Rolling Around


Today’s post is courtesy of Gilbert Halcrow who spotted a blog post on My Modern Metropolis by Katie Hosmer. It is about a circus theatre company called Acrojou.

The image above is taken from one of their shows, The Wheel House, which is a live performance in which two acrobatic performers entertain audiences with the slow-paced rolling travel of their mobile home. The interior space of the circular home is designed to look just like a normal house, with doors, windows, curtains, pots and pans, and even a bed

There are some great images of the show on Hosmer’s blog post which you can see here.

It worth wander around the company’s website to see what else these extraordinary folk are up to – click on the image below


Hands Up

Roll with me today……there is a bit of a preamble before I get to the heart of my post. One of the many joys of teaching in an international school is that you are not tied to any one national curriculum, which means you can create a programme of study that you know is right for your students. We are currently reviewing the curriculum for our younger students, which is always fun and generates a lot of discussion. We have just decided to include mime mimeagain and it got me thinking about the the form. In the past we used examples from Charlie Chaplin and amongst others, Mr Bean. Thankfully we have moved on from that after we realised the real purpose of teaching mime was to get our students to consider and understand, more generally, the power the actor has to create belief for the audience by simply using their bodies.

What fascinates me is when I first mention mime, students default to this (right) as their understanding!

Now whilst these basic skills are part of mime, they are just that and there is so much more. Yes of course there are a many famous mimes, Marcel Marceau (below) being one of the best known, painted white and doing their thing. But there is so much more to mime and I think this is what should be thinking about as we write our new curriculum.

1431271523_11eb419e08So I got researching and this is my post today – mime in the 21st Century.

There are mime festivals all over the world, for instance, in South Korea, and Poland. Similarly there are mime companies all of the world, E Movement Theater in Japan and Mime India to name but two. Now the reason I say this because mime is often viewed as a western theatrical tradition, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Consider Kathakali, Indian epics told with facial expressions, hand signals and body motions, and Noh with its use of mask work and highly physical performance style. In fact the latter was said to have influenced two of the greatest western mime practitioners, Jacques Copeau and Jacques Lecoq. Even Butoh is considered by some to have its place in a (much) wider definition of mime, although I am not convinced myself.

One of the oldest and most famous mime festivals is the London International Mime Festival that began in 1977 and if you take a trawl through their recent programmes you can see that the definition of mime is far wider than we tend to think. Here are a few examples:

Yeung Fai’s Hand Stories from China


Stan’s Cafe’s The Cardinals from the UK (and old friends of mine)


and Hiroaki Umeda from Japan with two works, Haptic and Holistic Strata



I’ve had the good fortune to see a couple of peices in the last year or so that I would absolutely consider to be from the genre:

LEO by Circle of 11


and Aurélien Bory’s Sans Objet


While I was researching this post I came across a couple of quotes from Nobuko and Terry Press that stuck a chord with me:

Mime is largely a misunderstood art form that needs a chance to redeem itself. This can only be accomplished …….by presenting Mime and Mimes that represent the Art of Mime and not the Tricks of Mime.


The first time I saw the “Robot” I was very impressed myself but when there is a Robot on every corner the impact soon wears off.

I couldn’t agree more. Every time I see one of those street mimes, painted silver, I have an urge to run up and punch them!

There is a world of talented performers out there and most of them are not painted white or silver and they are most definitely not making walls!

Same Same……..

This is a fantastic idea. The Tribeca Film festival in Lower Manhattan is currently underway. As part of this year’s festival the winner of The Bombay Sapphire Imagination Series competition was announced.  The idea was that all entrants based their submission around the same script written by Geoffrey Fletcher. The script had no stage directions and no named/gendered characters and the rest was up to you and your creativity. You can read the script here.  The result is such a great variety of imaginations. Enjoy.


I reckon you could easily do the same with this little play by Heiner Muller:


A May I lay my heart at your feet.

B If you don’t make a mess on my floor..

A My heart is clean..

B We’ll see, won’t we..

A I can’t get it out..

B Would you like me to help you..

A If you wouldn’t mind..

B It’ll be a pleasure. I can’t get it out either..

A cries.

B I will remove it surgically. What have I got this penknife for anyway. We’ll have this sorted out in no time. work will keep you from despair. Right, there we are. But this is a brick. Your heart is a red brick..

A Yes, but it beats only for you..

A beats B to death with the brick..
(Addition, July 1991).


A great little article today about the history of shadow theatre, courtesy of Suite 101 and Cheryn Tan. I’ve added some images and video, and at the bottom of the page are some more comprehensive (and excellent) links.

