Phenomenology for Actors (Book)

Theatre-Making and the Question of Being

This book explores how phenomenology – the study of how the world shows itself to conscious experience – can provide new insights into acting and theatre-making. It explores Being-in-the-world in everyday life with practical exercises for rehearsal and performance. 7 b/w illus.


This book gives new insight into acting and theatre-making through phenomenology (the study of how the world shows itself to conscious experience). It examines Being-in-the-world in everyday life with exercises for workshops and rehearsal. Each chapter explores themes to guide the creative process through objects, bodies, spaces, being with others, time, history, freedom and authenticity. Key examples in the work are drawn from Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, Sophocles’ Antigone and Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Practical tasks in each section explore how the theatrical event can offer unique insight into Being and existence. In this way, the book makes a bold leap to understand acting as an embodied form of philosophy and to explain how phenomenology can be a rich source of inspiration for actors, directors, designers and the creative process of theatre-making.

This original new book will provide new insight into the practice and theory of acting, stimulate new approaches to rehearsal and advance the notion of theatre making a genuine contribution to philosophical discourse.

The fundamental task of the actor is to be on stage with purposeful action in the given circumstances. But this simple act of ‘Being’ is not easy. Phenomenology can provide valuable insight into the challenge. For some time, scholars have looked to phenomenology to describe and analyse the theatrical event. But more than simply drawing attention to embodiment and the subjective experience of the world, a philosophical perspective can also shed light on broader existential issues of being.

No specialist knowledge of philosophy is required for the reader to find this text engaging and it will be relevant for second-year students and above at tertiary level.

For postgraduates and researchers, the book will provide a valuable touchstone for phenomenology and performance as research. The book will appeal to theatre and performance studies, and some applied philosophy courses. The material is also relevant to studies in literary and critical theory, cultural studies and comparative literature.

The work is relevant to The International Federation of Theatre Research (IFTR/FIRT) (Performance and Consciousness), Performance Studies International (psi) and the Performance Philosophy Research Network — an influential and growing research field.

Primary markets for this book will be students (both at university and conservatoires) and academics in theatre studies, as well as practitioners and actors in training. The text will be useful to students in units or modules relating to acting theory and theatre-making processes, and which combine critical theory with practical performance. It will also be useful for practitioners of theatre looking to expand or inflect their own methods of approaching performance.

Daniel Johnston is an Honorary Research Associate at the University of Sydney with a research background in the philosophy of acting. He holds a PhD in Performance Studies (University of Sydney) and MA (Cantab) in Philosophy (University of Cambridge).

List of Illustrations


A Note on the Text

1. Beginnings: Being There

Touching Hands with Being

What Is Phenomenology?

Performance and Phenomenology

Philosophers on Stage

Mapping the Self

2. Phenomenology: Being-in-the-World

Some Background Terms

Space and Bodies

The History of Being

Destruktion and the Text

From Theory to Practice

Observe a Walk

Observe Stillness

Scrutinize an Object

Chart a Place Well Known to You

Unpack a Place Where You Feel At Home

Dissect a Familiar Activity

Describe a Person

Recount a Time When You Struggled to Communicate

Demonstrate a Moment When You Had an Unusual Experience of Time

Stage a Life Choice

Recreate the Instant in Which Your Life Was Threatened


3. Being-with Others: The Cherry Orchard




Being Elsewhere

Other People

  1. Authenticity and Freedom: Antigone



Moods and Faring

Thrownness and Projection

Fate and Destiny

5. Time and Resoluteness: Hamlet


Having a History




6. Possibilities: Aletheia

On the Essence of Truth in Theatre

Poetry, Language, Theatre

Building, Dwelling, Theatre

The Question concerning Theatre Technology




'Daniel Johnston's Phenomenology for Actors: Theatre-Making and the Questions of Being proves itself as a book that successfully brought forward a uniquely fresh idea of showing how philosophy can contribute to the creative process and theatre-making. It is undeniable that this is relevant to the literature of performance phenomenology as well as its practical use for theatre-makers. Giving attention to the book as being easy to digest while discussing heavy phenomenological and existential themes, even those who have minimal to no background in phenomenology will be able to find this book useful and apply its samples.'

Bryle Louis T. Dayacap, Philosophia: International Journal of Philosophy
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