Devised work

If you’re working on a devised piece and you need to use Physical theatre, make certain that what you do is adding to the effectiveness of the performance so that the physical work doesn’t just seem a random addition. It must be in keeping with the style of the production. The highly successful National Theatre production of One Man, Two Guvnors, was inspired by the Commedia dell’artes’ 17th-century play, Servant of Two Masters. It used the Commedia’s types of physical comedy such as the form’s physical lazzi (Italian for ‘jokes’) and enhanced the production considerably.

Commedia dell'arte began in Italy in the 16th century. It was a popular form of street theatre based on improvised scenarios between stock characters. These characters were universal types of masters, servants and lovers. Commedia dell’arte is a very physical form as many of the characters wear masks so their facial expressions can’t be seen by the audience. As a result actors must rely more on their bodies to be understood. If you do use the Commedia dell’arte as inspiration, this clip from the National Theatre shows the physical shapes that some of the stock characters use.

It’s likely that the work you do will be more limited than the work of DV8, for instance. Perhaps in a Shakespeare play, the violence or magic will be carefully represented by movement. Or, if you perform a comedy, you could use a movement as a character trait, taking your inspiration from Commedia dell’arte. You might use your cast to create and build not just the set but much of the mood and atmosphere of your piece.