Physical comedy – Rhinegold Publishing

Physical comedy


How can young people studying drama at school ever be expected to understand the subtleties and intricacies of the kind of playful, physical acting style seen in the work of companies like Complicité, The Right Size or Told by an Idiot? This scheme of work distils some of the ideas expressed and explained in Why Is That So Funny? A Practical Exploration of Physical Comedy by John Wright (Nick Hern Books 2006). Some games are taken directly from the book. Most have been adapted to suit the needs of a typical secondary school drama class.

These six lessons were originally followed by two lessons in which students devised and rehearsed an assessment piece, which ought to include as many of the techniques learnt during the scheme as possible. I chose the idea of an awards ceremony instead, as it is something students can parody as well as clown in. Lessons are an hour long each, but opportunities for discussion, debate and refinement are such that they could easily stretch beyond that.

Learning objectives:

  • To relate acting to playing
  • To find the game in the work of others and in one’s own work
  • To understand how to ‘up the stakes’
  • To learn about four basic techniques of comic timing
  • To use these techniques in performance
  • To evaluate their effectiveness
  • To learn about three of the levels of parody (copying) – pastiche, caricature and burlesque
  • To understand that a buffoon is a grotesque parody of a human being
  • To attempt to play a buffoon
  • To understand that the clown is a stupid, yet credible version of oneself
  • To discuss and perform the point of bafflement
  • To learn about the role of the straight man in comedy
  • To recap the point of bafflement

Number of lessons: 6

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