Mark Hill is a physical theatre artist and educator who has worked with a range of drama students at Tanglin over a number of years. He has recently completed a two-week residency where he worked with Year 9-13 drama students on the physical performance element of their courses and Year 7+ CCAs (Co-Curricular Activities) on their upcoming production of The Odyssey.
Mark has worked with innovative international theatre companies such as Zen Zen Zo (Australia), SU-EN Butoh Company (Sweden), and Dairakudakan (Japan) and is a visiting educator at International Schools around the world.
Here he tells us about physical theatre techniques and the importance of body language across all walks of life.
What is physical theatre?
Physical theatre is where the body is used as the primary tool to communicate with an audience, rather than text or word. 60% of how we express ourselves is through the body, 30% is tone of voice, and only the last 10% is what you say. So, whether you are performing in front of an audience, or chatting across a table at lunch or in a corridor at work, your posture and how you express yourself through the body, face and gesture is the primary way we communicate. Physical theatre is like sport for the creative child, it's a safe way for them to express themselves physically in a non-competitive environment.
How have you been working with the Tanglin CCA drama students?
In the CCA drama groups, we have been working on the physicality of their performance of The Odyssey, which they will be performing early next year. The students are creating all the choreography themselves. They come up with it, decide which elements they want to go with and teach it – it's a self-devised piece. We, the 'teachers', facilitate that process, we edit and sequence.
What techniques do you use to facilitate their creative process?
We give them what we call 'exquisite pressure'. This is a positive pressure, they have to be up on their feet and creating within a certain time so as not to over think it, to just do it, to follow their instincts rather than talking about it. They trust and follow their gut responses – these are always the most natural and real.
How have you been working with our (I)GCSE, A level and IB drama students?
Through a series of workshops where we looked at methods such as Butoh and Suzuki from Japan, Kecak from Bali and The Viewpoints from the US. The students are given skills, which they then apply to the creation of work. Skills in spatial relationship, shape, architecture and gesture are used to create physical compositions based on themes they are studying in class. An example of using architecture would be to explore how to use a chair, not only in a realistic way but also in abstract and symbolic ways.
Tell us a bit about methods from different theatre cultures
Butoh is about using the imagination and sense memory to explore new ways that the body can move. Try this: imagine you have 100 kg weights on your shoulders, a butterfly beating its wings in your right hand, ropes tied around your knees, the light is so bright you can barely see and you have no teeth, only gums. You use images to create the quality of a character – in this case, an old man.
What do you hope the students will take away from this experience?
The biggest gift is opening their eyes to new ways of seeing the world, to an appreciation of theatre across cultures, not just European, so they can draw on traditions from around the world. There are so many third culture children here; their reference points should reflect this diversity.
Also, that they gain confidence to take ownership of their work and to get up and express themselves. We are often comfortable talking about things but not about getting up and doing it. In physical theatre, we try to create an environment safe enough to allow that to happen – to work creatively, productively and happily with others, drawing on each other's strengths and helping with weaknesses – so we gain a better understanding of ourselves and working in teams. Ultimately, it's about finding comfort in the unknown.
Has anything surprised you about the last two weeks?
The students' level of excellence, their readiness to step out of their comfort zones and take risks is a credit to the positive learning environment at Tanglin.
"Mark worked with us on the devising element of our GCSE drama course, which is 20% of our grade. He helped us to act on our initial thoughts and ideas, to get straight up on our feet and elaborate from there." Anna Kattoulas, Year 11 GCSE Drama
"Mark gave us the confidence to create quickly based on four skills. Although we started with random ideas, everything looked so professional when we put it together at the end!" Caitlin Boyle, Year 11 GCSE Drama