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Students Explore Physical Theater with Visiting Expert Mark Hill

Students Explore Physical Theater with Visiting Expert Mark Hill
Tanya Olander

International physical theatre performer, teacher, and director Mark Hill recently spent a week at SSIS, guiding over 100 middle and high school students in discovering the power of physical theater as the first-ever physical theater artist-in-residence.

So how exactly is physical theater different from traditional theater? As SSIS Drama teacher Jeff Redman explains, physical theater differs in that there is usually no script. The storytelling happens directly through the actors’ physicality and movement. 

“It’s about telling the story using your body as the main storytelling device,” shares Mr. Redman. That is exactly what our middle and high school dance and drama students learned from Mr. Hill, as he taught them how to use their bodies to tell stories, convey ideas, and express emotions. 

Telling an Authentic Story

Before his primary work during the visit with the High School theater students, Mr. Hill took the time to offer two exclusive rehearsals with Ms. Van De Venter's Middle School Intermediate Dancers. During their time together, Mr. Hill taught the students how to think beyond the choreography of their dance steps. Enthusiastic to try new techniques and work outside their comfort zones, the students developed a moving performance called "The Answer," which will be showcased later this semester.

Mr. Hill shines a light on a group of middle school dancers, as Ms. Van De Venter guides them during the session.

Immersive Sessions in Japanese Theater Traditions

During his five days at SSIS, Mr. Hill spent most of his time working with High School Theater 1 & 2 students and IB Theatre 1 & 2 students who had the opportunity to learn techniques beyond their normal drama classes. 

Using Japanese performance traditions like Kabuki, Noh, and Butoh, which he studied extensively in Japan, Mr. Hill helped students explore how to use exaggerated motions and faces to show emotions and relationships.

“I’d never thought of using my body as a way to tell a story or communicate a character,” one student shared after the session. 

High School Theater students extend movements into the space of the audience as Mr. Hill and Mr. Redman look on.

The high school IB Theatre students also explored stage design ideas like negative space, balance, and repetition. Mr. Hill gave them tools to work together in turning an idea into a short theater piece. "Take a theme and in 80 minutes make it into something," he challenged. Through quick exercises, they tried out ways to translate ideas into physical compositions, giving them material to build on later for projects.

Unlocking Creativity

Mark Hill's physical theater residency showed our students firsthand the power of storytelling through movement and presence. As drama teacher Jeff Redman observed, the students now have new knowledge and inspiration that they can draw upon in future performances or when giving presentations in any class. 

By pushing students outside their comfort zones to explore new ways of expressing themselves physically, Mr. Hill has helped equip them with valuable skills for bringing passion and poise to their work. It is easy to see how his unique ability to introduce these complex techniques to students worldwide has made him a sought-after artist in residence.

Opportunities like this residency, along with the 250 sqm black box theater in our new middle school which will open next year, allow SSIS to provide immersive arts experiences that unlock our students’ creativity. 

We look forward to offering even more immersive arts opportunities that empower students to find their voice and share their stories with the world!

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