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Workshop to Create an Integrated Approach to Movement Training for Actors

VCU Department of Theatre

Project Background:

One of the emerging trends in modern theatre training programs is to emphasize “body” work or “physical” approaches to actor training.  The ultimate goal of these approaches is to integrate the “physical,” “vocal” and “emotional” elements of acting into a unified whole.  However, few programs have the resources or administrative structure necessary to allow full integration of this sort; and so to date, very little work has actually been done to outline a consistently effective pedagogical structure. 

VCU’s Theatre Department is one of few programs to offer the Master of Fine Arts (MFA) Degree in Pedagogy.  Two areas of concentration within this program – Movement Pedagogy and Voice Pedagogy – are currently recognized as among the best in the country.  The department therefore sought to capitalize on this position by creating a detailed curricular structure for “physical” training for actors that could be used at both the graduate and undergraduate levels.


Objectives of the Project:

A weeklong intensive workshop on physical approaches to acting was conducted in Summer 2005.  Sixteen (16) students were invited to participate (including: four (4) movement pedagogy graduate students, four (4) graduate students from the voice and acting tracks, and eight (8) undergraduate performance majors).  The goal of this workshop was to develop a pedagogical structure and uniform vocabulary for approaching acting from a physical perspective.  The course was team-taught by department chairman David Leong, voice and movement teacher Dr. Aaron Anderson, and movement teacher Patti D’Beck.  Feedback and pedagogical contributions from the students was fostered and daily notes were taken outlining the most widely successful approaches. 

The results of this workshop are being used in three ways:

  1. the creation of a progressive three year curricular structure for the graduate movement courses (completed; implemented Fall 2005)
  2. the development of a parallel curricular structure for the graduate voice classes (in progress; to be implemented Spring 2006)
  3. the adjustment of daily course outlines for all undergraduate movement courses to reflect the best practices recorded from the summer workshop (completed; implemented beginning Fall 2005). 


Assessment was / is being conducted in two steps: the first during and immediately following the intensive workshop; the second (long-term) assessment during and immediately following the first full year of implementation (Fall 2005).

Assessment for Workshop:  Minimum effectiveness for the workshop was defined as the successful creation of a unified movement curriculum (including a list of actual and potential exercises for each module) and a standardized vocabulary of terms.  This goal was successfully met.

Implementation Assessment:  Long-term assessment will be judged by the relative success or failure of implementing the results of the workshop into the overall departmental curriculum (both graduate and undergraduate).  Modified Course Evaluation Forms will be given to students in all effected courses and the results processed according to the principals of Analytic Induction.  Minimum effectiveness is defined as successful implementation of the curricular structure into the core undergraduate movement courses (THEA 203-204, 311-312) gauged by modified Course Evaluation Forms and analyzed according to AI as above (THEA 203 and 311 will be assessed at the end of Fall 2005; 204 and 312 at the end of Spring 2006).


General Results of the Project:

The workshop itself was a success on every level (including not only the minimum effectiveness listed above, but also in terms of the overwhelmingly positive participant feedback, the speed with which the department was able to implement the findings, and on the discovery of unanticipated ways in which to integrate the graduated voice and movement tracks). 

This workshop will therefore hereafter positively impact the content of not only the undergraduate and graduate movement classes, but also the graduate voice and acting/directing tracks as well.  The workshop itself involved the direct participation of sixteen (16) graduate and undergraduate students.  In addition, over one hundred (100) students will be immediately and directly impacted by the implementation of the results of this workshop including: five (5) graduate movement pedagogy students, four (4) graduate voice pedagogy students, up to forty (40) acting/directing pedagogy students, up to forty (40) undergraduate sophomore performance majors and up to twenty (20) undergraduate junior performance majors.

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