The History of Shadow Theatre

Shadow plays depict fantastic stories of folklore and mythology, but their stories of origin are equally fascinating as they are vastly differing.

The differences of origins may be attributed – or may contribute – to the fact that the styles and cultural significance of these shadow plays differ from one country to the next. For instance, Chinese shadow plays usually depict history and the aristocracy; Indian plays are of religious significance inspired by epics like Mahabharata and Ramayana; whereas Turkish plays are comedic satires with witty banter.

China – Death of a Beloved

Most experts believe that the art of shadow playing originated from China during the Han Dynasty (206BC to 220AD). As the story goes, the Emperor Wu Han had many concubines, but one whom he loved most. When she died, he was so devastated that he lost interest in life, and neglected all his responsibilities. His councillors tried all they could to revive their ruler, but nothing could abate his sorrow.


Finally, one of the greatest artists of the court created a puppet in the likeness of the emperor’s beloved using donkey leather and painted cloths. He lit a silk screen from behind, and with the movable joints of the puppet he imitated her graceful movements, even speaking with the intonations of her voice. Having his beloved seemingly brought back to life, the emperor was thus comforted and returned to his duties, much to everyone’s relief.

An alternative, though somewhat less romantic, explanation of how shadow theatre originated in China was because ladies were not allowed to watch live theatre performances, hence the most successful shows were staged as shadow plays in female quarters instead.

India – Dancing Gods

The art of shadow puppetry gained prominence in India in the sixteenth century, especially during the reign of King Kona Bhuda Reddy. These puppets are the largest in the shadow performance world; and the plays usually take place outside the temple of Shiva, the patron god of puppets.

According to folklore, in the days when dolls were just crude blocks, there was a toymaker who made dolls with separate jointed limbs. One day, his shop was visited by Lord Shiva and his wife, the Goddess Parvati. Upon catching sight of the dolls, Parvati was so entranced that she asked Shiva to let their spirits enter the dolls so they could dance. After she was tired out, they withdrew their spiritual selves and left. The toymaker, who had been watching the entire scene, was inspired to make the dolls dance again. He strung their limbs together and thus gave life to string puppets.

Turkey – Comedic Satire

Shadow theatre also features in Turkish performance arts, with most performances centred around the main character Karaghiozis. Karaghiozis is usually depicted as an ugly little man with a large nose, humpback and enormous black eyes. The legend behind this Middle Eastern incarnation of shadow plays tells of Karaghiozis and Hazvidad as they were at the construction site of a mosque. Instead of working, they were constantly quarrelling – but their verbal sparring was so amusing that their fellow workers would stop to listen to them, to the point that the completion of the mosque was in jeopardy.


The Sultan that had commissioned the mosque was so livid that he had them executed. Later he regretted his rashness, and summoned his viziers to create puppets in their likeness, to perform their humorous squabbles as entertainment for the masses.

Besides China, India and Turkey, shadow plays are still highly popular in more than 20 countries around the world, including Indonesia, Malaysia and France. Their styles and cultural significance may differ, but one thing they invariably share is that they provide hours of entertainment for the audience.


A much more comprehensive source on all kinds of Indian puppetry can be found here. A great resource.

One for Turkish shadow puppetry can be found here.  Again, a great resource.

And a super one here on Chinese shadow puppetry


Pay Per View

I came across the Houghton Library Blog recently. The Houghton Library is where Harvard keeps it’s rare books and manuscripts, mostly relating to American, Continental, and English history and literature, but with a special concentration on, amongst other things, theatre. This blog entry is about the history of theatre tickets, which I found curiously fascinating, so I thought you might too:

Tickets? Please!

From the perspective of today’s theatregoer, the current method of admission seems like a forgone conclusion: pay ahead of time for a ticket entitling you to a specific seat for a specific performance. But it wasn’t always this way, as evidenced by a wide range of ephemera in the Harvard Theatre Collection. Surveying even one city and time period (London from the Restoration through the late 19th century) is illustrative of a very different set of practices.

In the playhouses, theatregoers pressed together before the performance, often in a tumultuous crowd, to purchase metal checks for the pit and galleries…………..After purchase, doorkeepers for the respective sections of the house collected the checks, allowing admittance. The only available seats were on unnumbered benches, and crowds larger than the available seating area were routinely admitted, meaning checks did not necessarily guarantee a seat, let alone a specific one. After many Continental theatres adopted a system of limiting ticket sales to the available seating, some English theatregoers clamored for the same practice, but [this] didn’t become standard until 1884.

check4Unlike the pit and galleries, a seat in one of the boxes could be reserved ahead of time for a percentage of the cost, but those who arrived too late might lose their claim to it, as indicated on an 1820s box seat ticket for Astley’s Royal Amphitheatre.

