Body Language

Feature in Issue 8-2 | Summer 1996

Lorna Marshall, movement director and acting teacher, talks to Natasha Lugman about the methods she uses to enable performers to access the unique emotional language of the body.

Lorna Marshall was born in Australia and trained as a dancer. At the age of 26 she moved to Paris where she studied under Lecoq, Decroux and Ella Jarosievicz. It was here that she started to examine the boundaries between dance and theatre and the essence of theatrical communication. She became intrigued by the possibilities of the human body and its innate emotional language.

During the early 1970s physical theatre companies were becoming more visible, pushing apart the divides between dance and theatre. Many practitioners drew inspiration from Eastern philosophies, including Jerzy Grotowski who worked with his actors to fulfil spiritual growth and inner truth. Experimentation and discovery were placed alongside traditional theatre practices. Goals were to create distinctive performances which drew on the bodies of the actors and combined text and sound with physical gestures taken from Japanese and European theatre.

During the time she spent in Paris, Lorna Marshall found that the vast range of European and Japanese practitioners offered her new ways of viewing theatre. Subsequently these techniques became integral sources of inspiration in her growth as a director and teacher. Lorna left Rose Bruford School of Movement and Drama in 1995, after spending seven years as Head of Movement. During this time she took international workshops and taught a wide range of acting classes at the City Literary Institute in Holborn, London – ranging from text-based work to physical theatre. Here, she found that the diverse backgrounds of the students and their varied ages made them more open to her experimental teaching techniques than the traditional drama school student.

Her aims as a teacher have been to access the full range of the performer’s potential in theatre. She believes that the student should be curious to discover and disciplined in such a way that they are free to access a unique emotional language. Unlike many drama teachers, her methods do not involve breaking down barriers and blocks, but freeing emotion and imagination through other techniques such as image work, physical sensation and words that have a triggering effect. Her methods involve coaxing the student and encouraging him/her to tunnel under their blocks, thus accessing feelings in a non-threatening way.

As a teacher and director, Lorna believes there are similarities between the two roles. Both are about imparting knowledge and empowering the student or actor to maximise their physical, emotional and intellectual self thus enabling them to perform more imaginatively. Much of Lorna’s inspiration comes from Japanese theatre, she reinterprets their uses of posture and energy and the distinctive use of performance space. In 1982, Lorna translated Yoshi Oida’s An Actor Adrift into English and she is currently co-writing a new book, Invisible Actor. She has found that working closely with Oida has meant that there has been an exchange of Western and Eastern principles. Through this dialogue she has come to find ‘a universal depth of the essence that traverses over the separate cultures’.

In an attempt to avoid stereotypes and cliches, Lorna directs her actors by encouraging them to be responsive to the body – testing new sensations and rejecting impersonal approaches. Thus allowing them to be more truthful and unique in their interpretation. As a movement director, she is respected and feared for her extreme methods of expression in physical acting; her use of heightened and stylised theatrical communication. In 1989 she worked with Shared Experience, devising workshops on trance and possession for a production of The Bacchae. Her intentions were to create a radiating sense of danger with an extreme appearance that was totally within the actor’s own control. In 1987 she directed The Zen Substitute at the Gate Theatre, where she took a farce from the Japanese Kyogen and made it into a Western performance that communicated Japanese principles in a tangible way.

During Lorna Marshall’s development as a movement specialist, she has created a personal set of beliefs. Firstly, that the voice and the body should be treated as a single entity where speech and movement occur simultaneously. Taking the fundamental impulse and freeing it through personal choice creates asynchronisation between mind, body and emotion. Lorna’s training aims to free the body from its personal circumstances, creating a type of human animal which is physically open and free with alive and reactive responses. In this way she hopes to allow the actor to be primitive but not unsophisticated, ‘like a knowledgeable child would have been if never shaped by culture’. Her techniques as a director and teacher are about mastering the connections between the whole body resulting in complete physical expression.

Referenced Artists

This article in the magazine

Issue 8-2
p. 15