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Training the actor's body to express: A cross-cultural study

Logie, Leatricia (1993) Training the actor's body to express: A cross-cultural study. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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Throughout the twentieth century, the mainstream theatre in Western Europe has remained, in spite of recurrent "revolutions", fundamentally a theatre of psychological realism, depending for its effect chiefly on the spoken word.

There has, however, always been a marginal stream of actors and directors wishing to focus on physical movement as a major source of interest and communication. In the latter part of this century, this form of theatre is being more widely appreciated and is finding its way onto the major stages of Europe. But if body shape and movement are to become a major focus of the theatre, there is a huge void to be filled in training actors to maximise the expressiveness and interest of the body.

This thesis arises from an interest in the fundamental question which confronts all those attempting this kind of theatre: that of exactly how an actor can and does choose particular movements to express ideas and emotions, and how this process can be facilitated, both from the point of view of the actor's expression, and of the spectator's enjoyment.

The thesis maintains that to date, the most useful paradigm for this work has been devised by Eugenio Barba, whose praxis and writings therefore form a connecting thread through the thesis.

Chapter One therefore examines Barba's work, but in a new perspective: not as totally original, but as a "dialogue" with significant others in Europe since the end of the last century, pedagogues and practitioners whose work has added to the understanding of how to create this kind of theatre. In this process, I examine a wide range of work, extracting, in an original manner, the elements most relevant to my central questions, and identifying common threads which have seldom been noticed before.

After looking back over Western theatrical history for inspiration and guidance in theatrical movement, and finding it sparse and sporadic, contemporary directors have increasingly turned their attention to an alternative, existing praxis where the performative philosophy and acting methods are firmly based in this very element: namely the traditional theatres of Asia. Chapter Two looks at five major Asian traditions, examining how they train the actors' bodies. Again, this brings together separate traditions, identifies very specific elements of each, and notes their common aspects and their differences.

Chapter Three then offers examples of the Western theatre's attempts to experiment directly with techniques learnt from Asia. Varying approaches to intercultural borrowings and fusions are demonstrated and the problems and discoveries discussed.

Part Two of Chapter Three draws on practical findings in both the East and the West, examines philosophical views of the relationship between movement and meaning, and work in experimental aesthetics, and makes one important conclusion with regard to what this form of theatre needs, and what can be learnt from Asian theatres. It becomes clear that many efforts in this area are based on erroneous beliefs about physical expression; beliefs which are identified and analysed in this thesis. The thesis concludes by suggesting the most constructive way of maximising the expressive potential of the body in performance and summarising the most effective approaches to training the actor's body, taking lessons from both Western predecessors, and from the theatres of the East.

The questions raised in this thesis could provide the subjects of many dissertations. While I have developed some of the theoretical aspects, I have chosen to concentrate on researching and assembling a wide variety of material from Europe and Asia, from ancient traditions and from very recent experimentation, teasing out the common threads that I consider to be of greatest _value to the theatre at this moment. The originality of the thesis therefore consists partly in the wide research on very specific elements of theatre, and partly in the clarification and articulation of these threads, which have rarely been discussed with clarity in any one tradition, and certainly not displayed clearly in a cross-traditional context.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Humanities
Notes: Note to the author: If you would like to make your thesis openly available on Murdoch University Library's Research Repository, please contact: Thank you.
Supervisor(s): George, David
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