Rhythm in Acting and Performance


Hosted by Michael Cacoyiannis Foundation

26-28 March 2021

Rhythm in Acting and Performance is an International Conference held under the auspices of The Makings of the Actor, the Michael Cacoyiannis Foundation, the Labanarium, Leeds Conservatoire and Hellinoekdotiki, led by Dr Eilon Morris, from Leeds Conservatoire and OBRA Theatre, with the support of Post-doctoral Researcher Dr Kiki Selioni, Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, University of London.

The Makings of the Actor is organising a series of conferences based on books from international research practitioners discussing in theory and presenting in practice their works. Practitioners’ books are always a difficult task due to the struggle they have transferring practice into the written form of a book. Although there is always the possibility of recorded documentation with regards to practical work however this is unsatisfactory for practitioners to present their work in a complete way. Current practices like webinars offers a better understanding but still there is no immediate communication that can offer debates, questions and finally exchange of knowledge.

This Conference is part of a series of international events under the aegis of The Makings of the Actor. The mission of The Makings of the Actor project is to gather international practitioners and researchers, from diverse fields of performance practice and scholarship, to develop and disseminate (through conferences and workshops) an evolving performance pedagogy that addresses the needs of present and future actors.

The topic and practice of rhythm has inspired and intrigued performance practitioners and theorists throughout the ages, from the poets and philosophers of ancient Greece, to the pioneering theatre practitioners of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, and onwards to post-modern and post-dramatic approaches to acting, movement, devising, designing and directing. Aristotle identified rhythm as the performer’s primary means of imitation in both comedy and tragedy, with rhythm also seen to bring order and form to what was otherwise ‘unbounded’ and therefore ‘unpleasant’. The theatre director Vsevolod Meyerhold exclaimed that ‘the gift of rhythm’ was ‘one of the most important prerequisites for a director’, with Peter Brook echoing this when he stated, ‘at the heart of a fine performance there is always rhythm’. Perhaps the greatest appeal of rhythm in performance is its immediacy; going beyond our sense of reason, rhythm achieves moments of deep-felt empathy and connection between performers and audiences. Yet despite a widespread identification of rhythm as a central aspect and tool within acting and performance, the nature and practice of rhythm both remain mysterious to many practitioners and scholars today, with vastly contradictory notions of rhythm co-existing within this field, and little in the way of research and discourse being given over to this subject.

In the book, Rhythm in Acting and Performance: Embodied Approaches and Understandings, Eilon Morris writes, ‘Under scrutiny, the subject of rhythm reveals a nature that is both evasive and porous’. As such, the ways we approach and research this subject require particular attention and consideration. Published in 2017, Rhythm in Acting and Performance was written as a direct response to what Morris viewed as the absence of attention as well as the general confusion around this topic within the fields of acting and performance. In the introduction to this book Morris writes:

I must admit that in my own experience as a performer, when a director mentions ‘rhythm’, there is a part of me that leans in with excitement and another part that shrinks back with a sense of dread. For seldom am I completely sure that I (or they) know precisely what they are referring to. Are they talking about the speed or the phrasing of my movement or voice? Am I being asked to make my work more structured and accentuated or more fluid, varied and dynamic? Or are they referring to any number of other specific technical, metaphorical or metaphysical meanings of rhythm, related to music, poetry, dance, nature, etc? Or are they commenting on a more general sense of timing or composition? … However, despite the confusion, this word still seems to stick, finding continued usage and interest throughout a broad range of practices and disciplines. Even though rhythm is seldom defined within the practical context of performance making, there often exists what might be best understood as a tacit knowledge that informs a performer’s engagement with rhythm. As Brook and Meyerhold pointed out, even if we cannot define it, we still do it, or at least know when it is there or not. This is a knowledge that exists in the practice itself, in the doing and the making of performance and in the shared sets of understandings that emerge from the creative processes of collaboration. These embodied understandings resist definition and often take the form of shorthand remarks tossed about within a rehearsal process, evolving and integrating new meanings as the practices themselves change and develop over time. Instead of viewing rhythm as a fixed concept which we can point at and examine, rhythm might be better understood as a constellation of associations, understandings and embodied practices, of which we can enquire and explore. (pp4-5)

Weaving together theory and practice this text gathers a range of historical and contemporary approaches to performance and examines the ways rhythm has been and is being approached within each of these contexts. Rather than attempting to give a readymade definition of rhythm, this text lays out both the diversity and commonality of understandings found within this field. Driven by practical questions of how performance practitioners work with and through rhythm, this book gives particular attention to the ways practice and knowledge interact to inform our understandings of rhythm. These understandings go beyond theoretical frameworks, systems and methodologies, with our sense of rhythm in performance arising from embodied processes and exchanges taking place in everyday life, training, rehearsals and performance.

Taking Rhythm in Acting and Performance as both a framework and provocation, this conference will delve into its various themes and practices, offering a platform for practitioner and scholars to share and reflect on their perspectives and insights into rhythm within acting and performance. Through presentations, work demonstrations and discussions, we will explore common themes as well as differing understandings and approaches to rhythm in this field.

We welcome submissions from practitioners and scholars including acting/voice/movement/dance teachers, acting coaches, theatre and performance practitioners, actors, directors, dancers, choreographers, playwrights/script writers, film directors/makers, composers, training practitioners, designers ,theatre and dance researchers and academic researchers within various aspects of practice and performance theory.

For a more detailed overview of this text please visit the following pages