KIC0000031The opera houses also used metal checks for admission to the pit and galleries. Ivory season tickets were issued to box subscribers, however, with the names of the subscribers inscribed on the reverse.

ivory1One type of event did rely on paper tickets issued for a specific performance. Benefit nights allowed recipients to keep a percentage of the night’s profits. The recipients paid for and sold the tickets themselves. Because the proceeds from these sales accounted for a substantial amount of their yearly income, recipients employed a variety of techniques to discourage forgery, such as signing tickets, assigning serial numbers, and affixing seals. Recipients with more income at their disposal could produce elaborate tickets, including ornate engravings, sometimes by notable artists……

KIC0000021In addition to checks and paper tickets, theatre employees also issued written admission known as “orders.” Orders might be given to influential people and the press, or used to fill out the house on slow nights (hence the term “papering the house”). Performers also gave orders to friends and benefactors, who would by custom support the actor’s benefit performances by purchasing those tickets at a higher than standard price.


Theatre Apps

Something a little different today.  I’ve been looking at what’s available in the iPad app store for theatre people (free and paid for), and there is a surprising mix so I thought I’d share a few of them with you.  First my favourite in terms of design:

Evernote Camera Roll 20130519 141459Played in Britain: Modern Theatre in 100 plays, 1945-2010

This is a beautiful interactive book that looks at plays that have been performed in the UK from 1945 to 2010. It isn’t just about British plays either – any thing that was performed during that period.  Reviews, interviews, production photographs and so on. Suffice to say I bought it.


Basically just an ebook, but beautifully illustrated, on the history of Chinese theatre.

Chinese Theater for iPad

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For you techies out there are a number of magazines you can get for free:

Lighting and Sound America

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Make-up Artist Magazine

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For all things techie Stage Directions Magazine

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Now this is a super organisational app for stage managers, ShowTool SM

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An app to write plays with called, not surprisingly, Playwriter

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Now there are a few line-learning apps out there. This is one of the free ones, My Lines Lite

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And finally a series of free little apps that bring various forms of Asian puppet theatre to the iPad, Shadow Play Wayang Kulit

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Human Rites

As I have mentioned recently, I have been doing a lot of thinking about the place of ritual in society and therefore in theatre. Being an educator, your life is dominated by ritual of sorts – the cyclical passing of the school year, graduation ceremonies and so 1340009907_59031on. As I write this, outside my windows, down in the bay, are the sounds of a Dragon Boat festival which celebrates the death of Qu Yuan, with the accompanying rhythmic drumming and traditional Chinese instruments. Again, ritual!

A week or so ago, I watched a TV documentary from the BBC entitled Feasts in which a writer, Stefan Gates, makes a journey across India to discover how feasts and celebration divide – and bring together – a turbulent nation that can be riven by religious tension and extremes of wealth. In it, he visits a society Hindu wedding in Rajasthan, which is outrageous in its extravagance, expense and show of wealth. Gates then travels to Kerala and experiences the Onam Festival, a Hindu celebration that brings this massive state of millions of people together, Hindu and Christian, rich and poor alike. Ritual.

I’m a regular visitor to India. I love the country , it’s people and all that it embodies, but I have never really explored why I have that affinity. Gates’ documentary made me come to a realisation – it is the ritual that exists in every aspect of the country’s life, and at every level, whether you are millionaire businessman in Bombay (my Indian friends tell me off when I use Mumbai), or a Dalit in Punjab. The difference between where ritual ends, performance begins and indeed, when it then turns in celebration, is all very blurred. Daily life feels like theatre in India. I’ve witnessed weddings in a tiny Maharashtran village, Uksan, that last for Holi, The Festival of Colors, Indiadays and combine ritual, performance and celebration in a cacophony of sound and colour. I think most people are familiar with the Hindu Festival of Holi – loud brash and immensely vibrant. And the fireworks! Indians seem to manage to squeeze fireworks into every event.

Gates’ programme itself is of course making a wider social comment about the immense kathakali2disparity between wealth and poverty in India. But he finds himself taken aback because in Kerala, The Onam Festival crosses all cultural boundaries, including religious ones. This is not a suprise, Kerala was on the old spice route and is a real mixture of east and west. Onam lasts ten days and includes many traditional dance and theatre forms including Kathakali and Puli Kali (Tiger Dance). The latter is pure popular theatre and Gates himself described it as intoxicating and an extraordinary experience. Again, Ritual.

