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How to use physicality in acting?

As someone immersed in the performing arts, you might wonder how to harness physicality in acting. It's hard to capture and explain all the nuances in words alone. The real magic happens in practice. After all, delving into physicality is best done through the body itself. Since you're reading this message and can't physically engage, let me try to elucidate a couple of points in this informational email.

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Well, let's kick off with why actors need to leverage their physicality on stage in the first place. Of course, we're not talking about their mere presence here😁 We're referring to gestures, movement on stage, using their bodies as instruments to convey meanings, emotions, and subtexts to the audience, utilizing the body rather than just the text. Because let's face it, if the audience only wanted to hear the text, they'd opt for a podcast or crack open a book instead of heading to the theater. Theatre is about something else entirely—it's about conveying meanings through visual imagery and actions.

To convincingly portray a role, an actor must be able to physically embody that character. This entails understanding how the character moves, speaks, and interacts with their surroundings. For instance, if an actor is playing a nobleman, they might habitually keep their right hand near their hip without moving it, because noblemen of that era often carried a sword and would naturally keep their hand near it. While this specific detail might not necessarily be used on stage, incorporating such physicality allows performers to better connect with their audience and more fully flesh out their character. Understanding how a character moves, talks, and interacts with their environment helps artists grasp the character they're portraying and communicate that understanding to the audience.

However, the use of physicality in acting can take on an entirely different dimension. For instance, you're likely familiar with physical theatre. Perhaps you've heard of companies like DV8, Complicite, or Frantic Assembly. These companies are renowned for developing unique styles of physical theatre to tell their stories. For example, some works by DV8 entirely eschew on-stage dialogue; what you see is movement, music, mime, and off-stage voices, all working in tandem to narrate a tale.

Moments of physical theatre can be spotted in numerous theatrical works, always adding a special "flavor" and meaning to the performance. It could be movement interludes used between scenes to propel the narrative forward, or a sequence of movements that abruptly interrupts a scene. Or perhaps all characters in a play use stylized gestures during a naturalistic piece. Each of these instances carries its own significance, intriguing the audience to observe and decipher.

Ask yourself, why were these movement moments included? What do they add to the story?

👉 What tools can help develop an actor's physicality?

  • The first step in mastering physical expression is developing acute awareness of your own body. Practices like yoga, Pilates, the Alexander Technique, and Theatre Biomechanics of Vs. Mejerhold can enhance your flexibility, and body awareness, making it easier to manipulate your body to convey specific emotions and actions.

  • Each character has their own unique way of moving. Remember the example with the nobleman? Experiment with different walking styles, sitting postures, and gestures to discover what best suits the character you're portraying. This technique is particularly useful for directors and choreographers as they guide actors and dancers in their roles.

  • Use of space: How a performer uses space can significantly impact the audience's perception. Practice using various levels and areas of the stage or performance space to convey different emotions and dynamics.

  • Physical expression has dynamics. Changing the intensity, speed, and scale of movements can convey different emotions and add depth to the performance. Movement workshops can be extremely beneficial for all performers.

  • Physical expression is often most potent in an ensemble, where performers must react and adapt to each other. Regular improvisation sessions can help build nonverbal rapport among performers, making their interaction more natural and compelling.

👉 And here are a couple of practical exercises for group work:

  • Mirror exercise: Pair up with another performer and mirror each other's movements. This exercise fosters empathy and understanding between performers, essential for synchronized physical expression.

  • Emotional walks: Walk across the room as if you're carrying different emotions. This helps understand how emotions can influence physical form and vice versa.

  • Character gesture development: Create a repertoire of gestures specific to your character that can be consistently used throughout the performance. This not only helps in character consistency but also makes them recognizable and memorable for the audience.

Using your body to tell stories is an integral part of being an actor and performer, and studying the physical skills of theatre is a wonderful addition to your toolkit. It's such a portable skill, and you truly reap the rewards throughout your future work.


To acquire these and other skills, we invite you to Berlin on 9-11 August 2024. An intensive three-day workshop designed for actors, dancers, choreographers, and directors awaits. It is ideal for those looking to sharpen their professional skills and connect with peers and industry professionals, expanding their creative network.


This is the last chance to join the International Theatre Workshop in Berlin.

We also invite you to use the special promo code NIPAI/3-DAYS when registering to join the workshop with a 40% savings. Only 4 spots left with the promo code.

Thank you for your time! We hope this information has been helpful to you.


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