Tag Archives: Phillip Zarrilli

An Essential Study

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Phillip Zarrilli’s new book may have a title that only a theater critic could love, but the body of his work deserves to be known and practiced by a much wider audience—and in terms of this blog’s readership, I am referring to anybody involved in the expressive or healing arts, ministry, ceremony, or public speaking.


Psychophysical Acting: An Intercultural Approach After Stanislavski is about the core of all effective expression: aligning will, mind, and subtle physical energies so that they meld seamlessly with our actions. Zarrilli has made a lifelong study of how breath, awareness, focus and movement conjoin to create believable performance, but his inquiry goes deeper than that: he is after a level of performance and presence where “the body becomes all eyes,” and one is “standing still yet not standing still.” (Disclosure: Phillip is also a cool family friend.)

His is much more an Eastern sensibility than a Western one, and Zarrilli bases his training method in large part on an intensive study of the South Indian martial art kalarippayattu, a practice that requires power and precision along with expanded attention and awareness. To the physical forms of kalarippayattu, Phillip has added breathwork and movement based on yoga and taiqiquan to create “a complementary set of psychophysical disciplines that begins and ends each day of training with a series of simple, breath-control exercises.”

The core of the book is a close and careful explanation of the exercises Phillip uses in his trainings, starting with the breath and then moving into different modes of embodied experience. The exercises and concepts used in the book are amplified to great effect by the accompanying DVD-ROM, which is very well done and adds extended video and audio clips that demonstrate what his hands-on work looks like in training and performance.

Pagan religions are all about embodiment—the immanence of the Divine in nature and in ourselves, the omnipresence of the spirits and the ancestors, Gods and Goddesses. With such a multi-layered world view, it always surprises me how very little we know about actual embodiment, let alone practice it in our rituals, celebrations, even in private meditations.

To some extent this lack is being remedied by better training, but without in-depth models of what is possible and how to get there, we won’t progress very far. This book is an excellent manual for explaining just that. It is better suited to group than individual study, because these embodied states are extremely subtle and we need reliable external feedback to train them into our bodies. But anyone who is serious about improving their ritual skills should either consult this book, or work with someone who has.

Better yet, Phillip Zarrilli travels all over the place from his studio in West Wales, training people in his system of embodied performance. He is a wonderful resource, and very approachable. The enterprising group that hires him for a period of intensive or ongoing work would find that their time and money were well-spent. And the result would benefit far more than just themselves.