Physical theatre techniques

Illustration based on Da Vinci's 'The Vitruvian Man' showing body parts labelled with sets of terms

So if the body is the actor’s musical instrument, how can you produce the music of Physical theatre?

  • Mime – This usually means stylised movement but can be comparatively realistic.
  • Gesture – A gesture may be something small but can have emotional impact or it can be a particular movement that defines a character.
  • Status – This may be executed by use of levels or by distance or strength of contact, or a combination of all of these with voice work.
  • Proximity – How close or far you are from your co-performers can be a source of very powerful impact. For example, the threatening gangster who speaks to his victim from a distance of perhaps a couple of inches.
  • Stance – This is associated with strength as the body could radiate assertion and authority or weakness by stance, incorporating posture.
  • Harshness and tenderness - Used here as umbrella terms to focus on the fact that in physical work the gestures and bigger movements come together to express the emotions of the piece.
  • Movement - Every movement needs to be rehearsed with precision.
  • Not moving – If the stage is full of characters moving, immobility can have a powerful effect.
  • Mask work - The impact of a mask is visual and without the facial features to show action, movement becomes an even more central performance instrument.
  • Dance work – Don’t be afraid to include dance in your work; you don’t have to be an experienced dancer. ‘Dad dancing’ can work well in a comedy for instance!
  • Motif – This is repeated use of a movement pattern which has meaning and reminds us of the central theme of the work.