Physical Theatre with Older Actors 

Convener(s): Kitty Martin

Participants: Tamsin Clarke, Jon Pashley, Hugh Hayes, Sharon Eckman, Ana Brothers, Dodger Phillips, Abbi Greenland, Lawrence O’Connor, Lucy Westell and others who can and went.


Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations:

Addressing physical performance with an older actor, we had the following thoughts & comments:

Although there are exceptions, it’s unusual to see older actors performing in Physical Theatre shows. It was noted that Frantic Assembly’s current show LOVESONG has some electric moments with older performers.


Physical Theatre is perceived as a young performers game. Are we missing a trick here?


There was conversation about what is Physical Theatre:

  • Isn’t all theatre physical to some degree or other?
  • There is more to Physical Theatre than strenuous athleticism and speed.
  • Good movement/physicality can be something that you can’t obviously see.


There is no support network or lab work focusing on physicality and older actors. European Theatre organizations appear to have the funding, internal structure and cultural approval to train and conduct R&D with an Ensemble over a long period of time. The UK is not set up this way.


There needs to be an acceptance that bodies change as we age and we can work within those limitations, abilities and rhythms and still produce stimulating work. It is more interesting to see people working with the limitations of their bodies and how they negotiate that – a metaphor for what it is to be a human being.


It is harder to find older actors who are fit enough to perform 8 shows/week of strenuous athletic theatre. Older actors are more likely to have family and financial responsibilities and are not prepared/able to work for very low pay.


Regardless of age, when people move with ease it is attractive to watch.


Do audiences always/only want to see spectacular, extreme feats of physicality?

Will an audience worry about older actors who are not up to the physical demands?


Movement directors & safety – Regardless of age, it is best practice for physical theatre productions to engage a movement director who has responsibility for the safety and physical welfare of performers. It is essential for younger and older performers to avoid injury. Be safe – At the end of the day, it’s just a play and a story we are telling! Keep in mind we are doing this for an audience not for our own gratification.

Regardless of age, performers need to have an understanding of what they can do physically. An actor’s limits can be stretched with good quality, ongoing training. There is a balance to be had between pushing the body and working within it’s limitations. Older actors have a better understanding of where their body is in the space, than younger actors. There is an assumption that younger actors are more physically aware – this is misguided.

Regardless of age, all performers should be empowered to say “no” if they are asked to do movements which may compromise their health or cause injury. 

Ideally movement comes from each actor’s body. Older actors should be acknowledge for their physicality and valued for what they can contribute and what they can physically say about being of a certain age. If a particular movement is not possible, it is possible to find an interesting, valid alternative.


Role models – look for them – they are out there:

Barry Grantham, Pina Bausch, LOVESONG, Leonard Bernstein who conducts with his whole body….youtube – my friend Maya on Fire Island (try that!)



We need to raise awareness that older performers have much to give and offer something different to younger performers. Both are valid.

Being safe is crucial.

It is useful to challenge assumptions, preconceptions and perceptions.