Physical Theatre is used to describe any mode of performance that pursues storytelling, drama through primarily physical and secondarily mental means for example describing the elements fire, water earth and air . Several traditions of performance all describe themselves as "physical theatre." It can be used to help the actors gain a better understanding of the plays, but there has been some considerable confusion as to how physical theatre should be defined. The means of expression seem to be primarily physical rather than textual, often augmented by musical elements.
Some analysts believe that physical theatre was influenced primarily through Western culture by theatrical experimentalists Bertolt Brecht and Jerzy Grotowski. An Eastern strain of physical theater is taught from the writings and disciplines of Tadashi Suzuki. Dympha Callery suggests that physical theatre shares some common characteristics, even though the definition of physical theatre is still problematic, they all are not necessarily true all the time. Further research into the training or "work" of these artists cites an amalgamation of numerous techniques re-purposed and/or re-introduced as a means to further inform the present theatrical research/production.
- Work is often devised, rather than originated from a pre-existing script. (An exception to this is the troupe Shared Experience, which focuses on making contemporary reinterpretations of highly literary plays including A Doll's House by Ibsen and War and Peace by Tolstoy).
- Work has inter-disciplinary origins - it crosses between music, dance, visual art as well as theatre.
- Work challenges the traditional, proscenium arch, performer/audience relationship.
- Work celebrates the non-passive audience.
- Work utilises the imagination of the audience in conjunction with the imagination of the performers.
== Many practitioners, such as Lloyd Newson, express a resistance to this term because they feel that physical theatre is used as a "misc." category, which is classified for anything that does not fall neatly into a category of literary dramatic theatre or contemporary dance. For this reason, contemporary theatre including post-modern performance, devised performance, visual performance, and post-dramatic performance, while having their own distinct definitions, are often simply labelled "physical theatre" without any reason other than because they are unusual in some way.
It is also problematic that dance is of a theatrical nature. A dance piece will be called "physical theatre" because it includes elements of spoken word, character, or narrative; it is theatrical and physical but does not necessarily share anything in common with a potential (and nascent) physical theatre tradition. This is why physical theatre is so hard to define, but given the right context you are able to see what type of physical theatre is needed.
Modern physical theatre has grown from a variety of origins. Mime and theatrical clowning schools, such as L'École Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq in Paris, have had a big influence on many modern expressions of physical theatre. Practitioners such as Steven Berkoff and John Wright
received their initial training at such institutions. Contemporary Dance has also had a strong influence on what we regard as physical theatre, partly because most physical theatre requires actors to have a level of physical control and flexibility. Those qualities are rarely found in those who do not have some sort of movement background. Modern physical theatre also has strong roots in more ancient traditions such as Commedia dell'arte and some suggest links to the ancient greek theatre, particularly the theatre of Aristophanes.
Another tradition started with the very famous French master Etienne Decroux (father of corporeal mime). Etienne Decroux's aim was to create a theatre based on the physicality of the actor allowing the creation of a more metaphorical theatre. This tradition has grown and corporeal mime is now taught in many major theatrical schools.
"I think physical theatre is much more visceral and audiences are affected much more viscerally than intellectually. The foundation of theater is a live, human experience, which is different from any other form of art that I know of. Live theatre, where real human beings are standing in front of real human beings, is about the fact that we have all set aside this hour; the sharing goes in both directions. The fact that it is a very physical, visceral form makes it a very different experience from almost anything else that we partake of in our lives. I don’t think we could do it the same way if we were doing literary-based theatre."
Arguably, the point at which, physical theatre became distinct from pure mime is when Jean-Louis Barrault (a student of Decroux) rejected his teacher's notion that the mime should be silent. If a mime uses their voice then they would have a whole range of possibilities open to them that previously would not have existed. This idea became known as "Total Theatre" and he advocated that no theatrical element should assume primacy over another: movement, music, visual image, text etc. This viewed each element as equally important, and that each should be explored for their possibilities.
Barrault was a member of Michel St.Denis's company, alongside Antonin Artaud. Artaud has also been highly influential in shaping what has become known as physical theatre. Artaud rejected the primacy of the text and suggested a theatre in which the proscenium arch is disposed of in order to have a more direct relationship with the audience.