So back to Artaud. Artaudian theatre is, by its very nature, a ritualistic theatre. It is intended to be full of passion and emotion in order to provoke an emotional reaction from the audience. It is intended to be void of rationality in order to probe at the mental status quo of the audience. The idea of the theatre is to appeal to the five senses and rarely anything else.

In an excellent post on Suite 101, David Porter talks about ritual as a key ingredient in performance.

Physical Theatre: Ritual is Key Ingredient in Performance-Making

Life’s rhythms revolve round rituals: daily tasks, birthdays, weddings and funerals. In creating meaning on stage, performers harness the power of rites.

Almost everything people do regularly has a ritualistic feel. Getting dressed every morning, preparing/sharing food, anniversaries, courtships, conducting business and great occasions of state – are rituals, patterns of regular human behaviour. Often, social convention rites/rituals dictate further ritual: for example, shaking hands on greeting, waving goodbye. Devisers of performance must reflect that in their creating. Then they have to experiment with it.

In psychiatry an action performed obsessively can be interpreted as evidence of compulsive disorder. It is often revealed in manic dance. A ritualistic dance or going through the regular motions of a life with all its tasks, may be called a rite. However, physical theatre practitioners use dance as but one element in the creative and experimenting process.

There is religious ritual as well as secular, a set of ceremonial actions like public worship, hallowed by time. Public performance and spectacle from the ancient Greeks

PentheusMediumto Medieval Mystery plays have drawn on religious imagery and symbolism to tell stories with messages. Performance is the enactment or creation of a version of myth, belief or historical event. It may be political, personal, social but it reflects human life through dance, drama, music or a mix of all three, performing arts.

Ritual in Performance Arenas

In ancient times, the sacrifices and appeasement of various deities informed crowd behaviour which became rites which became absorbed into theatrical convention……..Nowadays, sporting events like boxing, wrestling, football, cricket, rugby, baseball are played out in often circular spaces, a large audience around, perhaps increased by television viewers, and although it’s sport, it’s also entertaining spectacle that stirs strong emotions. The same applies to bull-fighting,…….. Son et Lumiere events, some street theatre activities and circus, whether people like the genre or not. When the floodlights go on, the event is heightened into pure theatre.

Evernote Camera Roll 20130517 150236[1]The New Zealand national rugby union team ritualistically precede games with the ka mata haka, a traditional Maori dance. This combines ancient warrior practice with psychological advantage for the participants by noh4demoralising opponents through a dance performance.In Japanese Noh theatre, slow, deliberate, ritualistic, symbolic movement characterises theatrical tale-telling, unchanged for centuries.

The theory that theatre originated in ritual was accepted by such practitioners as Jerzy Grotowsky (Polish), Peter Brook (English, but mainly resident in France), Arian Mnouchkine (French), Eugenio Barba (Italian) and Richard Schechner (American), all of whom have contributed ritual elements into theatre performance to restore its lifeblood at different times. Schechner has said that while performance is an inclusive term, theatre is one node on a continuum that reaches from the ritualisations of animals through life’s everyday rites to performances of great magnitude.

Artaud and Theatre of Cruelty

Attending traditional theatre has rituals of its own: tickets, ordering drinks, programmes, lights down, usually polite attention to the performance. Listening to a concert is similar, plus the convention of no-clapping between movements. Bertold Brecht broke traditions with his making strange (verfremsdungseffeckt), forcing audiences to know they’re watching performance by actors demonstrating a viewpoint.

Physical theatre tends to break old traditions. Antonin Artaud, (1896-1948) led with theories about assaulting the senses of the audience. His Theatre of Cruelty, total theatre ideas were heavily influenced by surrealism, oriental theatre, Balinese theatre, masks, magic and myth, colour, balicultureMS_428x269_to_468x312rhythm, sound, ritual, ceremony, spectacle, psychoanalysis, the drugs he took and the mental illnesses he suffered from.

He explored the cruelty of existence rather than mere bloodshed or torture, the works he devised attacked spectators’ subconscious to release deep-rooted fears that they normal suppress and made them face their inner reality. The technique is both derided and imitated today. Anything in-yer-face, from the dark psychosis is broadly Artaud, and useful in physical theatre creation. To be ‘Artaudian’ means to risk everything in an experimental performance, acknowledging ritual or not. His name now signifies the theatre of scream, despair and inner torment.

One group who are exponents of physical theatre, risking through experimentation, challenging the traditional stage/performer/audience settings, are London-based Complicite. Founded in 1983, this is a constantly evolving Complicites-Shun-kin-002ensemble of performers and creators. Artistic Director, Simon McBurney, says that there is no Complicite method, but collaboration is essential. They constantly incorporate new stimuli, new integrations of music, text, image, visual art and action to create what he calls disruptive theatre.

