Acting & Development Workshops & Masterclasses

“There are three masks: the one we think we are,
the one we really are, and the one we have in common”
Jacques Lecoq

If there are specific workshops you would be interested in us running, please do contact us here or by email to register your interest: info@learningthroughtheatre.co.uk


The Influence of Commedia dell’Arte

A two day practical workshop, run on two consecutive Saturdays. Run in collaboration with The Actors’ Workshop

Week 1 – Saturday 21st March 2020, 10am-3:30pm
Week 2 – Saturday 28th March 2020, 10am-3:30pm
Venue: The Actors’ Workshop Studio
Location: Factory 8, First Floor, Upton Road, Southville, Bristol BS3 1QZ
Price:  £70 for two days / £50 (Equity/Students)
Booking: via The Actors’ Workshop

Week 1 – Introduction to Commedia dell’ Arte

Our starting point for this fast-paced, practical workshop is the physicality of the characters and creating comedy. We will cover the movement, mannerisms and behaviour of the stock characters of the Commedia dell’Arte: Zanni (including Arlecchino, Columbina and Brighella), Pantalone, Dottore, Capitano, Signora and The Lovers. Relationships between several characters are briefly explored with classic pairings e.g. Master and servant, doctor and patient, dumb and dumber fools, in order to deepen the understanding of the masks. Staging and the relationship with the audience are considered throughout along with comic devices to allow the mask to work effectively.

Participants will learn:
• the historical context of Commedia dell’Arte, the origins and theatrical relevance of each character
• specific exaggerated movement, voice and mannerisms for the characters, using the breath, grummelot (gibberish language), masks and props
• the key principles of mask work and the imperative for the actor-audience relationship
• the relationships between the characters, exploring classic lazzi (comic gags)
or meccanismi (rehearsed comic sequences between two or more characters)

Week 2 – Comic Archetypes in Shakespeare and Molière

Discover new ways to engage with the texts of Shakespeare and Molière as you explore characters from the outside in. Through a process of physical embodiment, that often includes the use of the commedia masks, the actor transforms their body, voice and movement and experiences the behavioural traits, gestures, facial expressions and rhythms of the archetypal character. By literally stepping into their shoes, we discover the inner feelings, thoughts and motivations that drive the characters. Relationships suddenly start to make sense as the archetypes banter and the dialogue begins to flow.

Working with comic archetypes, participants will discover ways to access the text and live in the world of the play:

  • overcome barriers that can be presented by words on a page
  • become free to play with the timeless and universal characters at the heart of the text
  • relate to the situations and relationships through playing in modern parallels

Texts may include: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Twelfth Night, Comedy of Errors, Taming of the Shrew, Tartuffe, The Hypochondriac.

Past workshops & masterclasses

Introduction to Commedia dell’Arte

Exploring the movement, mannerisms and behaviours of the commedia stock characters, grounded in their traditional origins. Participants learn the key principles of mask work and develop an understanding of proxemics, complicité and actor-audience relationship. Short comic scenes and lazzi are improvised enabling participants to perform in the masks and gain a broad understanding of the relationships and plot lines common to the Commedia.

Advanced Commedia dell’Arte

This masterclass enables deeper exploration of the repertoires of the main stock characters. The masks are developed vocally and physically playing with comic material e.g. lazzi, tirante, sproliloquy and then interactions and relationships, examined through playing scenarios and double acts typical to the Commedia dell’Arte.  This workshop may be tailored to focus on specific characters, linking to parallel textual study (e.g. Tartuffe, Twelfth Night, Servant of Two Masters, Accidental Death of an Anarchist).

Commedia Play in a Day

This is for performers with a good practical knowledge of the commedia dell’arte stock characters. The day is entirely practical and fast-paced requiring a good level of physical fitness and stamina and culminates in the performance of a play devised, rehearsed and performed the same day.

  • Sharpen and refine mask performance skills
  • Rehearse speeches, songs, routines and comic devices, such as lazzi, burle and concetti
  • Develop stagecraft, considering pacing, timing and proxemics
  • Extend your understanding of the style

Le Bouffon

Bouffon is a satirical and dark style of comedy created from the perspective of the outcasts of society. It’s grotesque and ugly, yet beautiful and poignant. The bouffon is the inverse of the clown. Where the clown stands alone to invite the audience to laugh at his ridiculousness, the bouffon is part of a gang who laugh at the ridiculousness of the audience. Combining elements of burlesque, commedia dell’arte, satire, parody, farce, gallows humour, and slapstick, this is the blackest of comedy forms.

