Programs » Physical Theatre

Fall & Spring Semester Physical Theatre Program

This program is an introduction to the world of physical theatre and offers participants the opportunity to learn from world-renowned masters of their craft. Students concentrate on various phsyical theatre techniques and forms including contact improvisation, mask performance, Commedia dell'Arte, voice, special workshops with guest instructors in various forms, Italian language, and the philosophy of performance.



Spring Semester Application Deadline: October 15 - Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis after the deadline

Spring 2015
January 26 - May 1

Spring Break:
 March 14 - 22

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Please visit the Tuition & Fees page for complete details on all program costs.


In the spirit of the actor-creator, this semester provides ensemble-based physical theatre training with an intense focus on movement/body work, vocal techniques and Italian language. Students will learn new approaches to performance through their encounter with Commedia dell’Arte, interwoven with mask-making and other related performance topics.

Students will be guest artists in residence during a working excursion to Milan, participating in a professional-level workshop with Accademia faculty. Students will have the opportunity to see professional performances, as well as present their own work generated during the semester both in-house and locally, as assessed by the faculty.

Over the course of the semester, students will meet 3 to 4 times a week for voice and movement work enhanced by guest artist offerings, an intensive block of commedia dell'arte and ending in a two-week intensive workshop. Throughout the semester students will reflect on the nature of their class work through a philosophical lens in the academic seminar the Philosophy of Art and Performance.

Download an example of a typical semester schedule here.



Semester Courses
 (3 credits each)
  • Commedia dell'Arte: Acting I                                     
  • Voice and Performance                                         
  • Extended Performance Topics: Movement, Physical and Visual Comedy                     
  • The Philosophy of Art and Performance
  • Italian Language I or II                                      

Commedia dell’Arte: Acting I
Instructors: Michele Bottini
                     Andrea Cavarra

From the sixteenth to the late eighteenth century the itinerant performers of the Commedia dell’arte developed a style of acting and performance that was to have a tremendous impact on the development of the European theatre. In the twentieth century this style was rediscovered and once again influenced such movements as the expressionist theatre, theatre of the absurd and the futurist’s experiments, as well as individual artists such as Meyerhold, Gordon Craig, Samuel Beckett, Lecoq, Mnouchkine and many others. A study of the traditional techniques developed by Commedia provides modern actors with a vastly expanded artistic repertoire from which to develop a personal style.

This acting class will develop the practical use of the masks of the stock characters of the Commedia dell’arte. Through work on gesture, voice and movement within a specific socio/historical context, students will explore the characteristics of Arlecchino, Zanni, Brighella, Pantalone, Colombina and others, with the intention of developing the student’s own personal version of the character.

The class format will be based on intensive studio work with daily exercises designed to develop the masked character. Students will work on improvisational techniques through work on various scenari and lazzi. Scene study in the form of short scenes, or canovacci, takes place in the final phase of the work.

The application of Commedia masks in comic traditions from Goldoni through Gozzi to Molière and Marivaux may also be a feature of this course, depending on faculty.

In addition to the intensive studio component, this course will include a mask-making workshop. Students will sculpt a clay version of one of the stock Commedia masks, making a mold from this that serves as a “negative” for the fabrication of a mask in latex and fiberglass or in leather. The student then completes the mask through applying layers of finishing coating and finally paints and highlights its dramatic potential.

Informal class presentations of studies and scenes are a regular part of the class schedule. At their discretion, faculty may present students’ work before a wider public at the Accademia or a local venue.

Voice and Performance
Instructors: Kevin Crawford
                     Dory Rebekah Sibley

The first part of the course, led by Kevin Crawford, is designed for the student who is engaged in the specific demands of physical theatre and masked performance. The student actor will be led through a thorough vocal and physical warm-up, preparing them for this type of performance. A series of rigorous exercises and improvisations will stimulate the students’ integration of voice, body and imagination and will extend the boundaries of vocal potential to explore the monstrous, the grotesque and the ridiculous. We will be looking to broaden the parameters of what is possible for the human voice, thus offering a protean raw material for the investigation of character and voice in physical theatre and mask work. Students will develop greater range, flexibility, sustaining power and emotional presence through concentrating on the sung sound and systematically challenging their boundaries in terms of pitch and quality. The course then expands towards the exploration of text that is strong in imagery and verbal content. The class investigates a range of vocal acting choices from the monologue to the chorus.*
The voice work will further develop under the guidance of Dory Sibley who bridges voice, movement and the masked voice through her Vocal Body Method. This technique allows the performer to maintain the integrity of vocal production while speaking and singing in extreme or unconventional situations: as a masked actor or acrobat for example. Weight sharing, kinesthetic response and emotional engagement are utilized in order to free the whole voice.**
*This approach to the vocal and verbal training of the actor is derived from the work of Alfred Wolfsohn and Roy Hart in England. Please visit the Roy Hart Theatre website for further information on the work of these pioneers in voice work: Roy Hart Theatre
You may also download articles by Kevin Crawford from the ADA MFA website.
** Visit Dory Sibley’s website for more information about the Vocal Body Method:
Extended Performance Topics: Movement, Physical and Visual Comedy
Instructors: Stella Medvedeva
                     Sabine Fichter
                     Philip Radice

