Let’s Get Physical

You don’t need to be an actor, a dancer, or an acrobat to take part in physical theatre workshops with nationally acclaimed theatre creator, Ker Wells.

Just bring an open mind, a good imagination and a willingness to try absolutely anything.

Wells has toured across Canada and Europe teaching stage performers how to develop their physical presence and use their imaginations to create performance material.

As an actor, he has been appearing since last November in a demanding and evocative multi-media solo performance called Swimmer (68), inspired by a 1968 film starring Burt Lancaster.

He will be in Whitehorse this month to conduct two workshops sponsored by Nakai Theatre.

The first, An Introduction to Physical Theatre, will run from July 12-14 and focuses on a basic understanding of physical theatre, including exercises and techniques regarding physical presence.

The second workshop, called The Nature of the Performed Action, explores the material in more depth, combining physical theatre with text, with the goal of creating some performance material. It will run July 18-23.

Wells was trained in the traditions of theatre innovators Jerzy Grotowski and Eugenio Barba, and studied at the National Theatre School of Canada (NTS), where he now teaches.

He became interested in physical theatre during his second year at NTS, when he had the opportunity to work with Whitehorse-born actor Richard Fowler.

Fowler worked as an actor in Vancouver in the early ’70s, and later worked with Barba’s devised physical theatre company, Odin Theatre.

“Fowler’s teaching was an introduction to a way of working that I really found compelling,” says Wells.

“It appealed to me because the training was very demanding and rigorous. But more than anything, it was the way of making the performance, with the actors and director creating the performance together, rather than using a written script.”

Wells went on to form the Winnipeg-based theatre company Primus in 1989 with his group from the National Theatre School. After leaving Primus in 1997, he formed a group called Number Eleven Theatre in Toronto.

“I do all kinds of theatre now,” he says, “I teach and direct … right now I’m directing at a workshop in Winnipeg at the University of Manitoba, at the contemporary opera lab for opera singers.”

Wells believes that physical theatre can be an interesting and transformative experience for students who are willing to learn.

“We’ll be doing exercises and games that are intended to accentuate one’s understanding of presence – how an actor’s physical presence can be developed and trained. Another part of the course focuses on making physical performance material,” says Wells.

“What’s really different and special about physical theatre is the fact that it’s really about the actor. You can take a pre-existing script and you can adapt it as you want,” he says.

“But the main thing for me is that the actor serves as a kind of creative source as well as an interpreter of the role. You can propose text for your character, scenes, relationships – anything. The process is led by a director but with a lot of input from the actor.”

Wells goes on to point out that in a world of television and films, theatre is not as vital a cultural force in Canada as in other places and other times. Because of this, he finds that he enjoys giving workshops in smaller, less populated areas where they seem to have more impact.

“I really like working in an ensemble,” he says, “I like the kind of intensity and community of that kind of work. It’s one of the reasons I like working in places other than big cities; you get to be in a community where you feel like you’re making a difference.”

As he prepares for his first trip this far north, Wells says it has taken a year of organizing to make the Whitehorse workshops happen.

“The workshops are open to everyone. You need to be interested in theatre, willing to try something different, and to use your body. You don’t have be a dancer, just be willing to give it a try,” he says.

“This kind of work can be transformative; I think we can have an interesting and fun experience together.”

With limited space available, participants will be accepted on a first-come, first-served basis. For more information, contact Jessica Hickman at [email protected]

Willow Gamberg studies English and Journalism at Vancouver Island University in Nanaimo, with a special interest in the arts.

Willow Gamberg is a former What’s Up Yukon intern who writes about music and other arts-related topics.

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