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THTRFLM 3XX3 Acting And The Body

Academic Year: Winter 2018

Term: Spring

Day/Evening: D

Instructor: Dr. Peter Cockett

Email: cockett@mcmaster.ca

Office: Togo Salmon Hall 404

Phone: 905-525-9140 x 27662


Office Hours: by appointment

Course Objectives:

Course Description

A practical investigation of the ways actors can use their own bodies as a central resource in the devising of new work.

Learning Objectives

Students will first gain perspective on the way their bodies have been structured by the world they live in and how their bodies have come to express their identities with and because of social structures. They will learn to resist their habitual physicality and learn to extend the range, depth and control of their physical expression. They will work collaboratively to develop creative strategies for the devising of physical theatre. They will gain the facility to identify and develop potent theatrical images arising from the actors' bodies and learn to manipulate these images in the telling of stories. They will learn how to use research as a means to instigate the development of physical theatre and to use their bodies as a means to further research and understanding. By the end of the course they will be equipped with the skills to lead a devised, physical theatre project.

Textbooks, Materials & Fees:


Required Texts:

Artaud, Antonin. “Theatre and Cruelty (The First Manifesto),” Theatre and Its Double. Trans. Mary Caroline Richards. (New York: Grove Press, 1958) pp. 89-100.

Barba, Eugenio, “Recurring Principles.” The Paper Canoe: A Guide to Theatre Anthropology. (London and New York: Routledge, 1994), pp.13-34. Accessible via McMaster at: https://www-taylorfrancis-com.libaccess.lib.mcmaster.ca/books/9781134818204

Grotowski, Jerzy. “Towards a Poor Theatre.” Towards a Poor Theatre. Ed. Eugenio Barba. (New York: Routledge, 1968), pp. 15-25.

Kemp, Rick. “How does the actor create a character?” Embodied Acting. (London: Routledge, 2012), pp. 93-128.

Le Page, Robert. “Robert LePage in Discussion with Richard Eyre”

Theatre Visits:

There will be one compulsory theatre visit, details to be arranged.

Method of Assessment:

Method of Instruction

Students will develop their understanding through intensive physical exercises and through reading open-access articles posted on Avenue to Learn. The course is broken down into three sections: Embodied Knowledges, Collaborative Expression, and Physical Research.  In the first section, the class will explore what our bodies know, what they can tell us, and what they can learn. In the second section, the students will use work collaboratively to extend their understanding of the body's potential for theatrical expression. In the final section, students will apply the techniques learned to a research project on an assigned theme resulting in a series of final class performances.

Method of Assessment

Embodied Knowledges (January)

Journal                                                5%   Graded before March 16

Collaboration                                       10% Graded before March 16

Personal Performance Piece                5%

Collaborative Expression (February)

Journal                                                5%

Collaboration                                       10%

First Group Project                             10%

Physical Research in Devised Theatre (March)

Solo Research Exercise                       15%                            

Group Research Exercise                    10%

Collaboration                                       10%

Take-home exam                                 20% Due on April 16th

Details of Assessment

Journal (x2)

Each student must keep an on-line journal over the first two stages of this class. Your journal is a place for personal reflection on your process as you come to terms with the complex relationships between your own body, our worlds' ideological structures, and the devising process. You should use the journal as a private space in which you articulate your own struggles with the creative process and your developing understanding of its significance. Once completed it will provide an account of your intellectual and emotional engagement with the class process to which you can refer in your take-home exam. They should be kept in a word processing file and regularly posted to the assigned drop-boxes on Avenue.

Collaboration (x3)

All of our work will be done together as a group and you will be graded on your commitment to the exercises set and your willingness to confront the challenges and improve your skills as a theatrical creator. Physical work demands deep concentration and commitment. Laughing out of embarrassment or talking when asked to work in silence will seriously disrupt your learning and the learning of your classmates. I am going to be very strict about this, especially in the early stages.

Personal Performance Piece

Each student will perform a 1-2 minute performance piece that reflects their understanding of their position in the world, their social attitude and personal history. It can be funny, serious, or a combination of both. It cannot be naturalistic although it might have moments of naturalism. Some of the movements have to work on a symbolic level, being more than just exaggerations of everyday actions. It must involve the application of the physical skills and understanding of physical theatre developed in the first section of the course. It should have a beginning, a middle, and an end.

First Group Project

Students will divide into groups to collaboratively create a performance piece. The exact nature of this project will be defined in class.

Solo Research Exercise

Students will be assigned a research topic. They will find a stimulus for creative work on this theme. It may be a journal article, a photograph, a magazine or newspaper article, and online blog, a piece of art, a story. They will share their research with the class and quickly develop a solo performance piece that communicates what is important in their research to the group.

Group Research Exercise

Students will divide into groups to collaboratively create a performance piece based on the assigned research topic. The exact nature of this project will be defined in class.

