. There are three of us, all certified Williamson teachers, working on the evolution of the work and its application in all areas of theatre training.
"My colleague Tamara Meneghini of the University of Colorado, Boulder, is a Fitzmaurice person," Robertson notes, "and she's going to show the relationship between Williamson and Fitzmaurice voice training. Ted Morin of the William Esper Studio in New York is a Laban teacher and will explore the physical relationship within the Williamson work. As a Michael Chekhov person, I will focus on the relationship to actor-training."
Orlandi, who now runs the studio that Williamson founded, has not only broadened her own knowledge, she's expanded the curriculum of the studio. Its summer institute offers intense training with master teachers from a wide array of movement disciplines, including Chekhov, Rasaboxes, Viewpoints, Margolis Method, Laban and Feldenkrais.
Another interesting and fairly new approach to movement training is Lucid Body, created by Fay Simpson, the artistic director of Impact Theatre. This method teaches actors to explore the seven chakra energy centers—from the Root Chakra, located on the pelvic floor, to the seventh chakra, the Crown, at the top of the head. Each of these centers is linked to a different element in nature, governs a different part of the body, has a specific role in human behavior, and is associated with different emotional and spiritual qualities.
The Lucid Body process is built on the premise that the creative process is synonymous with self-process. Personal expansion creates awareness of self and therefore, character. The goal of the work is give the actor a practical language from which to build the physical aspects of a character from a different set of given circumstances. The chakra centers are the tools the actor can use to rearrange the structure of her physical impulses.
The Margolis Method is the creation of Kari Margolis. Since she began teaching 30 years ago, Margolis has built a method of actor-training that is as all-encompassing, pragmatic and disciplined as that of a dancer or classical musician. Says Margolis, "Three strong voices spoke to me—Bertolt Brecht, Jerzy Grotowski and Étienne Decroux—and I see them as a triangle of aspects of what I think constitutes full actor training. From Grotowski, it was the visceral aspect, of going beyond the socially acceptable and really finding the primal, visceral self; and from Brecht it was the whole aspect of dramaturgy and social relevance and the importance of the relationship of the artist on stage to the audience. And from Decroux, the concept of shape and form spoke to me—this idea of the actor's ability to physically manifest thought and give specificity to emotion."
Margolis relates the laws of physics, which encompass weight, force and time, to the dynamic expressiveness of the body: "The laws of physics tell us that gravity falls through us and pulls us to a perfect vertical. And life pushes us off of that sense of neutrality. If we understand that neutrality, then we understand how a character is pulled off of being perfect. Life creates our imperfections. And a character is a beautiful collection of imperfections."
Margolis is interested in training empowered actors who own their craft and can devise or collaborate in making new work—actors who can change theatre from the inside out.
No survey concerning movement training in the U.S. would be complete without a nod to Dell'Arte International, for over 30 years a residential company, training facility and now an accredited provider of an MFA in physical theatre. Joan Schirle, the founding artistic director (as well as senior Alexander teacher) says the school in northern California seeks to train "the global, flexible actor-poet, who can command the space of the stage with vocal and physical prowess in a dynamic play, original or interpretive, and who has amassed the vocabulary to make great theatre.
"The school has a completely integrated curriculum and a faculty united around the trajectory of students' journey through the work—physical training is not separate from the study of making theatre," Schirle avows. She stresses that the school should be viewed as a laboratory where students learn to devise their own work. "We focus more on principles than techniques; our training allows the actor to discover—or in some cases, invent—the technique that serves the content of a particular work. We focus on the role of the artist in community, as citizen, shaman and poet." The lab aspect of Dell'Arte does not apply only to the students. Faculty are encouraged to continuously research, explore and invent. Having studied with voice teacher Patsy Rodenburg and investigated the work of Roy Hart and voice–movement therapy, Schirle is now developing a physicalized vocal training for the school.
Long before he started teaching at Brown/Trinity, Daniel Stein was Étienne Decroux's translator and an actor with the French National Theatre. He was also associated with Dell'Arte International, working first as dean and then as school director for a decade. The movement approach he has refined over time he calls Poetic Dynamics. I am calling it an approach rather than a method because Stein, like some others interviewed here, is leery of the term: "I have a bone to pick with 'method'—people should find what works for them."
In Poetic Dynamics, "The main focus is what I would call the three rhythms," Stein explains. "We have architectural rhythm, which is the rhythm of shape. And shape has meaning. If the actor does not understand the meaning of shape, then movement becomes gratuitous and shape becomes confusing. The second dynamic is a rhythm of tension, or lack of tension—the contrast between something that is moving through space when the space is almost empty, or something moving through space when the space is more viscous. The third rhythm is tempo: the speed, or lack of speed, at which things move by us. The architectural rhythm, the shape rhythm and then the dynamic rhythm—the constant juxtaposition of those three elements is the basis of what I teach. These are all the elements that go into your spine. The spine is literally the column that is holding everything up. And a person's spine is a thermometer of his or her own emotional connection to whatever's going on."
