Physical theatre training for script writing


Block A winter session mentor Joanna Garfinkel is experimenting with bringing this cohort of writers into PTC’s Test Kitchen for physically-based work to help with script writing. We asked her to share her thoughts about this unique process.


PTC: You are taking your Block A cohort into the studio.  What kinds of things are you introducing them to?

JG: I am hoping to approach places in their scripts where a potential solution transcends words. There is a tendency in the room/around the table (especially around writers!) to think that there is a perfect verbal route out of a question. Sometimes it’s good to sit in a question and work on it with colleagues.

PTC: How different are those kinds of exercises from traditional writing practice?

JG: Well, in Block A we have the luxury of colleagues to attack a problem together, as well as the PTC studio to use space and basic compositional techniques. Maybe there are some problems that need an experiment that involves juxtaposition or spatial tensions…  Also it allows us to test very specific questions like, “Is it possible to convey a giant move with just one body and three objects?”

Here is the thing about working in the studio: you can work diagnostically, or around a theme, there are several techniques I might recommend in situations where the plays are more fully formed. This excellent group of writers is generally in the beginning phases of a new piece, so it’s good for making discoveries about places in the script that are “missing” or asking very specific questions in relation to space and time.  As we go along, there might be more testing in space, where we explore how a play can be both existing in the current moment but also be “film noir,” or play with events occurring simultaneously.

PTC: What is the value of physically-based training and exercise for playwrights?

JG: It allows for a fuller understanding of time and space, which can only help writers. It also allows for a possible practical answer to problems. It makes our work into a task that can be approached or even accomplished, instead of an ineffable solitary event. Forcing us to ask very specific questions is both useful and satisfying.

PTC: Does this kind of physical work produce different kinds of writing?

JG: I think it ends up being more efficient. It helps strip away unnecessary thought or explication to see how few words are needed in the moment/in the space.

PTC: Is there resistance to overcome in the writers?  for example, “I don’t like to perform.”  “I have no skills with my body.”

JG: I think in some cases, there might be. This group is very brave and generous and trusting with each other which made the transition very easy. I began the conversation saying, “we’re not trying to be actors, or even improvisers, we’re just attempting to think spatially and physically.” Some of the participants are skilled actors, and it’s hard to get them to quiet the improv impulse.