A genealogy of the embodied theatre practices of Suzanne Bing and Michael Chekhov: the use of play in actor training




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De Montfort University


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Peer reviewed


This project investigates the previously unrecognised significance of the ways in which the Embodied Theatre practices of Suzanne Bing (1885-1967) and Michael Chekhov (1891-1955) utilised forms of what I term Embodied Play as a constituent part of their actor training processes.

A methodology is developed in the introduction which draws on Foucault’s notion of genealogy and Feminist approaches to historiography in order to trace and review accounts of these often marginalised play practices in order to re-configure the contributions of Bing and Chekhov in historical terms. It also challenges notions of authenticity and singular ‘ownership’ of technique by considering the importance of collaborative cross-fertilisation with other practitioners.

This research includes a broader exploration of the literature, histories and discourses about the variety of practices that are often problematically classified as Physical Theatre in relation to the identification of the key components of Bing and Chekhov’s pedagogy. The first chapter presents this mapping in tandem with the argument that McDermott’s term of Embodied Theatre is more appropriate for Bing and Chekhov’s practice. The second chapter further refines the frame of analysis to Embodied Play. Chapters three and four consider how Chekhov and Bing respectively used forms of Embodied Play. Chapter five considers how Bing and Chekhov extended their methods of Embodied Play in training which led to radical approaches to working collaboratively with text and writers. It concludes that this movement from the use of play solely for the acquisition of discrete skill or character creation to extended forms of Embodied Play enabled them to train actors to work as empowered creators of small-scale performance in their Schools/Studios, and ultimately to engage in devising processes for professional productions. Consequently, this helps to fill the gap in scholarship on the early experiments in devised Embodied Theatre.

In conclusion the focus on Bing addresses the either inadequate, or absent, analyses of her practice in many of the existing historical studies which are dominated by the patrilineal narratives of Jacques Copeau and Michel Saint-Denis. The consideration of Chekhov’s practice also challenges the current discourse on play centring on Le Jeu and presents the argument for an expanded term able to consider different artists not just those from the French male lineage. Concurrently, this focus on Chekhov’s use of Embodied Play has added to the scholarship on his pedagogic and theatre-making practices.



Embodied Theatre, Play, Physical Theatre, Suzanne Bing, Michael Chekhov, Actor Training, Devised Theatre



Research Institute