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Writing ‘the Body’: reconsidering physicality through ‘French’ theatre discourse

By Eve Wedderburn


Against the backdrop of a “uniquely literary” (Harvie, 2006: 113 heritage of theatre in Britain, in the last quarter century, “physical theatre has become embedded in the language of educationalists, actor trainers and their students” (Murray and Keefe, 2007b: 2) However, in the context of the Western analytic tradition ‘the body’ has been positioned in binary opposition to thought, text, rationale and language (Leder, 1990: 1-5). This study considers the entrenchment of a dualist structure of the body and the reification of this by embodiment itself, in order to formulate the question: in what way can the/my/a body enter discourses? In order to explore this question, I consider in detail the work of Jacques Copeau, Jacques Lecoq and Ariane Mnouchkine; practitioners whose work is consistently associated with and cited by contemporary British practitioners of ‘physical theatre’. Arguing for a specific lineage of theatrical practice, I trace the ways in which their work foregrounds and manages notions of the embodiment of theatre practice and suggest that the shared practices of those three practitioners resist the dualistic conceptual structuring that would place ‘the body’ in opposition to text, rationale and thought and by extension the ‘literary’ theatre of Britain. In a context in which the body has been “relegated to a mere supporting role to the word, […] regarded as vulgar or simply a means to an end” (Murray and Keefe, 2007a: 3), I consider the implications and contingencies of the attempt to bring ‘the body’ into the discourse of UK theatre practic

Topics: PN, PN2000
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  1. [R]ules are imposed very quickly: […] absolute silence in the hall, attentive observation of everything that happens on stage (apprenticeship involves looking as much as acting, Mnouchkine sharply reminds us at various moments).
  2. (2002). 17-81; Murray and Keefe (2007a: 2); Zarrilli
  3. (1986). A chronology appears in Rudlin
  4. contemporary theatre practice, government, globalisation, American cultural imperialism, rightwing politics, leftist theatre makers, city planners, town clerks and so forth
  5. (1999). Contrary to what we believe, psychology does not pull toward the interior, but toward the interior mask.’ Mnouchkine in
  6. (1997). Copeau had been involved in a non-professional sense in an adaptation staged by Theatre des Arts.
  7. (1990). Copeau quoted by Louis Jouvet in Rudlin and Paul doi
  8. For example feminisms; structural and post-structuralism; theories of inter/ multiculture; post-colonial theory and phenomenology.
  9. (1980). for example Lakoff and Johnson
  10. (1990). for example Leder
  11. (1996). for example,
  12. In the Theatre du Soleil, psychology has negative connotations: ‘psychological’ acting is a criticism.
  13. (1990). p. 3 The education available was roundly criticized and classes were not own beliefs and aspirations.
  14. (1990). Paul suggest: ‘Copeau’s choice of title can be traced to his great admiration for Molière’ (Rudlin and Paul
  15. (2006). See for example Evans
  16. (2007). See for example Harvie (2005); Murray and Keefe
  17. (2006). See for example Miller
  18. Such a list might include: Dullin, Etienne Decroux, the Dastés and Michel Saint-Denis, all of whom founded successful schools and companies, continuing the pedagogical/ performance line that began with Copeau and the Vieux Colombier.
  19. Such a list might include: Theatre de Complicité, The Footsbarn Travelling Theatre, and Mnouchkine’s work with Theatre du Soleil
  20. Text appears on back cover of the paperback copy of The Moving Body
  21. The ‘auto-cours’ is self directed student work, which since its inception during the 1968 student-led civil unrest in Paris, has formed an important part of the Theatre School’s curriculum
  22. (2002). The Art of Stillness: The Theatre practice of Tadashi Suzuki doi
  23. The idea that cognitive leaps – even those constructed whilst the body is apparently absolutely still
  24. (1987). The seemingness of this arbritray quality is dealt with in some detail by George Lakoff in his book Women, Fire and Dangerous Things: What Categories Tell Us abouth the Human Mind (Lakoff
  25. These contexts include, but are not limited to, the British education system which regularly and blithely employs literature graduates to fill performing arts teaching posts
  26. This collection is held by a library in the Marais in Paris, the ’Bibliothèque Historique de la ville de

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