I have become obsessed lately with very physical theatre. It started with the barest mention of Meyerhold’s Biomechanics in a theatre history class. In England, and then at a later internship in Seattle, I started learning about “outside-in” acting, which uses physical expressions of emotions as the basis of internal emotional reaction — the opposite of the Stanislavsky/American method acting, which has of late become far too self-obsessed, and can create too much mental and emotional stress on most actors. I have read a couple of books by the esteemed Paul Ekman, one of the founding fathers on the study of facial expressions and their universality.
This obsession has culminated recently with Lingo Dance’s performance a couple of weeks ago of “A Glimmer of Hope or Skin or Light,” a show that two weeks later I am still helpless to describe. It was advertised as a glam rock musical, and it did feature a local glam rock band (who was fantastic), and lots of glitter and feathers and gender-bending and sensuality and scantily-clad actor/dancers. But the show was so incredibly dynamic that words continue to fail me. Most of the audience at ACT’s Cabaret space didn’t have seats, which was okay because the action flowed into different scenes scattered across the space, so we had to get up and follow them to each one. I assume each of us had a different interpretation of events, since there was no distinct plot, but basically what I got out of it was a sense of a self-indulgent heavenly host, four dirty mortals who fought and raped each other, united long enough to attack heaven and demand, then plead, for retribution, be refused and subjected to further punishment, then after some time the queen of heaven sees things from their point of view and sympathizes. Sounds kind of silly, but the ending was so emotionally overwhelming that I was speechless for two days. The fighting, particularly between two male dancers, was so fast it seemed improvised, but since it is dancing and doing things like flinging yourself onto someone’s back are actually quite dangerous to both of you, I assume the fights were choreographed. But they looked dangerous and spiteful. There was an insinuated rape, that went from loving caressing to violence right before our eyes. It was a hard show to watch, but so impossibly beautiful and ethereal and real, while obviously being a work of art. It is not a mirror of reality, but a mirror of our deepest selves.
So physical theatre can tell an incredible story without words. Words make us too intellectual and don’t affect us deeply enough, many a time.
That said, Freehold Studios is offering a Meyerhold Biomechanics class this summer. I am desperately hoping to raise the funds for it so I can apply early registration. It’s something I’ve always wanted to study, and my brain is in that place, moving away from conventional forms of theatre. Regardless, I think it will make me a better director.
Here’s some YouTube videos of insane biomechanics’ actors, physical theatre, and dancers.