Review: Futures Physical Theatre Masterclass
Cleo Gravett, Print Satire Editor, reflects on her experience at the Futures Physical Theatre Masterclass
On a chilly night in early February, I attended a physical theatre masterclass at the Barnfield Theatre, hosted by Nick, Al and Matt of Exeter-based comedy theatre trio extraordinaire ‘Le Navet Bete’.
While I initially signed up for what I thought was going to be a stage-fighting workshop, a quick Google let me know thatt I was actually in for: “a genre of theatrical performance that encompasses storytelling primarily through physical movement”. Gulp. I won’t lie, after our group of about 14, with a good mix of ages and backgrounds, congregated in the intimate space of the Clifford Room, I briefly considered an exit – perhaps this wasn’t my cup of tea after all. But I looked across the circle at a woman wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the motto: “The only way out is through”. I thought I might as well take that to heart.
We spent the first 45 minutes of the workshop doing warm up games: with ball games to help the reflexes, repetitive name-learning games to help the mind and encourage us to look in each others faces. Music was played to get the creative juices flowing, and we stretched and ran around the room to warm up the physical side of things. Le Navet Bete’s ethos is “simple input, complex results”, and the whole workshop centred around simplicity and stripping back our preconceptions of theatre to its bare bones, leading to an evening that was unintimidating and accessible.
Le Navet Bete’s ethos is “simple input, complex results”, and the whole workshop centred around simplicity and stripping back our preconceptions of theatre to its bare bones
We got into the meat of the workshop through the medium of… sneaking. A game of childhood favourite ‘Grandma’s Footsteps’ was imbued with fear – sneaking with our entire bodies and faces, more and more inhibitions falling away with each round of terrified tiptoeing. A key philosophy in theatre (particularly in comedic physical theatre such as that of Le Navet Bete), is that a picture taken at any point in a performance should tell the whole story of it, and that you should be careful not to waste a millimetre of your expressive real estate. The exercises of this workshop acted as a double-edged reminder that the best way to tell a story in theatre is through your body and face, and that when you lose energy in your body during a performance, it’s often even more noticeable to an audience than if you lose energy in your face.
Our next task was to explore a singular emotion from one to ten degrees of intensity in front of each other, which got us comfortable with each other, before we acted as each other’s audience for the remainder of the workshop. We were encouraged to inhabit each emotion with our entire physicality, letting our ankles up to our fingertips convey meaning – for someone who doesn’t have a background in physical theatre while some of the other attendees did, it was refreshing to be reminded of what my body can do and what it can be used for.
We were encouraged to inhabit each emotion with our entire physicality, letting our ankles up to our fingertips convey meaning
While one may be daunted by the prospect of learning lines, in this workshop there were no lines as such to fret over. We did a few exercises using gibberish, or containing our vocal expression to just one word to accompany our actions – the limiting of the verbal, that which we usually use to express, once again drew attention to how much our body can say on its own.
The workshop then moved into a focus on characterisation, first, using a particular body part to lead your wlk around the room, and creating a character from the stride that ensued. In the next activity we had to “Be the weather” (I was scattered showers, in case you wondered, stamping my feet quieter and softer in rumbles and pitter-patters, while miming putting out and taking back in the washing on a clothes line), and by this point even my most skeptical eyebrow raise lay dormant, we were having a lot of fun.
We finished with a tour guide activity where we worked in pairs, which hammered home the importance of ‘saying yes’ and listening to each other (and connecting to the audience) with our bodies.
The 4 hour session flew by, and by its conclusion, I really felt I’d been given a thorough grounding in the key tenets of physical theatre – Matt expressed modest hesitancy at advertising the session as a Masterclass, but I got a lot out of it. They thanked us, expressing that these workshops are made, in every sense, by those who participate. Le Navet Bete exude fun, and my takeaway from the workshop was to know what the limit of the performance is, to be prepared to go there, and to have fun doing it!