Making The Ordinary Extraordinary / by clare elliott

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Thoughts from a past physical theatre workshop held at Tripspace London feb 2014

I had decided to run a physical theatre workshop partly because I had started to experience a mild indigestion in regards to theatre. I have been a happy consumer of theatre for years - though lately a little tired of the same items on the menu, queasy at the idea of bland but over-stuffed productions and certainly hungry for something that honors an art form that can on a good day can change a persons soul - if but for a few hours. So like the cream that rises to the surface the one question I had was how do you set out to make good theatre? 

‘Physical theatre’ can be a bit of a catch-all term for theatre that doesn’t quite fit into any category much to the dismay of DV8‘S Lloyd Newson, and I agree that dance with a few lines of spoken text and theatre with a movement section, doesn’t quite qualify. But perhaps to think less about category then about the things that are unique to physical theatre leads to a more fruitful discussion. ‘Non-dialogue’ based theatre work ( not synonymous with ‘non-narrative’ work ) have their genre-personalities. Mime is demonstrative, circus is performative, Tanztheater is stylistically theatrical..I think the point is and what is unique is that physical theatre is emerging as a form that is both multi-disciplinary and influential because of it’s visceral impact on audiences. 

experiences of the workshop

Rolling on the floor imagining ourselves to be pre-historic skeletons, jumping up and down repeating the same phrases until our tongues were dry, creating short improvised sequences about the mundane things in life and repeating them shamelessly over and over to Bjork, Scott Joplin ,Motzart and some bangin’ drum and bass tunes were certainly valid ways of spending a week. I learnt about the hunger people have for exploring, growing, inventing and re-inventing. I learnt how tirelessly people can hunt down a strain of creative DNA and then meticulously plant it in a petri-dish of dreams, collaboration and sweat. I learnt about the desire we all have to break our own habits and leave them shattered at the door. I learnt how hard it is to pick something up that we love about ourselves and smash on the floor in front of complete strangers. I do know that it was the dedication of the those who came to dance that made it such a vibrant and fruitful week.
I don’t know if i will i ever truly be able to answer my original question, “ What makes good physical theatre?” - but i do know that if there is anywhere you can take an ordinary thing, give it an ordinary story and tell it to some ordinary people - with just a few simple elements,  the theatre is the place where you stand a chance of making those ordinary things seem utterly extraordinary.