Phillip Zarrilli: His Intercultural and Psychophysical Actor Training

Fig 1. Phillip Zarrilli (1947 – 2020)
Photo: courtesy of the Phillip Zarrilli estate

Phillip Zarrilli was a theatre scholar, teacher, actor trainer, actor, director and dramatist with particular specialisations in intercultural performance, actor training and contemporary acting. His life-long work took many different shapes as he wrote, taught and created work extensively around the world until his final days.

Zarrilli went to India initially to research about kathakali dance-drama in 1976, and between 1976 and 1993, he lived there for a total of seven years during which he trained in yoga and kalarippayattu. Under the guidance of Gurukkal Govindankutty Nayar of the CVN kalari, Zarrilli was the first non-Indian to receive the traditional pitham representing mastery in kalarippayattu and was given the official status of gurukkal. In 2000, Zarrilli opened the Tyn-y-parc in Llanarth, Wales, the first kalari outside of India, where he held annual intensive Summer training until 2019. When he was invited to take over the Asian-Experimental Theatre Programme at University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1979, Zarrilli learnt taiqiquan from his predecessor A.C. Scott. Putting together yoga, taiqiquan and kalarippayattu, Zarrilli shaped a psychophysical training for contemporary actors.

Zarrilli’s training and theatre practice was intercultural and psychophysical in nature. The rich diversity in nationalities, cultures and generations are not only inherent in the make-up of the training but also evident in the international community cultivated by his work and generosity. In this tribute, we would like to reflect on what we learnt as Zarrilli’s students and collaborators focusing on the training as we experienced it.

Fig 2. The Tyn-y-parc CVN kalari/studio: the puttara where the guardian deity of the kalari resides, incense burner, oil lamp, and pitham where past gurus sit, with the flowers as an offering freshly picked by Zarrilli from his garden. Photo by Jeungsook Yoo.

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Tributes for Ali Hodge (1959 – 2019)

Ali was a long term and loyal supporter of Theatre, Dance and Performance Training and, as an innovative and rigorous advocate of the importance of research in performer training, a significant presence on the editorial board. There is little question that Ali’s texts such as Twentieth Century Actor Training (Routledge, 1999) and the second edition Actor Training (Routledge, 2010) were acclaimed when first published and remain valued and important resources for theatre artists and researchers. So too, her work with Wlodzimierz Staniewski, Hidden Territories: The Theatres of Gardzienice (with DVD, Routledge 2003) provide detailed analyses of the Polish company’s training and performance making processes, whilst Core Training for the Relational Actor (with DVD, Routledge, 2013) revealed much about her decades long development of directorial work with her company The Quick and the Dead. However, the following series of reminiscences open up a different kind of space in which to celebrate and reflect on Ali’s lifelong journey in theatre practice, together with the impact she had on those she met. The voices of some of those who worked and lived most closely with Ali, over different periods of her life, speak out in their own manner about what was distinctive and important to each of them in their contact with her. Each emphasises the essential connection between the personal and the professional in her work, her humour, courage, generosity, insight and rigour. The series of recollections, grouped very roughly around the place, company or type of work she undertook, opens with Chris Hurford’s, Ali’s husband, invocation of her passionate drive to ensure that theatre, through its performers, communicated meaningfully and compassionately. And they end with Ruth Way’s memory of Ali’s joy in her ‘incredible vegetable patch’.

These tributes for Ali sit together with an appreciation of her life written for the journal by Katie Normington.  

Reading through these recollections reminded me of one of the aspects I found most compelling when working with Ali during her time at Royal Holloway This was her capacity to step back from an assessment or directing moment and pause before offering penetrating questions. Her own spaciousness in allowing time for the response process to happen, encouraged those she worked with the same freedom — to take time, to think, to reflect and importantly to gain perspective on even the most challenging, emotionally charged movement and vocal work.

Please feel free to comment below or contact the Blog editors to submit a post if you wish to add your thoughts, this is the beauty of a blog space.

Libby Worth Reader in Contemporary Performance Practices, Royal Holloway and Co-editor with Jonathan Pitches, Theatre, Dance and Performance Training. 

Fig 1. Ali in Poland, photographer unknown.
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