University of Exeter - College of Humanities - Department of Drama

Click here for more information about the Department of Drama at the University of Exeter. Phillip is convenor for the MA/MFA Theatre Practice programme at the University of Exeter.

Phillip Zarrilli and Kalarippayattu/Martial Arts/Performance

Phillip Zarrilli began his kalarippayattu training with Gurukkal Govindankutty Nayar of the C.V.N. Kalari Thiruvananthapuram, in 1977. He has returned regularly for advanced training in 1980, 1983, 1985, 1988, 1989, 1993, 1995, 1996, and 1998. He has also studied kalarippayattu with C.Mohammed Sherif and Sreejayan Gurukkal through the Kerala Kalarippayattu Academy (Kannur), and varma ati with Raju Asan of Y.N.K. Kalari (Vizhinjam). He began his training in yoga and a special form of yoga massage with Chandran Gurukkal of Azhicode in 1988, and later studied also with Dhayanidhi in Thiruvananthapuram. Between 1977-1998, Zarrilli spent a total of seven years living in Kerala learning the art through twice-daily intensive training sessions lasting up to five hours daily.

Phillip B. ZarrilliZarrilli was the second Westerner to train in traditional kalarippayattu, and the first to receive his teacher's permission to teach the art. He began teaching in the United States in 1978 after an extended period of extraordinarily intensive training under the close tutelege of Gurukkal Govindankutty Nayar. In 1988 Gurukkal Govindankutty Nayar gifted him the traditional pitham--a tripod on which past masters 'sit,' signifying mastery.

Tai Chi Chuan:

Zarrilli trained in Wu style of t'ai chi ch'uan under A.C. Scott--artist, theatre director, actor trainer, expert in East Asian languages and cultures, and the founder of the Asian Experimental Theatre Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Scott apprendiced himself to a master of Wu style t'ai chi ch'uan during the period at the close of World War II while residing in Hong Kong. Once he learned this form, he began to see its potential for use in training performers, and was perhaps the first Westerner to begin to use Asian martial arts in training performers.

Performer and Actor Training/Directing
Performer and Actor Training/Directing From 1979-1998 Zarrilli was director of the Asian-Experimental Theatre Program in Madison, Wisconsin, and a member of the faculties of Theatre and Drama, Folklore, and South Asian Studies. It was there that he developed his methods of training actors and performers through Asian martial/meditation arts. Zarrilli has become internationally recognized for training actors in psychophysical techniques using Asian martial/meditation arts, and has conducted numerous workshops at such institutions as Gardzienice Theatre Association (Poland), (London) International Workshop Festival, Centre for Performance Research (Wales), Passe Partout (Netherlands), Trinity College (Dublin), Seoul International Theatre Festival, among others. His recent directing credits include Was? Wer? [three plays by Samuel Beckett: Ohio Impromptu, Spiel, and Eh Joe] with Theatre Asou, Graz, Austria; An Evening of Samuel Beckett with the Centre for Performance Research, Wales; and Illuminata: Women Encountering the Divine--two solo devised performances which premiered in Chennai, India, in 1998. One of the two solo performances, "Walking Naked" with Gitanjali Kolanad, continues to tour internationally with performances in Bombay, Toronto, Seoul, among others. He currently teaches at the University of Exeter. One of his most recent collaborations is outlined below, with selected reviews of some of his productions as a director.


Zarrilli is the author of numerous books and essays. Zarrilli authored the first comprehensive study in English of kalarippayattu: When the Body Becomes All Eyes: Paradigms, Pratices, and Discourses of Power, published by Oxford University press in 1998. A second paperback edition (2000) is now available worldwide. He is currently authoring a practical manual.

His other books include: Kathakali Dance-Drama: Where Gods and Demons Come to Play (Routledge, 2000), issued along with two videotapes (an Introduction and a full play in 4 hours, The Killing of Kirmira); The Kathakali Complex: Actor, Performance, Structure (1984); editor, Acting Reconsidered: Theories and Pratices (Routledge, 1995, under revision for a 2nd edition); editor, Asian Martial Arts in Actor Training (Madison, 1993); co-author, Indian Theatre: Traditions of Performance (Honolulu, 1990). He is currently authoring a new book on his method of training actor, Acting 'at the nerve ends:' a psychophysical process.


For details of upcoming intensive workshops & massage, and of ongoing training conducted regularly at Zarrilli's "home base", please contact:

Phillip Zarrilli
University of Exeter
Department of Drama
Thornlea, New North Road

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