Published: June 1, 2010 By

Joan Schirle lends expertise to CU Theatre

The average Boulderite may not realize how his body movements speak volumes about demeanor, attitude or mood.

Joan Schirle definitely does.

While observing her workshop at the CU Theatre recently, I bore witness to how the movements of an actor can truly inform the performance.

Joan Schirle, teacher of movement and founding artistic director at Dell’ Arte International School of Physical TheaterSchirle, a renowned teacher of movement and founding artistic director at Dell’ Arte International School of Physical Theater in Blue Lake, Calif., had all of her participants wear masks to keep their facial expressions from “getting in the way” of what the body could actually do.

Some masks were set in frowns, while others resembled faces of decrepit old persons. It was then up to the actors wearing these masks to figure out the way a person with this face would move, speak and behave.

The art of movement in acting has blossomed recently in the realm of theatre education. “Movement is the life of the theatre, and movement in space is the work of the actor,” Schirle has said.

For ages, the training of actors was based primarily on the psychology of the character and the text that the character is to say.

Now, partly thanks to Schirle, the field has shifted to include interpretation of movement to accompany these words. Prior to her theatre training, Schirle worked in the realms of dance and Alexander technique, which was developed by Australian actor F.M. Alexander and is described as a way of ridding the body of harmful stress.

The training in the Alexander technique has proved beneficial because of its attention to groups of people. This has allowed Schirle to work with actors in groups through games, exerting the maximum amount of effort with the maximum amount of ease.

At the Dell ‘Arte International School of Physical Theater, Schirle focuses on the “total” actor. Her teaching provides a holistic view of the actor and places movement at the root of creation for theater.

Her methods are based on the work of several famous acting teachers of the early 20th century, including Jacques Copeau and Jacques Lecoq. These teachers spent years researching the movements of animals and also incorporating improvisation (a brand-new art in their time) and acting in a mask.

Joan Schirle will bring all this knowledge with her to CU in the fall of 2010. As the Roe Green Visiting Artist, she will direct “The Ingenious Chambermaid,” a play translated by the founders of her school, Dell ‘Arte International School of Physical Theater.

In the play, Schirle says, “tremendous contrasts are brought together through love.” All of these contrasting characters are wrapped and delivered in a comedic package in which the audience acts as an accomplice to the actors. Through comments to the audience and physical gestures, the characters bring the audience into the play as a character itself.

Having such a knowledgeable and ready teacher will benefit not only the actors who work with her but also the audiences who witness the fruits of their labor.

Marcus Turner assists with public relations for the CU Department of Theatre and Dance: