Diversities in gender and sexuality III: Psychophysical strategies for supporting gender diversity in actor training

Diversities in gender and sexuality III: Psychophysical strategies for supporting gender diversity in actor training

With reference to specific exercises and techniques, in this video Conrad explores how to counter gender-based discrimination in actor training by supporting actors of diverse gender expressions. He looks at the ways in which gender is a construction—indeed a performance in its own right—and suggests methods and techniques of moving beyond certain types of neuro-muscular patterning that would otherwise restrict gender expression to an existing and dominant range of options.

Psychophysical strategies for supporting gender diversity in actor training, by Conrad Alexandrowicz, associate professor, University of Victoria

Conrad Alexandrowicz


Conrad Alexandrowicz is a director, writer, and choreographer, and the artistic director of Wild Excursions Performance. He is a storyteller who combines elements of theatre and dance in different ways. To date he has created over fifty dance- and physical-theatre works, some of which have been presented across Canada, in New York City, France, and the U.K. An associate professor in the Department of Theatre at the University of Victoria, he specializes in movement for actors and physical theatre creation, and continues his explorations into that mysterious territory where dance and theatre overlap.





  1. How can one counter gender-based discrimination in theatre? Is there systematic reform that must occur for these changes to take hold not only within post-secondary institutions, but in the theatrical community at large? Can a change in actor training in colleges and universities aid in eliminating the gender expectations still prevalent in a theatre community steeped in patriarchal values?
  2. As Conrad states, “in a patriarchal culture the bias against gender dissidence is magnified in the intense scrutiny that is placed on the performing body: since the actor is always already an eroticized object in the gaze of the audience, she or he is required to purvey heteronormative gender performances in order to vindicate mainstream definitions of attractiveness, glamour, and success.” How do such strict gender parameters placed on the performing body inhibit actors-in-training who may be simply unable to inhabit these such gendered performances?
  3. Conrad states that there is a “profound fealty to realism in the marketplace of representations,” creating an inability to “imagine gender dissident performers playing roles to which they do not correspond point for point.” Considering Rudolf Laban’s “Still Forms” as described in the video, work in a small group to explore the possibilities of inhabiting the Wall, Ban, Pin, and Screw. How might you strategize to allow gender dissident performers to inhabit roles that exist far outside of their own gender identities?
  4. If an actor’s role in playing a character is ‘technical’—that is: “a set of technical procedures that unleash the imagination, rather than [simply] via internal processes of the person”—how can acting training tuned to gender diversity embrace and extend such technicality?
  5. Elin Diamond states that, “Gender in fact provides a perfect illustration of ideology at work since ‘feminine’ or ‘masculine’ behavior usually appears to be a ‘natural’ and thus fixed and unalterable-extension of biological sex.” How can one use Bertolt Brecht’s concept of Verfremdungseffekt, or the Alienation Effect, to subvert inherited or dominant (patriarchal) perspectives of gender? See Laura Levin’s video in this series for additional insight into this area.

References and Resources

Bogart, Ann and Landau, Tina. The Viewpoints Book. New York: Theatre Communications Group, St. Paul, MN: Distributed by Consortium Book Sales and Distribution, 2005.

Butler, Judith. “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory,” in Writing on the Body: Female Embodiment and Feminist Theory, eds. Kate Conboy, Nadia Medina and Sarah Stanbury. New York: Columbia University Press, 1997.
Chekhov, Michael. To the Actor: on the Technique of Acting. New York: Harper and Row, 1953.
Diamond, Elin. Unmaking Mimesis: Essays on Feminism and Theater. London and New York: Routledge, 1997.
Evans, Mark. Movement Training for the Modern Actor. New York: Routledge, 2009.
Keefe, John and Simon, Murray. Physical Theatre: a Critical Introduction. Abingdon, UK and New York: Routledge, 2007.


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