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Alexander Technique Acting

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Words: Choosing My Emphasis (Plus Free AT Exercise)

How do we choose our words? 

A little boy opens his mouth wide to express himself. Actors can learn a lot through his unabashed expression and lack of physical holding.

I’m a bit awed by the power of words and frustrated by the abuse of this power in forums like twitter. I have to admit some fatigue at how difficult it is to dodge the effect of words, so that sometimes I try to rush past them or tune them out! They touch off very deeply felt beliefs, evoke past experiences and plant the seeds of our impulses. 

We’ve been grappling with the impulses born from words in the studio lab this past month. We’ve explored ways of being through embodying the catalyst of a word: communicating through gesture, breath and action. We found ways of expressing monologues non-verbally, without sound. This month we are speaking the words, connecting thought, gesture and sound.

Spoken words resonate. The sounds waves resonate through our bones, while the associated meaning changes our way of being. Words offer choices in how we handle them and examine them. How we place emphasis is a choice that shifts the impact of a word. Just by slowing down a bit, we can notice the effect of our choices of emphasis on meaning.

I like to play with meaning and emphasis while I’m walking down the street. 


Try this:
An Experiment- "Words and walking”:

Try this experiment about emphasis and embodied meaning the next time you are walking…

Start with this simple, true statement: I AM WALKING ALONG THIS STREET.
Divide it into 3 possible emphases: I, WALKING, STREET (who, what, where)
Play with emphasis.

1) Let’s start with the emphasis on “street."

A street in New York City. An old woman sits on a bench reading, some young women walk. It is a warm summers day. Start walking down the street and practice this Alexander Technique a, Acting, and Presence Exercise.

I am walking down this street - this particular street. What is around me on this street? What is in my immediate field of attention? Am I passing under a sidewalk shed, past construction? Are there trees? Trash? Other people? What kinds of buildings are along this street? Are there cars passing by quickly or is the traffic dense and slow? Looking up, I can see the sky and feel the quality of the air, the humidity, the temperature variations, is there a breeze on this street? This street, right now!

2) Now emphasize “walking." 

Two sets of children's feet in sneakers walk down a cobblestone street. While practicing our Alexander Technique, Acting, & Presence exercise, focus on the idea of walking. "What am I doing? Oh, I'm walking!" etc...

What am I doing? Oh, I’m walking! What’s going on with my walking? Am I earnestly attending to the efficiency of my walk? Or am I mostly oblivious to the sensations of walking? Do I dare try out a funny walk in public? What are some of the specifics of walking? How are my legs swinging? How do my feet contact the ground? Can I sense my rhythm? What are some of the AT cues I’ve been using for walking - like letting my knees release forward, easily, from the back of my knee? Can I release extra weight or tension as I walk? What about Alexander’s simple self-directions: let my neck be free so that the weight of my head releases up and out of my spine, let my back spring up tall and wide and deep, let my arms swing easily at my sides, let my legs release away from my head and use the ground.
Walking!

3) Now play with the emphasis on “I."

A young woman crosses a bridge in the forest. She is serene and present. While practicing our Alexander Technique, Acting, Presence Exercise, practice walking with the emphasis on I. I'm the one walking, etc...

Here I am!  I. Me. I’m the one walking, with ease if I choose it. I’m the one deciding where to go next, I walk along this street and so I am essential to this place and this moment. Every step I take is happening NOW and now and now. Here I am and you can see me! I’m here, aware of my surroundings and with inner sensation… I’m walking with my own private history and beliefs. I am.

And finally, equally emphasize all three elements: I AM WALKING ALONG THIS STREET. 

Each choice of emphasis is more than a choice of words: it’s a choice of perspective. The experience of each word evokes a different way of being within the same activity.  

 

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Physical Gesture Exploration: In Life and On Stage

Gesture.

You've probably used gestures already today. With the flick of your hand, with the twist of your back or the flare of a nostril… you communicated your intentions very clearly. And in return, these gestures informed you about how your feelings, keeping you honest - at least to yourself.

Two actors, a woman and a man, stand with their right hand over their chest and their eyes closed in an open NYC movement studio.

Have you ever discovered that your shoulders are rising up to your ears while watching  a very intense, suspenseful show — and then thought “wow, I guess that really got to me”? For most of us gesture happens before we realize that we are doing it. But at times we consciously select a gesture, like a gentle tap to let someone know “I’m with you”. We use gesture to articulate in an embodied way, distinct from using words.

I've been thinking and reading about gesture this month. Gesture and movement in theater has always fascinated me and driven my work. But the honesty and simplicity of the everyday gesture is on my mind as well. As I'm embarking on a three week exploration of impulse and gesture (see my Thursday group class for Actors), I thought I would offer up a self-study experiment in gesture and embodiment. Anyone can try this -- it's not just for actors!

Here’s an experiment to play with today while you are walking down the street.

The back side of a man walking away in a light jacket and jeans. His arms are crossed behind his back as he walks. What does this say in reference to Lecoq gesture?

Part 1: Observe all the different ways that the people around you are using their shoulders. If you could put words to the gestures, what are they saying?

Part 2: Experience your own shoulders, sensing tension, sensing lift or droop, pulling or shaping to the front or to the back? Asymmetry? What ever you are doing, do it more - exaggerate. Do words or images come to mind? Does this exaggerated gesture remind you of a feeling or emotion? Do you want more or less connection with other people? Slowly do less of your shoulder gesture. How does it feel to let some of it go? Consider completely letting go of your shoulder gesture? What might you lose? What might you gain?

Belinda helps an actor experience more freedom in their head and neck which expands their expressive possibilities. Belinda's hands are lightly touching the young actresses neck helping her feel the space and freedom she can move in to.

Part 3: Take a little risk. Ask for your easy and expansive coordination: Let your neck muscles release holding your head, so that your head balance is fluid and lighter. Let your neck muscles release holding your shoulders so that your arms can swing more easily with your stride. Let your senses take in the area you are in or the street you are waking down. What thoughts and words are you expressing with this way of moving? What impulses do you feel connected with? What would happen if you used this open and easy shoulder gesture while interacting with the next person you meet?

PS Let me know how this goes!

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