ENSEMBLE PHYSICAL THEATRE – an approach

 

 

Physical Theatre is the theatrical art that focuses on the corporeal, psychophysical expressive means of the performer. Rather than looking into a character or a role from a psychological point of view, using the rational ‘everyday’ mind, we investigate the dynamics of the body’s intelligence and its response mechanisms into approaching a role, representing a notion, emotion or a situation. One can say that it focuses on the instinctive part of human or, more poetically, the ‘deeper mind’. In other words, the ancient part of the human brain, that was the first to be developed, working in a deep harmony with the psychophysical responses of the performer to the theatrical task that he is required to communicate.

 

Ensemble Physical Theatre is an actor training pedagogy on the pre-expressive use of the body (‘bodymind’) within a group of people, where everyone serves as a mirror to the other. Theatre is a field that always involves the relationship of oneself with another, whether this ‘other’ is the actors, the audience, the sound, the space etc. So, in this approach we learn to respond to stimulus, always being in a network of relationships with the other members of the ensemble group, building clear ‘impulse – reaction’ pathways that are  flowing as well as developing strong performers with their own unique skills. All this is supported by the Pleasure Principle[1].  The act of finding pleasure, that means ‘what we like doing’, in each performative task, so as to learn, absorb and experience deeply with sustained attention during action.

 

John  Brittton refers to Ensemble as this:

‘An ensemble is not commanded into existence. I cannot make you ensemble, nor you make me so. Ensemble emerges from the relationship of each individual to each other individual. We cannot impose our will to others and expect a relationship of give-and-take to emerge.’

(J. Britton, ‘Encountering Ensemble’, London:  Bloomsbury  Metheun Drama, 2013,p.314)

 

The Ball Game, as one of the fundamental exercises in the Ensemble Physical Theatre practice, developed through a many years investigation by John Britton, is a structured exercise that serves to explore psychophysical mechanisms. It involves a continuous inner -outer observation of the bodily and mental functions of the performer, in a constant flowing ‘impulse-response’ relationship with the others. Consequently, we are re-training the way we use our body so as to re-train the way we think, and by changing the way we think we change the way we use our body.

 

‘The training involves detailed physical work through which individuals learn to pay detailed attention. Through this physical work they encounter and apply a number of fundamental ‘attitudinal’ principles. The physical tasks are types of improvisation and a specific use of the common exercise […] the Ball Game. The principles which are the foundation of this training, are interconnected suite ‘ways of thinking’ – guides to useful, productive, developmental attitudes to engaging with one’s own training while learning to be open and responsive to others. The ‘principles of performance’ enable trainees to translate what they discover in one specific exercise to other tasks and different styles of performance.

(J. Britton, ‘Encountering Ensemble’, London:  Bloomsbury  Metheun Drama, 2013,p. 316)

 

The work of Ensemble Physical Theatre involves a long journey to travel for a performer to become the performer he wants to be.

 

[1] Pleasure Principle, as described by John Britton, is the act of identifying what we like in what needs to be done. Asking the performer to find ways of paying attention to her work that give her pleasure.

 

( From the booklet of the ‘Presence, Action, Awareness, Performance:A physical theatre experi[ence]ment’ workshop in collaboration with Esperimentoquadro, in Pisa, Italy, Dec.2013 )