Last Tuesday the 12th of July my year 12 drama class had the amazing opportunity to have an all day workshop with Gecko a physical theatre company based in Ipswich. Gecko create incredible pieces of drama, bringing stories to live by using limited dialogue and focusing on their body language and how they can use their bodies as tools. Gecko currently have multiple shows touring the country.
In preparation for this day we watched Gecko’s The Overcoat a story set in Russia about a young man struggling in the workplace, in romance and in life. This man then sells his ‘coat’ to a tailor who gives him a new sparkly coat and he gets the girl, the promotion and ‘a better life’. Yet, throughout the performance the actors never use English language they either speak in a mixture of Italian for the love scenes, German for the more aggressive natured scenes, breath or gibberish. Despite not fully understanding what the actors are saying you can grasp a really clear understanding of the conversations through intonation, tone and body language.
When we began we started with a warm up session that lasted two hours! We built layers on a traditional drama game where everyone must walk around the room and react to each command given. The layers we built were:
- Change Direction as athletically as possible
- Eye Contact – make eye contact with everyone as you walk past them.
- Touch – We must touch another person with part of our bodies that is not our hands.
- Follow the clap – react to the clap and follow it with your entire body within the emotion commanded.
- Moving Contact – This was something very strange to take part in. Helen our Gecko representative would shout touch and we would make contact with another person using our bodies. She then began to play music and we had to keep moving around each other but still keeping in a point of contact. We had to change which body parts were touching constantly and still could not use our hands. These created stories in themselves as dependant on which tempo or style music she put on we would adapt to that atmosphere automatically. The spontaneity sparked some great moments which we will probably never remember the details of again.
- Stare – This layer I found truly disturbing. We had to find eye contact with someone and keep moving around the room (without bumping into anyone) or breaking eye contact. When Helen put music on the intensity tended to built and even though it got so intense at one point and I was thoroughly weirded out I was entrapped in this strange tango. The second time we did this I got to sit out (due to there being an odd number of us) as I was observing I could really clearly start picking out story lines and relationships between the two people in that moment by the way the moved, pace and their eyes.
- Directing – Half of us would step out of the scene and allow people to go through the layers and pausing them during Moving Contact. We then had to make what they were doing into a scene and watch them transform into the scene. My time as a mover was very interesting as I somehow ended up as a tree being cut down and like slid over James and it was just so odd.
It was in this first section of the day that we started experimenting with breathing techniques and the use of breath to communicate instead of words. We used the layer of Follow the Clap to portray the emotion through breath. This was so weird and i did feel like a panting dog at some points but it is a really interesting way to tell a story without having to faff around with dialogue, which often takes up 90% of the devising process.
For the rest of the day we focused on an exercise called channelling. In pairs or a group of three we devised a walking patter including five direction changes and we had to end where we began. By putting this to music and adding different stories, environments and situations we were able to create characters and storylines through the hustle and bustle of the patterns and our body language and breath.
Despite being thoroughly knackered an the sweatiest I have ever been EVER this was such an interesting workshop that has really showed me how physical theatre can be used in any genre of play/performance and will be useful for when we start the devising process.