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 (toward) a phenomenology of acting 

Phillip Zarrilli 

In(toward) a phenomenology of acting, Phillip Zarrilli considers acting as a ‘question’ to be explored in the studio, and then reflected upon. Phenomenology invites us to listen to "the things themselves", to be attentive to how we sensorially, kinaesthetically, and affectively engage with acting as a phenomenon and process. Using detailed first-person accounts of acting across a variety of dramaturgies and performances from Beckett to newly co-created performances to realism, this book provides an account of how we ‘do’ or practice phenomenology when training, performing, directing, or teaching. 

“…takes us back to the things themselves—our living, breathing, speaking, attention, and imagining bodies. It is not just about phenomenology; it does phenomenology”. 

Evan Thompson, Professor of Philosophy, Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada


“…transports us to experiences that Stanislavsky and Grotowski could only imagine…destined to become a twenty-first century classic”. 

Bella Merlin, Actor, Professor of Acting at University of California at Riverside


“…a far reaching and thrilling journey into the embodied processes of acting which will liberate the actor”. 

Ian Morgan, Performer and Course Leader MA Theatre LAB (RADA)



Foreword by Evan Thompson

Statements by Bella Merlin and Ian Morgan


Introduction: Acting as a process of phenomenological enquiry in the studio

1. First person accounts of embodied practice: sensing as “living communication”

2. The lived/living bodymind

3. Attention and perception in action

4. Subjectivity, self, character, and figure in performance

5. The voicing body and sonorous speech

6. Imagining

7. Toward an intersubjective ethics of acting

Afterword: Coda to no end

Appendix: An historical note on phenomenology, and suggested further reading.

Intercultural Acting and Actor-Performer Training. Co-editor with T. Sasitharan and Anuradha Kapur. Published by Routledge Press, June, 2019.

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Intercultural acting and performer training is the first collection of essays from a diverse, international group of authors and practitioners focusing on intercultural acting and voice practices worldwide. This unique book invites performers and teachers of acting and performance to explore, describe, and interrogate the complexities of intercultural acting and actor/performer training taking place in our twenty-first century, globalised world. This book examines how our understanding of interculturalism changes when we shift our focus from the obvious and highly visible aspects of production to the micro-level of training grounds, studios, and rehearsal rooms, where new forms of hybrid performance are emerging.


Introduction in three parts:

Part 1: Reframing intercultural acting and actor training in the twenty-first century

Phillip Zarrilli

Part 2: Recalibrating intercultural acting/training today

Anuradha Kapur

Part 3: The “hot crucible” of intercultural actor training: the Singaporean context

T. Sasitharan

1 Actor training at the Intercultural Theatre Institute of Singapore

Giorgia Ciampi Tsolaki

2 From the flower to madness: the ontology of the actor in the work of Suzuki Tadashi

Glenn Odom

3 Dancing Hamlet in a world of frogs: butohand the actor’s inner landscape

Tanya Calamoneri

4 Stepping out of the frame: contemporary jingjuactor training in Taiwan 

Jasmine Yu-Hsing Chen

5 Reconsidering intercultural actor training in South Africa today: “borrowing on our own terms”

David Peimer

6 The actor’s process of negotiating difference and particularity in intercultural theatre practice

Sunhee Kim and Jeungsook Yoo

7 The role of “Presence” in training actors’ voices

Tara McAllister-Viel

8 Training a performer’s voices

Electa Behrens

9 Grasping the bird’s tail: inspirations and starting points

Christel Weiler

10 Embodying imagination: butohand performer training

Frances Barbe

11 Arifin and Putu: Teater Modernacting in New Order Indonesia

Kathy Foley

12 Any traces of Stanislavsky? Theatre, politics and survival in post-colonial and dictatorial Indonesia

Marco Adda

13 Bali in Brazil: Perceptions of “otherness” by the “other

Carmencita Palermo

14 “Traditional” opera in a “modern” society: institutional change in Taiwanese xiqueducation

Tai Hsin-Hsin and Josh Stenberg


(Under contract): Acting, performance and performer training in a globalized world: the intercultural crucible of contemporary performance. Co-authors/editors Sunhee Kim and Erika Rojas. In development. Due for submission in 2021.


Books published

2013 co-author with Jerri Daboo and Rebecca Loukes. Acting: psychophysical phenomenon and process (intercultural and interdisciplinary perspectives). Palgrave-Macmillan. Sole author Chapters 1, 2, 3, Appendix.

2010 (2nd edition) co-author with Bruce McConachie, Carol Sorgenfrei, and GaryJay Williams, Theatre Histories: an introduction. London: Routledge(1st ed. 2006).

2009 Psychophysical Acting: an intercultural approach after Stanislavski. London: Routledge. With interactive DVD-Rom by Peter Hulton.

Awarded the 2010 ATHE Outstanding Book of the Year Award, Los Angeles, USA.

2002 (2nd edition) editor, Acting Reconsidered. London: Routledge Press. (1st ed, 1995)

2000 Kathakali Dance-Drama: Where Gods and Demons Come to Play. London: Routledge.

1998 When the body becomes all eyes: paradigms and practices of power in kalarippayattu, a South Indian martial art. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

1996 Memories in Hiding by Tooppil Bhaasi, translated by Jose George and Phillip Zarrilli, ‘Introduction’ by Phillip Zarrilli. Seagull Press.

1993editor. Martial Arts in Actor Training. Center for South Asian Studies, UW Madison.

1990 co-author with Farley Richmond and Darius Swann. Indian Theatre: Traditions of Performance. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

1984 The Kathakali Complex: Actor, Performance, Structure. Abhinav Publishers.


Journal Articles/Chapters in Books

2018 ‘Meditations’ on Loss: Beyond Discourses of Pain and Torture in the Work of the Beckett Actor, Contemporary Theatre Review, 28:1, 95-113, Contemporary Theatre Review.Special issue on Beckett, edited by Anna McMullan.

2015 ‘”Inner movement” between practices of meditation,martial arts, and acting: a focused examination of affect, feeling,sensing, and sensory attunement,’ in Ritual, Performance, and the Senses, edited by Michael Bull and Jon P. Pitchell. London: Bloomsbury, 121-136.

2015  ‘“…beneath the surface” of Told by the Wind: An Intercultural Experiment in Performance Dramaturgy and Aesthetics’, Asian Theatre Journal, 32, 1:47-78.

2015  ‘The actor’s work on attention, awareness and active imagination: between phenomenology, cognitive science and practices of acting,’ in Theatre and Phenomenology, eds. E. Nedelkopoulou, J. Foley Sherman, M. Bleeker. Routledge, 95-116.

2014 ‘Toward an intersubjective ethics of acting and actor training', in Ethics and the Arts, ed. Paul Macneill. Springer, 113-124.

2013 ‘Psychophysical training and the formation of an ensemble,’ in Encountering Ensemble, ed. John Britton. Bloomsbury, 369-380.

2012    ‘“…presence…” as a question and emergent possibility: a case-study from the performer’s perspective,’ in Archeologies of Presence, eds. Gabriella Giannachi and Nick Kaye. London: Routledge, 119-152.

2011 “The Broadest Spectrum of Pluralities: Performance Studies, Theatre Practices, Theatre Histories, and Beyond,” The Rise of Performance Studies, eds. James Harding and Cindy Rosenthal. London: Palsgrave Macmillan, 177-192.

2011 “Altered Consciousness in Performance: West and East,” Altering Consciousness: Multidisciplinary Perspectives, Vol. I: History, Culture and The Humanities, eds. Etzel Cardena and Michael Winkelman. Santa Barbara: Praeger, 301-326.

2011 ‘Psychophysical Approaches and Practices in India: Embodying Processes and States of “Being-Doing”,’ New Theatre Quarterly (27, 3:244-271).

2008 ‘Embodying Imagining and Performing Displacement and Trauma in Central Europe Today’, New Theatre Quarterly (24:1,24-40).

2008 ‘An enactive approach to understanding acting,’ Theatre Journal, (59,6:635-647).

2007 ‘Senses and Silence in Actor Training and Performance,’ in The Senses in Performance, ed. Andre Lepecki. London: Routledge Press.

2007 ‘Psychophysical training, physical actions, and performing Beckett: “playing chess on three levels simultaneously”’ co-authored with Patricia Boyette. Contemporary Theatre Review (17, 1:70-80).

2005 ‘Kalarippayattu…Power, Agency and Self in a South Asian Martial Art’ in Subaltern Sports: Politics and Sport in South Asia, ed. James H. Mills. London: Anthem Press, 19-46.

