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  • Alyssa Brennan

CCU offers only B.F.A. concentration for physical theatre in the country

Physical theatre students were able to study abroad in Italy this year as COVID-19 regulations were lifted. Photo courtesy of Benjamin Sota.

Physical theatre is “evolving into a specialty” which has created the need for training programs across the globe, however, Coastal Carolina University is the only place that offers it as a B.F.A. concentration in the United States, according to the CCU website.

Associate Professor of Physical Theatre, Benjamin Sota gave some insight into what this program entails and why it is so unique.

“It’s contemporary. Physical theatre is where the industry is headed. It’s theatre that allows for the actor, or the performer, to also be the writer, and the designer too,” he said. “It’s theatre that instead of kind of putting people into boxes, allows for the actor to play completely multiple parts. It also is really good at interfacing with whatever’s new.”

“So, say you want to do video mapping, or say you wanted to have Highland Scottish games, you know, you want to do a theatre piece on that, or say you wanted to do something that incorporated cooking, it allows for that. Normally in theatre, you have the script, and then everyone follows and does exactly what the script says. And, you can play with the stage direction, but you can’t change the words, you can’t change much of it. And, physical theatre, it’s a group of people getting together. And, in collaboration, they create the piece, or they create the show.”

Sota talked about some of his personal experiences performing in other countries that were possible partly because of the nature of physical theatre.

“Physical theatre is really great because, for me, it’s really easy to perform in Central America, Japan. I was in Kazakhstan performing. I’ve been through Africa. I’ve spent for summers in Jordan, in the Middle East, and Amman,” Sota said. “The work I do in theatre doesn’t rely on English and relies on visual communication, and I can use words if I want to, I can use English, but it makes it so that I can perform anywhere in the world.”

Assistant Professor of Voice and Speech, Dory Sibley described her experiences with physical theatre, and the development of the program at CCU, which began in 2012. Sota and Sibley both did their master-degree studies in Italy, where Sibley stayed to practice theatre for 15 years, working for Academia del’ Arte, which is a nonprofit study abroad program for physical theatre, music and dance.

Sibley describes what she feels the biggest challenge in the industry is.

“I can tell you from my own perspective, the greatest challenge is to clearly articulate what it is you’re doing in a way that makes people want to fund you rightly. If you want grants or anything like that, you have to be able to really clearly articulate what is it that I’m doing, and let people know why it’s important,” she said.

Sibley has high hopes for the department’s future.

“I would like very much for us to be doing even deeper interdisciplinary work. I think we’re already doing it. We try to hold hands across the disciplines, but since COVID, it has been very difficult to do that,” she said. “Puppet Palooza was a great interdisciplinary work that involved physical theatre, dance, puppetry, so then you’ve got design and production heavily involved. And, then also, we had to film it. So, then you have film production, and lighting heavily involved. And, all of the teachers kind of had to jump in to help. And, I would love to see a lot more of that. That’s my goal, to see more things like what we did with Puppet Palooza.”

The Chanticleer reached out to several students in the physical theatre program for comments but has not received any responses.

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