The Physical Training

by William T. Wallace, Director of Physical Development

It is a documented fact that members of the original Greek chorus were members of the military class. The earliest western actors and dramatists were themselves warriors; history informs us that Aeschylus fought at the Battle of Marathon, and Sophocles reportedly danced naked with a trophy after the Greek’s victory at Salamis. The Chorus, which was an integral part of the comedies and tragedies, sang and danced in unison as they commented on the action of the play, and comprised young men of military age known as ephebes. The intricate footwork of the choral dances, combined with the conditioning necessary to perform for hours at a time during the Greek festivals, prepared the young men for the coordination and precision necessary for the military tactics of the time.

Throughout the ages the concept of actors as warriors was lost, and in the modern perception of stage actors one does not see any semblance of a fighting man or woman. This is evident in most instances of stage combat where we see people who do not know how to stand, do not know how to punch, and certainly do not know how to fight. For this reason no actor can be prepared for a role involving combat unless they have a basic understanding of how a fighter would stand, move, and fight. This training is the solution to the problem of actors lacking fundamental hand to hand combat technique as well as the movement somebody with training would have. To make a fight scene on stage look good, it must have the elements of an actual fight. The ultimate goal is to achieve realistic and dynamic stage combat using these skills.

In accordance with the Theatre of the Poor’s philosophy on actor training, I have designed this course for the purpose of inculcating in actors a sense of physical mastery. It is part of a three pronged approach to actor training that emphasizes the development of body, intellect, and spirit: the resources that are the wellspring of the actor’s art.

The student will gain skills in combat and breath control, as well as an idea of “physically emotive posturing,” such as often occurs as a prelude to most forms of combat from street fighting to historic battles. The physical conditioning and the skills an actor acquires from this kind of training produce a sense of presence, confidence, self-control, and inner calm, all invaluable assets not only for the stage, but for life itself.