I could not end this section without considering the idea that intent is as important as method or specific exercises. Jim Calder laid that idea out for me in the clearest (and drollest) manner: "I worked with Melissa Smith at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco," he told me, "and we were always joking that basically I am teaching sex and faith. Because what else is there? There's desire and belief. Without both, everything is really boring. What I mean is, 'This is your desire—you want this thing, so you have to create a counter-desire that is just about equal to it, 50/50.' For example, you have to fall in love with the trash can. Absolute lust. So you create a counter-belief: If you touch it, you'll die. You have to constantly want and then constantly be put off by it. It has to cost you something. What I am really trying to teach people is, as Winston Churchill said, 'to risk more than they can afford to lose.' I believe that's essential. If they don't have that, everything else is an ornament hanging on an empty tree."
Finally, let's return to Jewel Walker for a comment, not on how to train an actor but on what an actor needs before he ever sets foot into the studio or onto the stage: "I believe that acting is more an act of will than it is talent or anything else. You step out there, and you do something. I can work with that."
The Changing Field
It became obvious to me in researching this article that there is a vast and growing array of physical-training options. The number of movement disciplines that are offered on the college level has clearly burgeoned since the end of the 1980s. Viewpoints and Suzuki training are now taught across the nation. Meyerhold's biomechanics, long obliterated by the Soviets, has been resurrected (although, according to Kubik, the sole practitioner that I spoke with, its popularity is waning). Clown and mask work, whether from Decroux, Lecoq or some other source, is everywhere. "Well, you just can't have a serious program without clown," remarks Jim Calder with only slight sarcasm. The work of Michael Chekhov—which was eclipsed while Stella Adler, Sanford Meisner and Lee Strasberg were alive—now has a mainstream following, largely because Chekhov's psychophysical concept provides tools for acting teachers who want to physicalize their actors, and for movement teachers seeking stronger bonds between their efforts and what happens in the acting class.
Both Joan Schirle and Deborah Robertson suggested that physical actor-training has become more prominent in the U.S. because performance styles have changed—actors can be asked to do anything nowadays. Schirle mentioned that actors who graduate from Dell'Arte are frequently hired by Cirque du Soleil's touring shows.
American realism has become just another "ism." As Robertson succinctly puts it, "That was our brand, and we were very proud of it. We feared that it couldn't withstand the component of physical expressivity. But it's not true. It's a new opportunity!" Not everyone believes that American realism should withstand the tides of time. Says Stephen Cross, "It's time to announce the failure of realism in the theatre and move on."
Other changes arise not from movement training per se but from the general tenor of U.S. life: The employment situation and a depressed economy mean more collapsing or disappearing theatre departments. Barbara Adrian, a champion of voice/movement integration, says, "In some cases people are being asked to teach movement and voice as one unit for purely economic reasons. The intention of the integration is everything."
As for the question of how technological advances have altered the classroom experience, most trainers felt that technology had affected students more than it had affected their methodology, and quite a few agreed with Adrian, who says, "Students need to go outside and play! They are physically insufficient because they are playing a lot of virtual games, and they feel like they are moving, but what they are doing is virtual moving, as opposed to real moving. They don't have any idea how long it takes to learn, truly learn, through the body."
Several people noted that technological advances mean that actors have to broaden their skill sets. Several of Marianne Kubik's former students had worked as puppeteers for the show Dinosaurs Alive, which toured the country: "The puppeteering was done from the house with robotics equipment," Kubik says, "but they still had to connect to what the puppet was doing." However, as Schirle notes, technology can also narrow the actor's usage of his skills: "The use of body mikes has eroded the training of the voice as an instrument of power and projection."
Has technology changed physical-theatre teaching in any way? One development, YouTube, says Francesconi, is invaluable: "It gives the students easy access to Charlie Chaplin and the Marx Brothers. You don't have to watch the whole movie, but it gives you a point of common conversation. So I have found technology to be wonderful in terms of research."
Many teachers I interviewed are excited that the increased integration of physicality in the classroom means movement teachers are now often considered acting teachers and not auxiliaries. But Kubik sounds a cautionary note. "This trend," she says, "seems to be an attempt to validate the work of movement practitioners, but I actually think it demeans it. It's asking a lot for a stage combat class, a mask class or a period movement class to be considered an acting class; these are physical-skills-acquisition classes that require acting to be a part of the learning. But to think of them as acting classes whereby a certain skill is at the service of the acting—that plays into the American ideal of something for nothing. That point of view inspires less focus on the very techniques required to master difficult skills."
Nicole Potter is a writer, director and adjunct professor of theatre at Marymount Manhattan College. While working as senior editor at Allworth Press, she developed and vetted dozens of books for performing artists, and is the editor of Movement for Actors.blog comments powered by Disqus
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