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A living lineage (The DUENDE School of Ensemble Physical Theatre)

November 1, 2014

_MG_7476There’s a conversation I often have with performers. All over the world. It’s about training, learning, growing.

Where do I go to learn?
Where can I find training that’s practical and rigorous?
Should I do an MA?
Will an MA train me to perform?
Are Drama Schools any good?
How can I afford to train, learn, grow, explore and be fed, artistically and professionally?

I try to answer as honestly as I can:

Drama Schools:   Some, of course, are excellent, but often they are very expensive and all-too-often old fashioned – serving the culture that existed when their teachers (or founders) were growing up, not necessarily the culture that exists now. Or they are so commercial and industry-orientated that they foster the skills to earn a living, at the expense of the passion that led the student to the School in the first place. They breed ‘professional cynicism’ as often as they breed skilled engagement.
Conservatories: Almost by definition they are highly-selective and – however they might try to level the playing-field – the best way to get into elite training (at least in many countries) is to be born to a wealthy background. Often by the time a performer is in her/his mid-twenties, a Conservatory is no longer an option.
MA Courses: They are seldom really practical. The business model of European Universities does not permit the sort of long and deep contact between professionals and small groups of students that is the heart of good training. Their business model (and sometimes their pedagogical logic) promotes ‘individual research’ and ‘student-centred learning’ – entirely laudable and often yielding great results, but often not a ‘practical training’ (I know, I used to run an MA at a British University. I understand the pressures….).
Workshops (short and longer): They are great ways to encounter styles of work and ways of teaching. They are also fantastic ways to learn or deepen skills and to network. But a student is at the mercy of the quality of the teaching, the space where the teaching takes place, the commitment of the participants, the integrity of the organisation.

All of these forms of training – and many others – have real value. I am not criticising them (indeed I have, and continue, to work in all of them).


I keep having that conversation…. Young and emerging artists who do not feel that there is a training out there for them, at least P1070690one they can afford.

There is another conversation that I have often with people like me, experienced, a little older, immersed in the process of making art and training artists, who fear for the next generation. We feel that the opportunities that our generation had (and those opportunities felt sparse enough at the time!) are not there for this generation.

What can we do? How can we try to ensure that the rich, passionate, technically demanding, joyous lineages that we emerged from and feed off are passed on? That those lineages continue to evolve and grow? After all, a lineage is preserved not in books or museums, it is preserved and developed in the bodies of practitioners.

For around a decade now I have been mulling on these questions, wondering how to extend the work I already do through workshop and residency, in ways that will, perhaps, help meet the needs of this and future generations of performers.

I think the time has come.

Two days ago I announced the establishment of The DUENDE School of Ensemble Physical Theatre. It is a peripatetic or nomadic school –  in other words, it is not located in any particular building and it is not associated with any governIMG_3629 - Version 2ment, any institution, or corporation. It is just what it is: a small and focused attempt to offer excellent and specific training to a small group of students, in a form they can afford and that will serve their growth  – now and into their futures.

Initial indications are that there is significant interest out there – in the 36 hours since the FB page went live, nearly 500 people have linked to it.

The first outing for the school will be in Athens in Autumn 2015. A ten-week journey through Ensemble and Physical Performance Training, that will culminate in a full, directed, professional-level performance. The course is a pedagogically-based modelling of a professional creative and rehearsal process.

There are a few basic principles that inform my thinking as I  – along with colleagues in DUENDE – plan this new venture.


We will run the School in locations where costs are low – hence, among other reasons, the choice of Greece for this first training course. This will help us keep fees as low as possible. It means that International Students, though they will have to travel to Greece and find accommodation, will incur living expenses there are relatively cheap. We would love to offer scholarships and discounts, but we have no funding  – DUENDE survives on what I earn as teacher, director and performer. But if we cannot offer scholarships, we can, at least, keep costs as low as possible. If we are funded by governments, universities, or other external organisations, there will be additional costs, which will have to be reflected in the fees. So we will keep ourselves free of ties and simply charge students for the work they receive.


We are not going to offer a ‘general’ performance training. I don’t believe such a thing is possible. Our work is precise. We work through a psychophysical approach to training, we work experientially, we work through physical precision, we work through improvisation, we work through joy and passion, we work in ensemble. There are many other courses, many other schools, many  MAs out there in the world. We will do our work and not claim to do what we are not interested in or experts at. This is our integrity.


DUENDE is utterly and unashamedly international in perspective and composition. The company has 15 Associates in six countries. My personal beliefs are profoundly anti-nationalist, anti-racist, anti-discriminatory. While I don’t ‘teach’ my politics, my politics are inseparable from how and what I teach, and the principles I teach from. So while we will make the fees as cheap as possible for everyone, we will make them even cheaper for the inhabitants of the country where we are working. I don’t want to run a school where overseas artists can study but local artists – for financial reasons – find themselves excluded. We want a mix of local and international students, so that international collaboration is embedded into the daily fabric of the work. And as well as serving our students, we want our presence in a community to be a force for good and for artistic growth, not a drain on local resources. We have already contacted some of the main artists in the physical performance community in Athens to begin dialogue about how The DUENDE School coming to Athens can enhance what they are already doing.


2Part of the ‘specific’ nature of DUENDE’s work – and of what we offer to those who train with us – is that we sit proudly on the edge of art forms. Our work is dance/theatre/improvisation/sound/site-specific/live-art/music/comedy/clown/circus/whatever. Our work is utterly about live, ‘present’ physical performance. I have very little interest in definitions when they are used to exclude and limit. I love the specificity of different skills training, but skill should, surely, be used to aid communication and to structure a performer’s passion, not be used to limit and curtail expressive possibilities. So DUENDE offers a training that transcends discipline-definition. It is applicable to performance within disciplines and to work that is interdisciplinary.

Passion and Pleasure:

At the heart of this training is a simple thought – nobody becomes an artist because they hate it. We perform from passion and we create in joyousness. Any training that damages, undervalues or belittles a performer’s sheer joy in her/his own work is a training that is failing. About that I am certain. So while the work of the school will be demanding, tiring, confronting, rigorous (physically and intellectually), it will be fuelled by laughter, by delight and by absolute and unequivocal mutual respect.



There is a long history of alternative educations/trainings in the Arts and in Performance. I am currently reading about  The Black Mountain College in America in the 1930s – a passionate and magnificently problematic experiment in education that changed the face of American Art. I have a colleague in Delhi who is setting up a new training initiative. Last year I had lunch with one of the founding faculty at Del’Arte in California. This summer I taught at a beautiful rural retreat in New England, ‘Celebration Barn’, founded by a performer who, himself, was taught by those who developed European Mime. I have friends in LA with whom I have a continuing and exciting conversation about training and the evolution of our art forms. We are an evolving lineage. Those who we train will continue and develop that lineage.

I have no enormous ambitions for The DUENDE School of Ensemble Physical Theatre. My inclinations are modest. However, I am certain that it is time to make a new offer to young and mid-career performers.

Wish us well – as I wish all who are looking for training, and all my colleagues around the world  in existing institutions or who are considering establishing new models – I wish us all well.

P1000905What we are doing is living in a living tradition. There are some who claim our lineages of live performance are of diminishing importance in this ‘digitised’ world. They are wrong.  There is NOTHING that can substitute for the experience of being in intimate, detailed and live relationship with another human being  – whether fellow performer or audience. That’s our lineage – the lineage of being a living, expressive, interconnected human.

If you want to know more about the DUENDE School of Ensemble Physical Theatre, please visit our FB page

Or all of this information will be on the DUENDE website very soon:







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