Designed as an introduction to the methods and aims of physical theatre, this course is a selection of movement and acting options that reflect the inter-disciplinary thrust of the program. This course comprises a module of regular movement classes designed specifically to address the demands of Commedia dell’Arte and other physical theatre-style performance work. The class can be seen as a foundational course in physical awareness, body knowledge, strength, stamina, technique and improvisation, as well as an introduction to movement analysis and characterization.
The work will contain explorations of the physical connectivity (Body-Mind Centering and Bartenieff Fundamentals) through guided and free movement improvisations, the relationships formed with a partner and the ensemble through chorus and contact improvisation work, and the basic factors of movement in movement analysis and characterization (Laban). The aim of the course is to achieve a stronger, more versatile and expressive body and to establish tools to generate and compose characters through the body. In addition, during the semester, the students will get the chance to experience work with a guest faculty member in order to enhance and deepen the work.

The final intensive workshop will be taught by Philip Radice, founder and Artistic Director of the Atelier Teatro Fisico Philip Radice in Turin:
Workshop on Physical and Visual Comedy through the art of Clown and Slapstick

Comedy and Comedians are ageless. The instinct and need to laugh gives birth to the practitioners, and thus, since the beginning of time, we have persons destine to make us laugh. Whether by natural talents and intuition, or from a calculated study, the comics, comedians, buffoons, and clowns are here to stay!

The workshop is an intensive program that focuses on three major principles for the participants; Why we laugh, what makes us laugh, and how we make people laugh from a physical point of view. Having studied Commedia dell’Arte, the study is a voyage through time and genre. Beginning with parody and satire, we introduce to the student to the art Clowning and slapstick through work on the individual comic “mask”, or our individual clown, and the techniques behind the art of physical and visual comedy.

The day is divided in three parts: physical and sensorial training that serve concentration, presence, and awareness of body and space. Secondly, we look at comic structures and the physical dynamics that make persons laugh, and finally we develop the individual clown and our personal comic natures through improvisation and corporeal play. In the final stages of the workshop, we will work on the creation of comic situations, sketches, and routines as devised by the individual student or group of students. By playing their characters in comic situations, and applying techniques associated with the tradition of physical comedy, the student affirms their individual clown’s comedic nature. This workshop culminates in a showing of pieces devised by the students themselves.

To conclude, the workshop explores the meaning of the art of comedy as a theater art; the actor who performs comedy or the comedian who can make us cry laughing. Drama and Comedy, the face of two great theater traditions since the time of Ancient Greece.

Philosophy of Art and Performance
Instructors: Emilija Dimitrijevic
                     Scott McGehee

The many paradoxes of the modern world, perhaps first clearly articulated by Rousseau, continue to provide a backdrop to all of our social activity: greater personal freedoms incased in a world of greater social regimentation, increased diversity of choice amidst an inexorable drive toward homogenization, increasing production of wealth along with the dramatic growth of poverty, vastly expanded communications providing the tools to increased isolation and so on.

These paradoxes often go unnoticed as they appear a natural part of life, but these phenomena had an historical development that in turn profoundly affected individual perception. Through an exploration of the development of mass production, the fragmentation and specialization of life and work, the development of the information age, the commodification of culture, the compression of time and space, the disassociation of the body and the aesthetic shifts that have accompanied these developments, this class will philosophically analyze the significance of each. We will think about art—about its nature and its important place in human life.

To facilitate this, the course brings together the writings of philosophers and the work of artists from a variety of domains. The goal is not to intellectualize art but to understand the intelligence that goes into it, to enrich our experiences of art, and to foster our own creative sensibilities. We will consider famous writings on art by thinkers such as Plato, Aristotle, Schiller, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Breton, Artaud, Eisenstein, Debord, Baudrillard, Foucault and others in relation to important works of literature, theatre, painting, music, architecture and film.

A philosophical analysis with help the artist situate both the work of art and the actual work of the artist in a broader framework where the role of social mediation between the artist, the work of art and the reception of the work is revealed. Likewise, the potential role of the artist and work of art as social mediation can emerge as a stimulus to the creative impulse itself.

The class format will be based on lectures and seminar-style discussions where each student will present a critical summary of at least one of the readings. A portion of the class, when possible, will include a critical examination of the student’s own experience in a particular workshop and may include Butoh dance, clown training for actors or other special workshops or master classes in which students participate.

Italian Language, Beginner or Intermediate
Instructor: Accademia Britannica

In the first semester course introduce students to basic grammatical structures of the Italian language.  Students acquire a basic vocabulary and speaking practice.
In the second semester course, students begin moving toward fluency in Italian by focusing on communication and the exposure to a not stereotypical, more complex and up-to-date picture of modern Italy and Italians. 
The readings in the text will provide a point of departure for conversation, which will be an essential component of both classes. These courses will cover aspects of Italian culture and society, as well.

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