Take Home Exam

Topic: Using your experience in this course as a whole as the principle reference point define your new understanding of the way the actor’s body can be used to create theatre. You may refer to your personal journey but it should not be an account of the process. You should refer to the secondary sources. You should look for principles of physical acting that you could apply in the future either as an actor or director. Areas of interest might include: control/spontaneity, embodied knowledge/intellectual understanding, collaboration, planning and discovery, and anything else that you think will help you create more compelling theatre in the future. 5 pages. Due April 16thth

All papers should be submitted as a WORD PROCESSING FILE (Word, Pages, OSWord) through the assigned the Avenue to Learn drop-box and the FILENAME should BEGIN WITH YOUR SURNAME, eg. smith 2AA3 paper.doc. FAILURE TO FOLLOW THIS SIMPLE INSTRUCTION WILL RESULT IN THE LOSS OF 5% ON THE PAPER


You will be working in groups so failure to attend class can potentially harm the work of your peers. Attendance in class therefore is compulsory. If you miss more than two classes, you may be deemed to have not completed the course and therefore be assigned 0% for participation. Allowances may be made if you can provide a valid doctor’s note.

Policy on Missed Work, Extensions, and Late Penalties:

Deadlines for Practicum Work

Performance dates, once scheduled, are final deadlines and are not subject to renegotiation. “The show must go on,” except in case of University closure, immediate threat to safety, or the direction of the Instructor, Technical Director (or a designate of either).

Late Assignments:

Late penalty for written assignments is 5% per day, calculated from the beginning of your tutorial time, or 25% per week unless the student has a justified absence from the University.  After one week, late papers will not be accepted, except in the case of a justified absence.

NB. Students with disabilities can receive accommodations to assist them in the completion of their assignments and exams. Please contact the Student Accessibility Services for advice and for arranging assistance. Please look into their services if you feel you need help with any of these issues. http://sas.mcmaster.ca. The Student Success centre can help with essay writing, time management and procrastination problems. 

Please Note the Following Policies and Statements:

Academic Dishonesty

You are expected to exhibit honesty and use ethical behaviour in all aspects of the learning process. Academic credentials you earn are rooted in principles of honesty and academic integrity.

Academic dishonesty is to knowingly act or fail to act in a way that results or could result in unearned academic credit or advantage. This behaviour can result in serious consequences, e.g. the grade of zero on an assignment, loss of credit with a notation on the transcript (notation reads: "Grade of F assigned for academic dishonesty"), and/or suspension or expulsion from the university.

It is your responsibility to understand what constitutes academic dishonesty. For information on the various types of academic dishonesty please refer to the Academic Integrity Policy, located at www.mcmaster.ca/academicintegrity

The following illustrates only three forms of academic dishonesty:

  1. Plagiarism, e.g. the submission of work that is not one’s own or for which other credit has been obtained.
  2. Improper collaboration in group work.
  3. Copying or using unauthorized aids in tests and examinations.

Email correspondence policy

It is the policy of the Faculty of Humanities that all email communication sent from students to instructors (including TAs), and from students to staff, must originate from each student’s own McMaster University email account. This policy protects confidentiality and confirms the identity of the student.  Instructors will delete emails that do not originate from a McMaster email account.

Modification of course outlines

The University reserves the right to change dates and/or deadlines etc. for any or all courses in the case of an emergency situation or labour disruption or civil unrest/disobedience, etc. If a modification becomes necessary, reasonable notice and communication with the students will be given with an explanation and the opportunity to comment on changes. Any significant changes should be made in consultation with the Department Chair.

McMaster Student Absence Form (MSAF)

In the event of an absence for medical or other reasons, students should review and follow the Academic Regulation in the Undergraduate Calendar Requests for Relief for Missed Academic Term Work. Please note these regulations have changed beginning Fall 2015. You can find information at mcmaster.ca/msaf/. If you have any questions about the MSAF, please contact your Associate Dean's office.

Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities

Students who require academic accommodation must contact Student Accessibility Services (SAS) to make arrangements with a Program Coordinator. Academic accommodations must be arranged for each term of study. Student Accessibility Services can be contacted by phone 905-525-9140 ext. 28652 or e-mail sas@mcmaster.ca. For further information, consult McMaster University's Policy for Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities.

Academic Accommodation for Religious, Indigenous and Spiritual Observances

Students requiring academic accommodation based on religion and spiritual observances should follow the procedures set out in the Course Calendar or by their respective Faculty. In most cases, the student should contact his or her professor or academic advisor as soon as possible to arrange accommodations for classes, assignments, tests and examinations that might be affected by a religious holiday or spiritual observance.

Topics and Readings:

See Avenue to Learn for schedule of learning

Other Course Information:


Rehearsal Attire

As this is mainly a studio course, students should wear appropriate rehearsal attire (i.e., loose, comfortable clothing and footwear) to class

Health and Safety

Students should always take care not to endanger themselves in the process of performance. The Performance Lab’s rules of conduct must be obeyed at all times. Any students needing to introduce staged violence to a scene, including the throwing of any object may do so only after consultation with the instructor.