Experiments arising from ritual produce fruit in the devising process. Most people are unaware they‘re partaking in minor daily rituals, but are deeply conscious of the great rites of life. Physical theatre, draws on that great force to create and experiment and so adds to the richness of that life they are celebrating, examining, exploring and fulfilling.

If you are feeling adventurous, there is a great chapter here titled RITUAL IN THEATRE (Ritual concepts in Artaud and Grotowski), which is taken from a PhD dissertation written by H. Sadasivan Pilla, which is really interesting. The dissertation itself, The Uses and Functions of Rituals in Malaylam – their relevance to the ritual concepts in the theatre of Artaud and Grotowski, focuses on the performance traditions of Kerala (where Mayayalam is the spoken language).

So that kind of brings me to a neat end, full circle, if you wish.

Voices from the Heavens

Oh my goodness.  Every now and again I stumble across an amazing web-based resource that makes me wonder how I had managed to miss it before. I’d like to introduce you to:

CaptureIt is what it says it is – an archive of recorded interviews with theatre practitioners of all kinds. It was started in 2003 and is now supported by various museums and drama colleges with a growing archive of material which will be preserved for posterity.  All the recordings are tagged extensively, so it is easy to find things that are relevant to you. Click the banner above to access the homepage.

150257108_bf938d9394_mI’m going to start off by sharing an interview with Yang Quin and Mary Anne O’Donnell who are the two founder members of Fat Bird Theatre Company. They talk to Mary Mazzilli about what it’s like to make theatre in Shenzhen-Guangdong, the oldest and fastest-growing Special Economic Zone in China. This is the only independent theatre company that promotes experimentation and internationalism; they focus on social changes and are dedicated to transforming Chinese theatre through experimental workshops, guerrilla performances and stage drama. You can access the recordings here.


My musings on what consitutes theatre continue and it would seem I am not the only one.  My favourite theatre writer, Lyn Gardner, wrote this piece last week.  While it is about the performance scene in the UK, she makes her point clearly.

Don’t box me in: why label art forms?

Is it theatre? Dance? An installation, or a pop gig? Artists are smashing boundaries – and audiences are keen to explore

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been to Wales to see Tir Sir Gar, which was as much tea party and installation as theatre, and Praxis Makes Perfect, as much immersive pop gig as immersive theatre. I saw Hofesh Shechter’s brilliant early works Uprising and the Art of Not Looking Back – quite clearly dance pieces. Or were they? Much of the choreographic language would be both familiar and thrilling to anyone interested in contemporary experimental theatre.


I also went on a self-guided walk (I self-guided into a bollard) around London’s Covent Garden, during one of Scary Little Girls’ and Naomi Paxton’s Living Literature Walks, which encompass live performance along the way. Was it a literary walk, or was it a theatre show that simply used the city and buildings as a vast stage-history soaked backdrop to explore the work of the Actresses Franchise League? Then there’s NoFitState’s circus show, Bianco which is currently touring across the country. Theatre, dance or neither? Oscar Mike’s the Situation Room. Game or theatre? Daniel Bye’s The Price of Everything.


Performance or economics lecture? Does it even matter?

Boundaries are being swept away and so are the expectations of audiences who are much more likely to be cultural nomads than they were just few years ago. The internet means that we are all much more likely to know what is happening across the arts and not just in our chosen art form. Even the old allegiances to venues are dying away, particularly when the most exciting events are as likely to take place in a warehouse or old building as they are in an opera house or purpose-built theatre.

Punchdrunk’s co-production of The Duchess of Malfi with ENO [English National Opera] may have been called an “opera”, but I bet that most of the audience didn’t much care. As far as they were concerned it was Punchdrunk, and it was this that drew them to Great Eastern Quay, just as The Drowned Man will draw thousands to the formerly secret location just next to London’s Paddington station.


Capture2Many of those may not even think that it’s theatre.

For other audiences, Neon Neon was the obvious draw for National Theatre of Wales’s Praxis Makes Perfect, which is touring later this month again, but for others it could be the involvement of director Wils Wilson or playwright Tim Price. It is the artists that increasingly engender loyalty, not the institution that produces them. And whether it’s called dance or theatre or opera doesn’t really concern the audience, and may even get in the way of them giving it a try.

But many newspapers and websites – including the Guardian – still classify and review by art form; Arts Council England still mostly funds on that basis; and many companies and buildings still define themselves by a predominant art form and pigeonhole events by art category. In the 21st century much of the most interesting work being made completely defies categorisation. That’s exactly what makes it so thrilling. So why continue to try and box it in?

It’s worth checking out the posts that followed her article for a few other perspectives