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 physical 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 2016
September 2 - December 7

Fall Break: October 15 - 23

Fall Application Deadline: April 1

Spring 2017
January 23 - April 27

Spring Break: TBD

Spring Application Deadline: October 15

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

for this program.

We are now offering an Early Bird Discount of 5% off total tuition ($1,055.00) if you apply and pay the deposit for our Spring Programs before July 31! 
Contact for more information. 

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 and the addition of the contemporary performance and history module.

This short theoretical module involves six hours of conversation, introducing artistic currents and relevant artists and companies active in the field of physical theatre in the 1900s. The discussions, led by Nhandan Chirco and Fabio Mangolini, aims to contextualize their work within the broader field of contemporary art. The students will be introduced to the new library available in the Accademia to use as a tool to integrate their knowledge about contemporary theatre. In addition to the discussions, there will be a series of four performance screenings of contemporary physical theatre. Guest artists, theoreticians and ADA faculty will give lectures on specific artistic approaches and on the relationship between art and society, broadening the students’ knowledge about contemporary performing arts.

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, Contact Improvisation                   
  • The Philosophy of Art and Performance
  • Italian Language I or II                                      

Commedia dell’Arte: Acting I
Instructors: Giangiacomo Colli - Acting, Dramaturgy and Constructing Canovacci
                     Andrea Cavarra - Leather Mask-Making

                     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
                     Saso Vollmaier

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 'sound for storytelling' and systematically challenging their boundaries in terms of pitch and quality. 
Saso Vollmaier will enhance the course with a focus on improvisation. Students will explore their relationship with sound and music in a profound way. First he will introduce the musical language through simple phrases and memorized songs that then can be used in various exercises that utilize movement, voice and music to connect and build the ensemble process. With the support of Saso on piano, they will begin to create simple conversations that create a musical atmosphere. Finally, students will be guided through musical and textual improvisations that will be developed and shaped in collaboration with both Saso and Dory.   

Overall, this course investigates text and song in order to free the imagination and create unique, informed choices in the vocal body. The work centers around ensemble building and performance and will end in a final showing of the creative materials. 

Extended Performance Topics: Theatre
Instructors: Nhandan Chirco - Movement and Body Work
                     Jonathan Bianchi - Capoeira

Designed as an introduction to the methods and aims of Physical Theatre, this course provides movement and acting options that reflect the inter-disciplinary thrust of the program. It is divided in Body Work - with focus on physical training - and Creative Work - that aims to provide tools and principles to develop individual and collective performances in the field of physical theatre.

Physical training also serves to prepare students for the intensive needs of commedia and mask work.
The course is led by Nhandan Chirco and incorporates the collaboration of guest instructors. Currently Extended Performance Topics combines: Movement and Body Work course, the Capoeira intensive workshop, the warm-up and conditioning four times a week.

The course focuses on development of the performer’s movement skills and body-awareness, preparing students for physically demanding stage performance. The Body Work consists principally of physical training specifically designed for movement based theatre practitioners, which helps to form both a more spontaneous and a more articulated body. In addition to that, the training approaches some of the key issues of acting technique. The significance of the Movement Work is related not only to challenging physical training, comprised of a specific in-movement-approach to the performer’s creative potential, but also to providing students with some basic methodologies for improvising and structuring their own performance materials. Textual materials, most often poetry and prose, are used as an offspring for devising solo and group performances, as different processes are provided as an impulse to create individual devised fragments in which they can express their artistic specificity and personal interests in the approach to performance. The course provides precise practical knowledge which enables students to articulate through body/movement both individual and collective creative processes in a well-crafted and competent way. The aim being the (re)discovery of the body as a principal tool for the creation of a personal artistic language in performance. The proposed methodology is based on physical training developed by Grotowski and Richards, on technical elements stemming from contact improvisation, Butoh dance, Yoga and martial arts, and on various techniques of improvisation and movement composition from contemporary dance. 

Capoeira workshop involves intensive movement work, acrobatics, singing and rhythm, interaction with partners, strong work ethic and community spirit. This makes it a particularly appropriate training for theatre practitioners. Born in Brazil and grounded in the context of the enslaved black and indigenous people, this work is connected to their fight for identity. The history of capoeira is rooted in political issues and the relationship between artistic practice and social context.

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 encased 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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