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.



Fall 2014
September 2 - December 6 

Fall Break:
October 11 - 19

Fall Semester Application Deadline: April 1

Spring 2015
January 26 - May 1

Spring Break:

Spring Semester Application Deadline: October 15

APPLY NOW for this program

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 either Venice or Naples, 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 workshop in clown or Chorus and the Individual. 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: Theatre                     
  • The Philosophy of Art and Performance
  • Italian Language I or II                                      

TART I15 Commedia dell’Arte: Acting I, 95 hours
Instructors: Michele Bottini
                   Torbjörn Alström

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.

TART I20 Voice and Performance, 60 hours
Instructors: Kaya Anderson
                    Dory Rebekah Sibley

This course 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 carefully guided but very thorough vocal and physical warm-up, right up to 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. 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.
This approach to the vocal and verbal training of the actor is derived from the work of Alfred Wolfsohn and Roy Hart in England, and works 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.

In addition, the final workshop will bridge together the voice and movement work through the Vocal Body method led by Dory Sibley. The techniques are used to maintain the integrity of vocal production when also engaged in acrobatics, weight sharing, and kinesthetic response in order to free the whole voice and lay the ground work for creating a piece that is a unique use of the whole self.

TART I35 Extended Topics Theatre, 100 hours
Instructors: Claudia Schnuerer
                   Joe Fenner

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, mask and other physical theatre-style performance work. The class can be seen as a foundational course in body awareness, body knowledge, strength, stamina, technique and improvisation, as well as a fine-tuning and enhancing class for those who are more experienced.

The first segment contains body preparation/warm-up, ATM (Awareness of Movement) lessons from the Feldenkrais method, dynamic yoga, movement and dance improvisation, contact improvisation, solo and partner acrobatic skills and short solo, duo and group choreographies. The aim is to achieve a stronger, more versatile and expressive body and to establish tools to generate and compose movement. Subsequent segments concentrate on specific physical and acting skills with an emphasis on ensemble playing.
The final intensive workshop Chorus and Individual is led by Joe Fenner, from the Dimitri school of performing arts in Switzerland.
The workshop is based on methods of physical theatre as they are taught at the Scuola Teatro Dimitri in Verscio, Switzerland. The day starts with a physical training: a sequence of exercises, serving as a warm-up, focusing on concentration and becoming aware of the current state of mind and body. After the warm-up, we will continue with exercises to promote awareness of group dynamics and space. These exercises will lead us to more profound work on the "chorus". The next step will be experimenting with individual characters, based on physical actions and emotional sensations. In the final stage of the workshop, we will try to integrate these characters with the "chorus ", affirming the position of the individual within the group. This workshop culminates in a showing of the student self devised pieces.
Overall this course focuses on four principal areas of training:
• Movement skills, including acrobatics, contact improvisation and group dynamics
• Ensemble-building
• Personal and small group improvisation and composition
• Contemporary mask workshop

PHIL I20 Philosophy of Art and Performance, 42 hours
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.

ITAL I10 or I11 Italian Language, 50 hours
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.

The NEW Design Track Option*
Spring 2014

*Please note: There is a $450 supplemental fee for Design Track students.
This spring 2014, Accademia dell’Arte will introduce a design course within the physical theatre program. This track will consist of several weeklong intensives taught by stateside faculty from various institutions complementing the physical theatre training with study of specific design elements. Design students will also study and expreience firsthand theatre spaces, history, and architecture in nearby Florence, Milan, Rome, and Parma.
Visiting Instructors for the Design Track include: 
A movement course that emphasizes making stronger choices in story telling using architecture, composition, soundscape, movement and revelation of form through specific lighting.  Elements of design would be introduced and explored through the body in space and time in relation to external creative impulses as students respond to each other and the spaces they inhabit. 
Theatre History with an emphasis on Greco-Roman through Renaissance.  Class will include studies drawing of architecture including drafting, mechanical perspective and painting techniques.  Travel to existing theatres in the area will be crucial with possible visits to Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza, Teatro Farnese in Parma, Teatro alla Scala in Milan, Anfiteatro romano di Arezzo in Toscana, Teatro della Pergola in Florence or Teatro la Fenice in Venice.  
Costume History with emphasis on Greco-Roman through Renaissance.  Class will include studio drawing and painting as well as lectures.  They will have access to period costumes, especially renaissance, for students to have greater understanding of how costume affects character development and movement.
Students will examine how light in the Tuscan environment is used in art to express form, contrast, and evoke emotion.  Students will apply their discoveries to create theatrical lighting designs to support text based themes.  Arezzo provides a unique opportunity to study the role of light in the relationship between the earth and the sky, and explore how this relationship affects human perception and emotion.    
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