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 2015
January 26 (Arrival) - May 1 (Departure)

Spring Break:
 March 14 - 22

Fall 2015
September 7 - December 12

Fall Break: TBA

PLEASE NOTE: The dates above include arrival and departure. The Accademia dell'Arte does not accomodate students before or after these dates.

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 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 - Acting Intensive
                     Andrea Cavarra - Leather Mask-Making
                     Giangiacomo Colli - Dramaturgy and Constructing Canovacci
                     Stella Medvedeva - Movement Coaching
                     Dory Sibley - Voice in the Mask Coaching
                     Scott McGehee - Commedia History Lecture and Discussion

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 and individual movement and voice in the mask coaching 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, will be a regular component as well as historical lectures and discussion.
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 mould from this that serves as a “negative” for the fabrication of a mask in leather. The student then completes the mask through applying layers of finishing coating and finally paints and highlights its dramatic potential. The students may have the opportunity to use their masks during their commedia acting intensive.
Informal class presentations of studies and scenes are a regular part of the class schedule. The work will culminate into a final performance. At their discretion, faculty may present students’ work before a wider public at the Accademia or a local venue. 

Voice and Performance
Dory Sibley
                     Helena Walsh

The core of the Voice and Performance course, taught by Dory Sibley, will focus on bridging the voice, movement and 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, body mapping and emotional engagement will be utilized in order to free the whole voice. Students will be guided through practical exercises and warm-ups tailored specifically for the physical actor. These exercises are employed to find unlikely characters and unleash a three-dimensional sound to uphold the rigorous demands of masked physicality. 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 investigates text and song in order to free the imagination and create unique, informed choices in the vocal body.
Helena Walsh will enhance the voice module by focusing specifically on texts from Shakespearean plays. The students will work with these as an ensemble using it to embody the words and thoughts in order to release their meaning through the surprise of the present moment. Using somatic awareness, students will play with and become more aware of their inner charge as well as how to breath with it in order to allow performance energy to flow through themselves and connect with the others in an integrated and potent way. Inspired by these pieces from Shakespeare, students will write their own pieces that will then be interwoven with this heightened text to create a narrative of paradox and contradiction. This process will celebrate the ensemble as a powerful place to embody the meaning of heightened text from which one can devise and offer their own voice with the support and playful spirit of all co-creators.

The work will culminate in a showing of the process.
Extended Performance Topics: Theatre
Instructors: Claudia Schnürer - Movement
                     Stella Medvedeva - Movement Characterisation
                     Annie Loui - Contact Improvisation

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. Depending on Visiting Faculty and on-going developments in the program students will be exposed to techniques, that integrally connect to the core substance of the training. 

Physical training also serves to prepare students for the intensive needs of commedia and mask work. Subsequently the general movement class and the invited guest teachers concentrate on specific physical and acting skills with an emphasis on ensemble playing.

The course is led by Claudia Schnürer and incorporates consistent collaboration with various instructors. Currently Extended Performance Topics combines movement, Contact Improvisation and Movement Characterisation study.

This class is designed to enhance self and group awareness, strength, stamina, technique, improvisation and devising skills. The work contains warm ups, Yoga and Feldenkrais elements (Awareness Through Movement lessons), static and dynamic acrobatics for both, solo and partnering, movement explorations, analysis and improvisation. 

Students will be led through the experience of developing composition tools and will eventually devise independently short solo and duo compositions, which will be presented towards the end of the semester.

This short course will be divided into two segments. In the first 2h class the students will be introduced into the elements of movement characterisation and will work on experiencing and creatively utilising the connectivity of their bodies. In the second 3h class the students will be introduced to basic physical forms and will obtain the tools necessary to create their own physical forms for work with mask. 
Introduction/reviewing of some partnering techniques such as weight exchange, which includes specific lifts and rolls, as well as some basic principles of motion and interaction - such as slow motion sit, action/reaction, and various choreographic spatial exercises.  

Students then will be taken through contact improvisation using touching, and not touching, into contact improvisation with text. We use text from the stream of consciousness, and then a text-ed scene. 

Therefore students need to have a scene memorized (preferably all the same, so that they can change partners often and contact with the same text).
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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