Physical Acting

Lesson 5: Physical Acting


Objective: Students will be able to demonstrate their ability to incorporate interesting and abstract movement by creating a 30 second physical theatre piece using their scripts.



TH:Pr5.1.II.a. Refine a range of acting skills to build a believable and sustainable drama/theatre performance.

TH: Re7.1.II.a. Demonstrate an understanding of multiple interpretations of artistic criteria and how each might be used to influence future artistic choices of a drama/theatre work.

TH:Cn11.2.II.a. Formulate creative choices for a devised or scripted drama/theatre work based on theatre research about the selected topic.


Materials: laptop & videos, Magic Box signs, content-less scenes


Preparation: upload videos, print magic box signs and content-less scenes.


Starter: “Does all acting have to be realistic? Why or why not?” (10 minutes)

After a minute or two, allow them to give some of their ideas out loud. Have a short discussion about this. Then explain that we are going to focus on physical theatre today. Contrary or in line to what you may have thought, physical theatre is a type of theatre that does not rely on realism, or realistic movement. Here is a definition.

  • Physical theatre is a form of performance in which movement and physicality of the body has a predominant part in the narrative of a piece. This type of theatre often has close links with contemporary dance, Comedia dell’arte and mime. (



Let’s watch an example!


Hook: Watch Robin Hood (10 minutes)



  1. What is unique about this?
  2. In what ways did they use their bodies to communicate things to us as an audience?
  3. How is this different than psycho-physical acting?



There are many ways to approach physical theatre. One of the ways, is through viewpoints, which we have already studied. So, in way you are all kind of experts already! In your theatre 1 class, each of you studied pantomime as well. Even though there are many different theories we could dive into, but instead we are going to build and expand upon the ones you already know.

For your notes, the principles we are going to focus on today are

  1. Pantomime
  2. Abstract movement
  3. Viewpoints



Let’s start with pantomime! Can someone describe what this is?


Warm-Up: Magic Box (10 minutes)

Purpose: To warm them up to using their bodies to show different objects and emotions.

Step 1: Gesture for the students to come on the stage, and get into a circle. Pantomime everything. Then show the following signs or placards:

  1. In front of me there is a box!
  2. It is a magic box!
  3. It is magic because it is invisible.
  4. It is also magic because it can hold ANYTHING inside it.
  5. (Think Mary Poppins.)
  6. Each of us gets to choose something from the box…
  7. And show the rest of the class what it is.
  8. Do not talk or make noise while you do so.
  9. I’ll go first!

Step 2: Demonstrate pantomiming taking something out the box, making sure to take your time and be very specific. Take something obvious out- like a baseball and bat. When you are done, pantomime passing the box to the student next to you.



  1. What are some important rules of pantomime that we should remember as we continue to explore physical movement?


Activity 1: Making objects, sets, and settings with our bodies and voices. (10 minutes)

Purpose: to practice using abstract movement to make concrete things.

Step 1: Have the students begin walking around the space. Explain that you are going to call out a setting of a story, then say 1-2-3 Go. When the teacher says go, the students will all begin making some kind of gesture, movement, or still image that they feel represents that setting. We are going to start by exploring ways our bodies can do this. Let’s try it. The first setting is: Mountain. As you are walking think about the different sounds you would hear, the different animals that would be there, and the different activities that would be happening there. Think about the different shapes you would see. Ready? 1-2-3- Go!

Step 2: Continue doing your gesture, movement, or still image, but now find a way that all of you can be doing your movements and images together, making one mountain. Maybe find people who are doing similar things. The goal is to unite the class in making one mountain.

Step 3: Do the same for a beach, a tropical ocean, and a corn field. Direct students in how they can make a more cohesive setting.



  1. What is the benefit of using our bodies to show settings and props instead of using backdrops, physical props, etc.?



Physical theatre is also about finding ways to express things by utilizing the expressive powers of our body. Viewpoints is a great way to do this. We are going to play around with viewpoints again, but we are going to do so in a more abstract way than we have before. Go ahead and return to your seats because I want to show you one more video quickly.


Instruction 1: Abstract movement (15 minutes)

Can someone define abstract movement?

  • Movement that carries a lot of meaning (explores themes, denotes places, activities, etc.) but isn’t realistic.

Step 1: (If time) Watch Tightrope dance (3:00-4:45)

Preface video. This is a short scene created for a community outreach project called “Built.” It is all about the challenges Americans face when trying to find a place to live, including poverty, prejudice, food deserts, etc. It was created as part of an interactive game to raise awareness about these issues. Here we see two people trying to pick out a house.



  1. In what ways did they use their bodies to express themes, and abstract emotions?


Activity 2: Practice Abstract movement.

Step 1: Have the students get onto the stage again, and find a partner. Tell them that I want them to find a frozen image with their partner to express, “anger.” Take a minute to think or discuss it. Ready? 1-2-3 Go!

Step 2: Now find another way, a less natural or realistic way to express anger. Take a minute to think/discuss it. Ready? 1-2-3 Go!

Step 3: Now let’s try expressing heartbroken. You can decide one character is heartbroken if that makes it easier. Take a minute to think/discuss. Ready? 1-2-3 Go!

Step 4: Now try another way of showing this.

*Give the students feedback. Make sure to let them know if they are doing abstract, symbolic movement as opposed to realistic movement.

Step 5: Give feedback.


Assessment/Activity 3: Expressive movement and gestures (25 minutes)

Purpose: To practice using their bodies to make abstract things.

We are now going to practice using abstract movement a text. Remember, this can include pantomime, but it should be much more than that. Think of the symbolic movement in the Tightrope video.

Step 1: Get into your groups for the final scene. With your partner, discuss ways in which movement could be a part of your scene. Are there climatic moments that could be portrayed through movement? (Ex. Fights, disagreements, realizations, etc.) Are there ways you could use the body to show the environment? Think about how you can incorporate the viewpoints.

Step 2: Make a decision, and begin choreographing and practicing! Remember, what you choreograph must be able to fit within the scene.

Step 3: You have 10 minutes to figure out a way to tell this story (or part of the story) with abstract movement. It isn’t a silent scene, but the narrative should be told via movement and not words. It doesn’t need to be long, only 30 seconds to 1 minute in length.

  • If they are having a hard time finding a place to start, instruct them to create still images of major climatic moments, or of high emotional moments. Then find ways to bridge those images together with movement.

Step 4: Allow each group to perform. Give written feedback of how they are doing.



  1. What are the pros and cons of this acting method?


Assessment Scoring: Students will receive 20 participation points for the day. They will get another 5 points for the starter.


Adaptations: Students who have difficulty speaking in the discussions can write down responses on a piece of paper. Extended time to answer verbally will be provided by the teacher. Students who may need extended time to rehearse may perform next class.