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The articulate body.

THIS SPECIAL SECTION DEVOTED TO MOVEMENT TRAINING FOR ACTORS BEGAN TO GEL AFTER a series of key conversations. Moni Yakim, for starters, quickly disabused us of the notion that "physical theatre" was the appropriate term to use when referring to the totality of the field of movement training. As a Juilliard master teacher of an art that is ruthless in its physical demands, Yakim prefers the phrase "physical acting." In his studies with both Etienne Decroux and Marcel Marceau, Yakim learned that "physical theatre" is a more limited term, frequently referring to highly visual genre-specific work. His own teaching approach applies the physicality of mime and masks to the actors' craft--his students explore, discover and articulate their characters' inner selves through the use of their bodies and voices.

Yakim's distinction between "physical theatre" as a genre and "physical acting" as an idea is echoed by author Dymphna Gallery in her informative book Through the Body: A Practical Guide to Physical Theater. Summarizing the principles behind the work of certain influential 20th-century theatre practitioners--Artaud, Grotowski, Meyerhold, Brook and Lecoq--Gallery suggests that "physical theatre" originated as a useful marketing term, a catch-all description that can be applied to any staging that is theatrical in nature, including dance or puppetry, but which does not fit within the neat parameters of performing a literary text.

Another echo reverberated in my mind as I spent time with a stack of VHS tapes of Marcel Marceau teaching acting and mime students in the U.S.: Didn't the actor Jean-Louis Barrault, also a student of Decroux, reject his teacher's definitive assertion that mime should be silent? Barrault's advocacy of "total theatre"--in which all theatrical elements (speech and language included) are accorded equal weight as the actor searches for visceral possibilities on stage--struck a note surprisingly similar to Yakim's declaration about his approach to creating character.

This special section draws upon the rich correspondences between the pioneering sources of physical acting and their current adherents and acolytes in the U.S. The acting teacher David Bridel enumerates the influential gurus whose ideas shaped contemporary movement training. Author and actor Nicole Potter, in her insightful survey piece--a virtual cultural history of U.S. movement training--patiently anatomizes the search for an integrated way of teaching movement for actors. My interview with tire late Marceau revisits the contribution of mime to physically based storytelling.

This wealth of historical and theoretical information becomes vividly current in a compilation of conversations, conducted by American Theatre's editors, with actors and teachers who articulate how the theories they have studied can be transformed into action. And Ellen Lauren's essay on the theatrical nature of stillness, written as she was in transit to Tadashi Suzuki's remote headquarters in Toga-Mura, Japan, delves into her own deep relationship to body-centered performance. "The word acting," Lauren says, "always seems to imply action, which implies movement." The value and merit of stillness, she adds, is that "actions happen in an inner state that lines up properly with creativity."

In all, this special issue offers a conceptual framework for the understanding of key approaches to the training of the professional actor's body. In a sense, it is the unseen narrative that undergirds all performance.

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Author:Gener, Randy
Publication:American Theatre
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2011
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