Let's Get Physical
Physical Fest - Liverpool, 22-30 May 2015
Johanna Roberts | Saturday, April 25, 2015
Liverpool in May is the place to be for anyone interested in physical theatre.
Why? Because the 11th Physical Fest takes place between Friday the 22nd and Saturday 30th of that month. However, the action kicks off even sooner for the younger generation with Young Physical Fest on Saturday 2nd and Sunday 3rd of May at the Bluecoat. My knowledge about physical theatre is limited to a report from my son. Following a workshop with festival director Elinor Randle, he reported that physical theatre is in fact ‘absolutely brilliant!’, so I was very grateful that Elinor herself was able to take time out from her hectic schedule to explain to me about physical theatre in general and Physical Fest in particular.
Something that had been nagging me for some time was what was the difference between physical theatre, normal theatre, mime, and dance? Elinor was definitely the right person to ask. There's a fundamental need for people to find ways of expressing themselves physically: something we have when we are children, but gradually lose as we become adults.
"Firstly, physical theatre can include mime and dance; it’s a wide genre," explained Elinor, adding that "all theatre is physical. In general, I suppose it’s where the emphasis is more placed on the physicality rather than the text, and that can be done in lot of different ways. So, our company’s work is really physical, sometimes bordering on dance. Tmesis and companies like DV8 that are really highly physical, and then other work that we take in at the festival is more devised, or clown or bouffon, so it is a wide genre – but not purely dance ever; there’s some sort of expression or narrative. … most dance is quite theatrical anyway."
So, the good news is that encompassing such a wide range of styles makes physical theatre more accessible, and everyone will find something at the festival to suit them – either to participate in or to watch. Indeed, this inclusivity is very much part of the programming for Physical Fest.
"The work has to have some degree of physicality," continues Elinor, "and that stretches from as far as ‘quite circusy’, like with acrobatics, to clown, which has a lot of physicality, but in a more minimal way... It encompasses work that has physicality at its core, really… some will be more based towards a particular genre, so it will be more dance-based but have a high level of theatricality."
The idea for Physical Fest stemmed from Elinor’s personal interest in physical theatre and how the range of styles can have such an influence on a performer’s own style.
"I am interested in using physicality in lots of different ways and seeing how people are influenced by different forms, training, or styles. It’s the same with the workshops; all are influenced by my background in a way. I did a theatre degree then really wanted to explore this physical theatre… I did a six-month course at Hope St and trained with loads of different practitioners and brought directors over. I found I could take something from all those different styles and elements to form my own work …when we programme the workshops, you can be doing clown one day and something very physical, more like dance, the next day, and see how it all crosses over."
Practitioners from across the world
It was this experience of the company always having to travel somewhere else to do different workshops and working with a variety of directors that gave Elinor the idea to establish Physical Fest in Liverpool. No one else was offering the opportunity to do workshops in many different styles with practitioners from across the world, but there was ‘a real hunger for it’.
This element of variety remains fundamental to Elinor’s vision for Physical Fest:
"We found no one else was doing specifically physical theatre. So there were lots of mime festivals, lots of dance festivals, but they were all quite specific. So there was a passion to bring different people here to Liverpool. Then people started coming, from all over the world – they still do –to do the workshops, and that developed over the years. And then we started adding performance. Then last year saw a big development in the festival, with participatory work, the Young Fest weekend, and different events, accessing and using this opportunity to work with different people in different areas and to be a bit more connected with and rooted in the city."
Young Physical Fest has been a major development, and Elinor was keen to emphasise what she sees to be a fundamental need for people to find ways of expressing themselves physically, something, she says, that we have when we are children, but gradually lose as we become adults. Elinor mentioned how the company’s work with different groups – teenagers, adults with learning difficulties – indicates how important it is to sometimes find a different way to explore emotions. Based in the Bluecoat Centre, the aim of Young Fest is to offer young people a chance to experience physical theatre, either by watching a performance or joining in a workshop, with activities on offer for all ages, from the under fives and their families, up to 17 years. Elinor emphasised the efforts being made to get young people involved in the festival.
Human relationships, communication – that’s what theatre is, exploring ideas.
"Families can come – the Bluecoat is very family-oriented – the adults might come and see a show, the young people might want to get involved in projects that we do, so I feel it is really important when you are bringing things to the city and making work that you actively seek to engage people. We’re looking at new ways of young people becoming volunteers, maybe becoming ambassadors, maybe programming, because I am passionate about this kind of theatre and while it may be alienating as a concept, a lot of the work is really enjoyable as well as being interesting.
"The emphasis is very much on bringing people together, getting them to try something new, or, rather, to relearn the physical form of communicating, of expressing emotions that we had as children, skills that in the age of screen-based communication and social networking are perhaps becoming lost.
"Human relationships, communication – that’s what theatre is, exploring ideas. That’s why I think it’s really interesting when you take away the words. It doesn’t mean it can’t have words, but sometimes as a teenager, it’s hard to express things with words. Doing workshops in schools, there’s always a sense at the end of ‘Oh, we can do this. We can express things in a different way’."
And as for the main festival, what can people expect?
"From the beginning, we’ve had this eight-day programme of professional-level workshops, but what’s nice is they are actually open to anyone. So we get people who just say, ‘I’d really like to try this’, and that’s great. As long as they know it’s going to be quite physical. There’s a nice balance of practitioners who will come and do each other’s workshops – professional actors, dancers, artists, students – and then there’s also local people and people from all over the world. It’s a really exciting, packed eight days. It’s really nice seeing how people’s cultures affect the way they perform. I think it’s really healthy to have that mix.
"And people have always said there’s an amazing atmosphere, of welcoming and being open and non-judgemental. There’s respect for each other. And that’s what’s great about being able to host it here; it’s a small city, it’s a welcoming city. It’s great to have that vibrancy… the local and the national and international."
The festival has developed over the years, and this year promises to be even more special, even more of a celebration: Unity Theatre will be transformed; Squash Nutrition will be offering local sourced food from their food pod; there’ll be opportunities to watch and to perform and chances to interact with the artists; and there’ll be street theatre, in different places and spaces.
An international festival right on your doorstep, with all the other attractions Liverpool has to offer.
How can you possibly resist?
For more information on Liverpool's Physical Fest,visit www.physicalfest.com
VIEW ALL COMMENTS / JOIN THE DISCUSSION