Zen Zen Zo Physical Theatre Workshop in Armidale

Published 09 September 2009

sillhouettesAs part of the preparation for a radical new production based on Shakespeare’s Richard III, UNE Theatre Studies has hosted an inspiring two-day physical-theatre workshop by the director of the highly successful and innovative Australian theatre company Zen Zen Zo, Lynne Bradley, and Zen Zen Zo company member Krystal Hart.

Lynne Bradley is a much sought-after international director and teacher, and Theatre Studies was fortunate that she was able to find time to fly to Armidale for the weekend-she has just returned from a tour with her company to the Edinburgh Festival where their new production Zeitgeist was enthusiastically received by sell-out audiences and attracted rave reviews from the Scottish press. She is about to leave for Hong Kong to direct a production of Amadeus.

The weekend workshop introduced students to a range of innovative theatre training techniques designed to enable actors to perform characters at the limits of their endurance, both physically and emotionally. The training methods include the system devised by Japanese director and trainer Suzuki Tadashi, as well as the Japanese dance form Butoh. The work is rigorous and highly physical, giving trained actors the levels of strength and fitness usually associated with elite athletes. Lynn Bradley quotes the visionary playwright and actor Antonin Artaud’s observation that actors need to be athletes of the emotions-which requires them to be physically fit and flexible as well.

The Zen Zen Zo workshop was funded by an award to the staff of UNE Theatre Studies by the Carrick Institute (now the Australian Teaching and Learning Council) in recognition of their excellent teaching of theatre. It gave students insights into vital performance skills, stimulating the imagination and encouraging actors to take creative risks without fear of failure.

“This training would be hugely beneficial to all students, whether or not they are interested in performing on stage” said Adrian Kiernander, Professor of Theatre Studies at UNE.

The workshop was part of the rehearsals for a unique production of Richard III.

“Most productions focus on the character of Richard,” Prof Kiernander said, “often cutting the lines of many of the minor characters, or omitting some roles altogether. Many of these minor characters are the women in the play, and their removal robs the script of many of its finest moments of drama and poetry.”

“This production radically redresses the balance by not having Richard appear on stage at all, and cutting most of his lines. This allows the audience to focus exclusively, for once, on parts of the play which are unfairly neglected, the characters of Richard’s victims. These provide fascinating theatrical studies of grief, loss, anger, cursing and revenge. They include moments of ritual and supernatural elements, including the intervention of the ghosts of those Richard has murdered.”

“The great French theatre director Charles Dullin lamented that the theatre of the 20th century had forgotten how to portray gods. In the 21st century, with the popularity among younger people of films and books about magic, actors need to rediscover the supernatural; to learn how to perform curses, play ghosts and represent characters who exist in places beyond the experience of ordinary mortals, without the special effects used in film.”

The production of Richard III will have two performances only, on Wednesday 9 and Thursday 10 September in the Arts Theatre at UNE. It will start at 7.30 and run for about an hour. It is directed by Adrian Kiernander and Ruth Thompson.