2004 ‘Toward a Phenomenological Model of the Actor’s Embodied Modes of Experience’, Theatre Journal, 56: 653-666.

2003 Multiple entries for Oxford Encyclopedia of Theatre and Performance, ed. Dennis Kennedy. Oxford UP.

2003 ‘The silent sense of sound’  Pulse: South Asian Dance in the UK, 24-25. Summer.

2002 ‘Action, Structure, Task and Emotion’,Teaching Performance Studies, eds. Nathan Stucky and Cynthia Winner. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 145-160.

2002 ‘The Metaphysical Studio’, TDR: The Drama Review, 46, 2:157-170.

2001 ‘Negotiating Performance Epistemologies’, Studies in Theatre and Performance, 21, 1:31-46.

2000 ‘Embodying the Lion’s “Fury”: Ambivalent Animals, Activation and Representation,’ Performance Research 5, 2:41-54.

1997 ‘Acting “at the nerve ends”: Beckett, Blau, and the Necessary,’ Theater Topics, January, 7, 2: 103-116.

1996 "Back Toward the Next Millenium: [Re]Considering History, Discourses/Representations, and Positionality in the Indian Arts through Kerala's Kalarippayattu and Kathakali, in Culture in the New Millenia: Classical Dance, ed. Shanta Serbjeet Singh. New Delhi: Wiley Eastern Ltd.

1995 "The Kalarippayattu Martial Master as Healer: Traditional Kerala Massage Therapies," Journal of Asian Martial Arts, 4, 1, 67-83.

1995 ‘Repositioning the Body, Practice, Power, and Self in an Indian Martial Art,’ in Consuming Modernity: Public Culture in a South Asian World, ed. Carol A. Breckenridge. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 183-215.

1995 ‘Between Theory[es] and Practice[s] of Acting: Dichotomies or Dialogue?’, Theatre Topics, 5, 2: 111-121.

1994 "Actualizing 'Power(s)' and 'Crafting a Self' in Martial Practice: Kalarippayattu, a South Indian Martial Art and the Yoga and Ayurvedic Paradigms, Journal of Asian Martial Arts, 3, 3:10-51.

1992 ‘To Heal and/or to Harm: The Vital Spots (Marmmam/Varmam) in Two South Indian Martial Traditions. Part I: Focus on Kerala’s Kalarippayattu,’ Journal of Asian Martial Arts, 1, 1:36-67.

1992 ‘To Heal and/or to Harm: The Vital Spots (Marmmam/Varmam) in Two South Indian Martial Traditions. Part II: Focus on the Tamil Art, Varma Ati, Journal of Asian Martial Arts, 1, 2:1-15.

1992, A tradition of change: the role of patrons and patronage in the kathakali dance-drama of Kerala,’ in Arts Patronage in India, edited by Joan L. Erdman. New Delhi: Manohar. 

1990 ‘What does it mean ‘to become the character?’ in By Means of Performance. eds. Richard Schechner and Willa Appel. Cambridge University Press, 131-48.

1989 ‘Thinking and Talking about Acting’, in Journal of Dramatic Theory &Criticism, 3, 2:1-15.

1989 ‘Three Bodies of Practice’ in Social Science and Medicine, 28, 12:1289-1310.

1989 ‘Between Text and Embodied Practice: Writing and Reading in a South Indian Martial Tradition,’ in Shastric Tradition in Indian Arts, ed. A.L. Dallapiccola. Stuttgard: Franz Steiner, 415-424.

1988 ‘For whom is the invisible not visible?’ in The Drama Review, 32, 1:95-106.

1987 ‘Where the hand is…’ in Journal of Asian Martial Arts, 4, 2:205-14.

1987 ‘From Martial Art to Performance’ Part I and Part II: Sangeet Natak, 83 (14-45); 81-82 (5-41).

1984 ‘Doing the exercise: the in-body transmission of performance knowledge’, in Asian Theatre Journal, (1, 2:191-206).

1979 ‘Kalarippayattu, Martial Art of Kerala,’ Drama Review 23, 2:113-124.

1978 ‘Kalarippayattu and the Performing Artist East and West,’ unpublished PhD dissertation, University of Minnesota.

1977 ‘Demystifying Kathakali’ Sangeet Natak, 43: