Joan Merwyn Physical Theater is the solo culmination of many years of collaboration, research and performance with experimental and movement theater groups and individuals. I have been a performing artist, creator, director and teacher since 1972. I have presented my own work, taught and performed internationally, both as a soloist and with numerous experimental theater companies (see Resume). My work is physical theater, which integrates the acting techniques of Etienne Decroux and Jerzy Grotowski, Commedia, Mime, Dance and Eastern European Existential Stage Clowning.
In my performance work, I aim to investigate and integrate individual human and cultural subjects via the visual stimulation of physical theater imagery. These images are contrasted and enhanced with text, sound effects and music. The sound may suggest a completely different aspect of the subject visually portrayed or vice versa. These combined, juxtaposed dramatic stimuli are intended to provoke thought. I seek to allow, through sight and sound, a larger viewpoint to emerge out of what is being singularly seen or heard. In other cases a harmonious relationship may also emerge between sound and image depending on my dramatic intention.
I work to explore the “extraordinary in the ordinary”* by dissecting physical, emotional and thought processes and breaking them down into articulated, stylized theatrical expressions. I create art that reflects the concerns of the populations I work with and serve as an artist. For example, the themes of the five works I wrote and directed for inner city, multi-racial students in the Higher Education Opportunity Program at Manhattanville College were the environment, HIV/AIDS, power, gangs and the news media. Also, the themes in the piece I offer for family audiences, cho?ces encourage young people to make healthy choices. Another theme of the current work which I am offering in SHIFTINGS, The Phase, explores the vicissitudes of adolescence in contemporary society.
As a movement theater artist and educator, I believe that the arts need to be accessible to all people in order to evolve a rich, multicultural society. Arts-In-Education and community based production work is not only a contributing source of my livelihood, but also an important part of the foundation of my artistic belief system. I aim to provoke thought and stimulate discussion through art projects.
I have practiced and implemented the art of physical theater as a healing force in the extended NYC community since 1983. Workshops, performances and residencies I conduct include populations who have a lot to say, but seldom have the opportunity to express themselves creatively; these include homeless men, women and children, mentally ill and schizophrenic adults, developmentally and cognitively disabled people of all ages, and children in the public schools (grades K-12). I facilitate and lead programs, which develop theatrical structures on subjects, which concern the target group I am working with.
With regard to my teaching, by the end of the current academic year I will have been in over eleven public schools for 10-17 week residencies, which culminate in performance, through Marquis Studios. Through the Foundation for the Creative Community, I have worked with homeless children for twelve years at Harriet Tubman Family Living Center, a family shelter. Through Hospital Audiences, Inc. I conduct creative workshops in a women’s shelter for the mentally ill and chemically addicted, in day treatment programs for mentally ill adults, in-school and respite programs for Special Education youth, group homes for mentally and cognitively challenged adults and at skilled care facilities for mentally ill seniors. I conduct staff development and seminars for teachers and educators through Hospital Audiences, Inc. (HAI) and Marquis Studios. I am a project Coordinator, Artist Evaluator and Site Coordinator for HAI. All my activities are based in physical theater and performing arts.
* Etienne DeCroux