Magazine article Stage Directions

Master of Movement

Magazine article Stage Directions

Master of Movement

Article excerpt

Physical performance artist/teacher Christopher Bayes shares his philosophy and peerless technique

All actors respect the truth that their body is their instrument-but few teachers embody the skill behind this theory more than the Yale School of Drama's head of physical acting, Christopher Bayes. Bayes has distinguished himself as one of the theatre's most respected physical performers-he's worked extensively as a clown as well (teaching at Cirque Du Soleil and the Big Apple Circus, among many other distinguished institutions), directed acclaimed movement-driven pieces and created movement for Broadway's The39Steps. Bayes believes that physical acting is one of the most essential building blocks a theatrical education can be built on. SD talked to him about its role in his creative evolution and what he feels every actor needs to study in terms of physicality.

Finding His Footing

Bayes grew up in New Haven, Conn. Even as a child, he marveled at the mechanics of movement, starting with his fascination with a famously physical escape artist. "Houdini originally caught my imagination when I was very young-I loved everything about the idea of what he did," he recalls. "It was very magical to me. So I then started doing magic shows myself-as a kid, I was sort of obsessed." Bayes was a student at New Haven's Foote School, and got involved in drama studies there. "Robert Sandrine, my teacher and the drama department chair, gave me a scene from Waiting for Godot to learn. I loved working on that scene so much, I was inspired to focus on theatre from then on, as a career," he says. Before he'd finished high school, Bayes was taking classes at HB Studios in New York City, and he went on to study acting as an undergrad at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn.

After graduation, Bayes auditioned for the respected Theatre de la Jeune Lune in Minneapolis. He spent five fruitful years with the company, serving as an actor, director, composer, designer and artistic associate, and learned a lot about his creative sensibilities in the process. Immersing himself in classic theatrical disciplines such as commedia dell'arte, Bayes displayed a natural genius at theatrical movement. He swiftly became a highly skilled and lauded performer of physical performance style, perfecting clown and mask work. "Physical performance, clown specifically, allowed me to have a different kind of ownership of my work," he explains. "The magic of this kind of work, I think, is that it allows for a conversation between the actor and the audience." Bayes further honed his mastery of movement, and independence as a theatre artist, when he began working at the Guthrie, performing in more than 20 productions there.

Building Breakthroughs

Acting wasn't Bayes' be-all, end-all, however. "I started to think about moving away from acting," he says. "It occurred to me I might want to do something else, because as an actor, you're building your life on sand, in terms of career stability." The Guthrie commissioned Bayes' movement-based one-man production of The Ridiculous Dreams, based on Heinrich Boll's The Clown, in 1993; he found he loved directing, and started helming shows in New York City in earnest, working everywhere from HERE to the Flea to Dixon Place to P.S. 122. Bayes began directing at colleges and universities as well, including NYU's Experimental Acting Wing and Fordham University, which made sense; he'd developed a strong affinity for teaching as well. "Personally, I found my stability as a teacher," he says. "To me, teaching is wonderful, in that it forces you to articulate for yourself the important concepts of what you do as a performer." Once again distinguishing himself as a definitive artistic force, Bayes amassed movement teaching credits at a phenomenal list of companies and schools, including Vassar College, Julliard, the Stella Adler Conservatory, Bard College and Tisch School of the Arts, before being named adjunct professor at Yale. …

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