Diasporas Festival, Berkeley
May 9, 2014

The Dell'Arte Company brings an excerpt of its newest work, "Elisabeth's Book" to the Diasporas Festival of Contemporary Performance in Berkeley, California, on May 9 & 10. Inferno Theatre

THREE TREES to Western Washington
April 18, 2014

The Dell'Arte Company in "Three Trees" heads to Western Washington University for two shows, April 18 & 19th at 7:30 PM
A mixture of rollicking clown routines and poetic, theatrical

Humboldt Sponsors support
April 6, 2014

THANKS to Humboldt Sponsors for a $500 award to the 8th Grade Show for " costumes, props, and technical production." Congratulations to director Lydia Foreman and her cast from Blue Lake

World Commedia Day Feb. 25
February 21, 2014

World Commedia dell'Arte Day is celebrated every year on February 25, and is proclaimed by the Italian cultural association SAT as an action of the incommedia.it project in support of SAT's

TCG grant awarded to DAI
February 1, 2014

Theatre Communications Group (TCG), the national organization for theatre, announced recipients for the third round of its Global Connections program. Dell’Arte was awarded one of three


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Articles by Founders
 Movement Training for the Actor
Home >School of Physical Theatre >Articles by Founders >Movement Training for the Actor

By Joan Schirle
School Director, Founding Artistic Director, Dell'Arte International
Copyright 2004

     Our first education —sensory, kinesthetic, spatial—precedes the acquisition of language and formal schooling. In a network of stimuli that includes things, people, sounds, elements, and invisible forces, our universal human 'original instructions' include survival lessons about falling, about distance, comfort, even gestural codes--that the opening of the arms means "come toward"; the stillness of a raised hand implies a slap.
     It is the work of the actor to link us to the first education, in order to establish a visceral connection to the audience through the deepest shared ground of human experience. Invoked in great theater is the fullness of life, the size and excitement of great characters coming from the actor’s ability to reveal to the audience what it means to "fall" in love, to be "moved" by an experience, to be "crushed" by defeat, or to be "thrown" off-balance. The actor in the live theater exists not only in relation to the individuals who witness his performance, but also in relation to the collective ancestral body of the audience. The universal shared ground of human experience is deeper than any psychology and permeates narrative and abstract forms, figurative and non-figurative movement.
     As we grow up, we forget our first "school." We may not even realize how much we know "in our bones"; we take for granted our how well our movement and spatial education serves us—after all, we've survived and we function in the world without having to think too much about how to walk down a flight of steps or close a door or take a breath. Except in progressive systems of childhood education, the education of our kinesthetic sense ceases once we begin our formal schooling. We acquire skills like swimming or playing ball but we aren’t taught to look at how we do these things. Our physical intelligence gradually becomes separated from our verbal, mathematical, and other intelligences.
     We learn to mask the play of emotion across the face, to control the physical manifestation of our feelings. Habits can develop which interfere with the actor’s flexibility and ease at one level and with her availability and responsiveness at the level of invention.
     "The freest use of the most intelligent body" (thank you, Isadora Duncan) requires an integrated training in which player and instrument are educated as one. The eye, the muscles, and the imagination must all be trained as a unity. We cannot think only about improving the actor's "instrument," as though there were an instrument (the body or voice), "controlled" or "played" by the mind of the actor, and that the instrument required a different kind of training than the "player" of that instrument. Separating instrument from player, even as a casual frame of reference disorganizes body, mind, and spirit, leading to a disembodied practice for the actor—a practice in which the body does not have to be intelligent or conscious, only obedient. And so actor training that does not embrace the whole of dynamic play leads to productions in which bodies are not available to be moved by feelings, passions, and wants, or in which the actors have trained voices and trained bodies but the two do not work as an organic whole.
     At the Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre our study is movement as related to the theater and to the work of the actor. A high level of theatrical play puts the body at a higher tension level than that of daily life, so we train to achieve an extra-daily, heightened state of tone that can be adjusted in large or small increments to the demands of the work. The performing body differs from the athletic body in that it is available to play in the world of illusion, and the imagination, especially the physical imagination, must also be trained. We study the nature of play and the dynamic presence of the actor in the empty space. We embrace the vital paradoxes—we train to be strong and flexible; we train to play with economy and abandon; we train to be easeful at a high level of tension; we train to be both analytic and intuitive; we train to have a wakeful internal eye as well as to see and hear fully our partners, our audience, our space, our props. The training is always in the context of how a piece of theater is developed, rehearsed and performed in ensemble.
     As I reflect back on when I started exploring stage movement three decades ago, the idea that the study of dance or fencing is adequate preparation for a stage career now seems quaint. Most serious conservatory or university MFA acting programs and many undergraduate programs now include Movement For Actors classes based on Laban, Lecoq, Growtowski, Meyerhold, Suzuki, Viewpoints, the FM Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais, yoga, martial arts, combat, and/or others; the number of job postings for movement specialists grows yearly. There is a branch of ATHE (Association for Theatre in Higher Education) that is devoted to Movement: ATME (Association of Theatre Movement Educators). Advances in sports, psycho-physical education, dance, and medicine have given us amazing information about the human body, allowing actors to demand more of themselves with greater range, safety, and endurance.
     There are arguably few directors or teachers of acting who would not advocate the importance of movement training for the actor. However, the application of movement training to scripts, rehearsal and production does not happen often enough. Contemporary directors like Anne Bogart, Julie Taymor, Ariane Mnouchkine and Simon McBurney have showed us full-bodied theatre that is rich in ideas as well as images. We have an extraordinary legacy from the work of earlier 20th century pioneers like Copeau, Lecoq, Decroux, Laban, Growtowski and others, but we are still looking for the theatre that knows the value of this treasure. Our goal at the Dell'Arte School is to pass this legacy on to the next generation of theatre makers through the training of the actor-creator.



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