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Devising Physical Theatre: CPD notes

Workshop notes from Music & Drama Education Expo, London Olympia, 4th March 2020

This session focused on a few foundational techniques from which performance can be devised, taking students on a creative journey. They're suitable for all levels from KS1-KS5 and beyond, for SEN and foreign language students alike.

The key skills developed are non-verbal communication, confidence, and collaboration.

Warm Up: Body Isolation

This brief warmup is designed to focus the mind on the way the body moves, identify areas of tension, on breath and relaxation. It allows students to explore the range of movement of specific parts of the body independent of the rest of the body. It works well to music.

Standing with feet shoulder-width apart, hands by the sides, eyes closed, start by by moving the fingers. Stretch them, form a fist, wriggle them, find ripples and shapes, explore the range of movement.

Introduce the wrists, then the elbows, then shoulders. As you progress through the neck and head, torso, hips, knees, ankles and toes explore the new range of movement, but don't neglect bodyparts which came before it. Keep the fingers, wrists, etc moving all the time.

Once the whole body is in motion drop the fingers, wrists etc one at a time, just letting them hang, relaxed, working your way through the body.

Music Used: Exurgency, Zoe Keating

Working in Pairs

'A' holds their hand in front of 'B's face and guides them around the space, slowly, exploring a range of movement together. As you do this with students expect the first few attempts to be chatty, giggly, and unfocused as they get used to doing something new and a bit odd. Swap over the leader a few times.

As they do start to focus and only communicate physically, the atmosphere will change. When they do they should start to think about the images they're creating: What stories do these images tell? What characters do they create? What emotions and themes do they explore?

The next progression is Mirroring as it expands the focus to the whole body, not just the position of your partners hand.

Standing a few feet apart, maintain eye-contact and observe your partner with peripferal vision. As 'A' moves, Tai-Chi slow with big, bold movements, 'B' should mirror every action. Students should progress quicker than the first exercise, but the goal is to get to a state where the leadership is bouncing from one person to the other until both students are moving in sync with each other, without a clear leader. Even they shouldnt know who is leading.

Development Ideas

What happens when pairs get really close, or far apart? Can they do this across the space? Can other movements be introduced? What happens if one person is distracted by another person and starts copying them? Can someone 'steal' a partner? What ideas do these things spark?

In full workshops we explore the use of weight, lifts, balance and other foundational building blocks which can later be incorporated into devising choreography.

Music used: Piano Cafe, Piano Music Cafe

Open Up, Leftfield

Arrival, Zoe Keating


Choreography is just a sequence of movements. Some prefer to create movement which fits a character, scene or emotion, but for devising it may be best to start with movement and then discover characters and stories from it.

We briefly explored an exercise involving starts the placing hands on each other, such as the sholder, knee, small of the back, face, neck, etc, with each person finding three points of contact, a total of six moves.

Pairs then start to find ways to explore them further, such as

  • When one person is making their connections the other should be active, observing those connections, engaging with their partner, helping them or challenging them to achieve the task.

  • Take space out of the mix and get closer together

  • Rather than moving around your partner, go through, such as through the gap beween the arm and the body

  • Change the pace.

As you develop this sequence explore what happens if you make it soft and light, weighted and hard, slow or fast. Does it generate a different emotional state or story? Does it create new characters? Where can you take those characters next?

In full workshops we bring multiple foundation techniquest together and build some choreography, playing with it to discover new characters and further devise new stories and scenarios.

Discover more on our CPD workshops.

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