“In the Bouffon workshop we learn to be a big person who enjoys being small, with a special additional pleasure enjoyed by those people: the blasphemy.”  

Philippe Gaulier

The Theatre of Steven Berkoff: Expressionism

copyright stevenberkoff.com

Expressionism as a style of acting takes you to the polar opposite of Realism where vivid, dream-like worlds are created. Characters are distorted and stylised; language becomes heightened, rhapsodic and rhythmic; narrative becomes disjointed and episodic driven more by the internal struggles of the characters in relation to a central theme, than by logical narrative progression. In this workshop we will explore a range of techniques (from Lecoq, Meyerhold, Copeau, Decroux, Brecht, Grotowski and others) that have shaped the expressionist performance style epitomised by Steven Berkoff. The workshop covers the expressionist mask, exaggerated characterisation, the chorus of heightened expression, grotesque human-animal, corporeal mime, the physicalisation of language and the actor-spectator dynamic.

Movement Narratives

At the core of physical theatre is the ability to tell a story through the connection and communication of physical bodies in the space. This masterclass looks at how every day, pedestrian behaviours can become a language for theatre and how our bodies often speak louder than words.

This workshop looks at techniques drawn from contemporary dance, contact improv, as well as the work of Complicité,  Frantic Assembly, Punchdrunk, DV8 and Kneehigh with reference to practitioners such as Jacques Lecoq, Artaud, Berkoff and Grotowski.

The Comedy Double Act

Laurel and Hardy, Morecambe and Wise, Mayall and Edmondson, Reeves and Mortimer… Comic double acts have been appearing on our screens and stages for over a century, but what makes them so timelessly funny?  This workshop traces the roots of the double act back through sitcom, stage and the silent screen playing in comic duos such as the Master and Servant; the Charlatan and Stooge and the Dumb and Dumber Clowns.

Slapstick Comedy

large_safetylastclockA full day of Slapstick Comedy uncovering the tricks and techniques of the comic greats (The Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keaton, Rowan Atkinson, John Cleese, et al). This high energy one day workshop teaches participants how to create comic characters (with and without masks), drawing on the archetype of the fool.

Participants learn a range of comic devices like the double take, the comic stop and spoof violence! We look at the origins of slapstick in Commedia dell’Arte using actual slapsticks (battocchio) as used by the famous zanni characters, in particular Harlequin. Develop an understanding of stage craft and explore solo work, comic sequences and scenes. Ideal for complete novices or seasoned pros. A chance to throw aside your inhibitions, brush up your skills and enjoy playing the fool.

Mummers Workshop

cropped-mumconhead-1A practical workshop for Mummer Performers focusing on physical comedy and timing. How to spice up a performance and get the most out of an existing script looking at the physicality of the characters and the buffoonery of the quack Doctor, who originates from the Commedia dell’Arte. Run as part of the International Mummers Unconvention 2016.

Acting with Masks

132This ran as a 10 week course that introduced skills for performing in a mask, using comic character masks from the traditional form Commedia dell’Arte.

Teaching the key principles of mask work and comic physical theatre, the weekly two hour sessions focussed on accessing characters from physical starting points and developing the essential stage craft to allow masks to play effectively in the space. Movement, mannerisms and repartee for comic archetypal characters were explored, scenes devised and a final presentation was worked towards. The history of Commedia dell Arte was delved into as it is inextricably linked to the characters and performing them making this an ideal basis for an extended study/dissertation research.


Simple Acting Techniques for parents and carers:

Telling Tales

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Have you ever wished you were better at telling stories? Would you like to join in your child’s imaginary games with enthusiasm? I can teach you how to tell stories to make kids listen. You will learn to love reading aloud, to feel confident releasing your imagination and to really bring characters to life.

Creating Characters

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Have you ever wished you could tell a story and really make the characters come to life for an audience? Through connecting you with your body and voice, learn how to use them as expressive tools as a way into creating wonderful, fun characters. The workshop covers characterisation, how to use your body and voice expressively and physical storytelling and animation.  Techniques used: Theatre games, interaction, movement, gentle exploration of masks, improvisation and a bit of slapstick comedy!