Eastern Theatre traditions have influenced a number of practitioners who have then influenced physical theatre. A number of Oriental traditions have a high level of physical training, and are visual masterpieces. The Japanese Noh tradition, in particular has been drawn upon a lot. Antonin Artaud was fascinated with the energy and visual nature of Balinese theatre and wrote extensively on it. Noh has been important for many practitioners including Lecoq, who based his neutral mask on the calm mask of Noh. Jerzy Grotowski, Peter Brook, Jacques Copeau and Joan Littlewood have all been consciously influenced by Noh. Alongside contemporary western practitioners, certain Japanese Theatre Practitioners were influenced by their own traditions. Tadashi Suzuki drew partly on Noh and his students and collaborators have disseminated his highly physical training into the west. This has particularly happened through Anne Bogart's Collaboration with him and the simultaneous training of her actors in both the Viewpoints method and Suzuki training. As well as Suzuki, the Butoh Movement, which originated from Tatsumi Hijikata and Kazuo Ohno contained elements of Noh imagery and physicality. Butoh, again, has been influencing Western practitioners in recent years and has certain similarities with Lecoq's mime training in terms of ideas (impression and consequential embodiment of imagery, use of mask etc.)
As well as ideas outside of the western theatre tradition creeping in gradually, there is a tradition from within Western theatre, too, starting with Stanislavski. Stanislavski, later on in life, began to reject his own ideas of naturalism, and started to pursue ideas relating to the physical body in performance. Meyerhold and Grotowski developed these ideas and began to develop actor training that included a very high level of physical training. This work was influenced and developed by Peter Brook.
Contemporary dance has added to this mix significantly, starting particularly with Rudolf von Laban. Laban developed a way of looking at movement outside of codified dance and was useful in looking at, and creating, movement not just for dancers but for actors too. Later on, the Tanzteater of Pina Bausch and others looked at the relationship between dance and theatre. In America, the postmodern dance movement of the Judson Church Dance also began to influence theatre practitioners, as their suggestions for movement and somatic training are equally accessible for those with a dance training as those with a theatre training. Indeed, Steve Paxton taught theatre students at Dartington College of Arts and other institutions.
Modern physical theatre companies and practitioners:
- Chicago Fusion Theatre, Chicago, USA
- Chickenshed Theatre Company, London, England
- Chotto Ookii Theatre Company, Leeds, England
- Complicite, London, England
- Company Gavin Robertson, England
- Dell'Arte International, Blue Lake, CA, USA
- Ostrenko Physical Theatre Lab, Italy
- Double Edge Theatre, Ashfield, Massachusetts, USA
- DV8 Physical Theatre, London, England
- Frantic Assembly, England
- Gecko, England
- Hoipolloi, Cambridge, England
- Horse and Bamboo Theatre, England
- Kage Physical Theatre, Melbourne, Australia
- Kneehigh Theatre, Cornwall, England
- Margolis Brown Adaptors Company, New York, USA
- PUSH Physical Theatre, New York, USA
- Studio 58, Vancouver, Canada
- Synetic Theater (Arlington, Virginia)
- Theatre de l'Ange Fou, London, England
- Theo Adams Company, London, England
- Vahram Zaryan Contemporary mime Company, Paris, France
- Adam Darius
- Alan Clay
- Anne Bogart
- Antonin Artaud
- Bill Robison
- Daniel Stein
- Lloyd Newson
- Étienne Decroux
- Gavin Robertson
- Jacques Lecoq
- James Thiérrée
- Kate Champion
- Matt Mitler
- Pablo Zibes
- Petra Massey
- Philippe Gaulier
- Pina Bausch
- Steven Berkoff
- Steven Wasson
- Theo Adams
- Thomas Leabhart
- Vahram Zaryan
- Wolfe Bowart
East 15 Acting School- BA Physical Theatre http://www.east15.ac.uk/study-ba-physical.asp
See also 
- Callery, Dympha (2001). Through the Body: A practical guide to Physical Theatre. London: Nick Hern Books. ISBN 1-85459-630-6.
- Interview with Daniel Stein
Further reading 
- Artaud, Antonin; Theatre and Its Double
- Barba, Eugenio; Beyond the Floating Islands
- Bogart, Anne; The Viewpoints Book
- Brook, Peter; The Empty Space
- Callery, Dympha; Through the Body: A practical guide to physical theatre, Nick Hern Books, London, 2001
- Clay, Alan; Angels Can Fly, a Modern Clown User Guide
- Cross, Robert; Steven Berkoff and the Theatre of Self-Performance
- Decroux, Etienne; Words on Mime
- Felner, Myra; Apostles of Silence: The Modern French Mimes
- Grotowski, Jerzy; Towards a Poor Theatre
- Hodge, Alison (ed.); Twentieth Century Actor Training
- Leabhart, Thomas; Modern and Post-Modern Mime
- Lecoq, Jacques; The Moving Body (Le Corpes Poetique)
- Marshall, Lorna; The Speaking Body
- Meyerhold, Vsevolod and Braun, Edward ; Meyerhold on Theatre
- Oida, Yoshi; The Invisible Actor
- Stevenson, Darren ; A Case for Physical Theatre
- Suzuki, Tadashi; The Way of Acting
- Wright, John; Why Is That So Funny?: A Practical Exploration of Physical Comedy, Nick Hern Books, London, 2006
- Allworth Press; Movement for Actors
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