The Alexander Technique is Awesome for Actors
I shared in one of my “life. art. biz.” emails that I had recently done an awesome Shakespeare intensive with the Theatricum Botanicum. I learned so much that I really look forward to passing on to you all over time. In this post, I will share a powerful technique to really catapult your physical and vocal work as an actor.
“As long as you have this physical tenseness you cannot even think about delicate shadings of feeling or the spiritual life of your part. Consequently, before you attempt to create anything it is necessary for you to get your muscles in proper condition, so that they do not impede your actions.” – Constantine Stanislavski, An Actor Prepares
I had practiced the Alexander Technique some before and was fortunate to get to dive in again at the Shakespeare Intensive with Janet Crouch Shulman.
I really liked her style. I love what she said about how too often actors are told to relax, when instead what we really want is a sort of organized tension. We need our bodies to hold us up properly and if we truly relaxed we would sort of crumple to the floor.
While working our Shakespeare pieces, she gave very simple adjustments that often made startling improvements. I was working on one of Constance’s monologues from King John and Janet really helped me open up and release my body (which was out of alignment and tense). Shakespeare was then able to do me, rather than me do it. Make sense at all?
I’m going to share a few simple exercises Janet gave us that you can do on your own, but here’s something important to remember when doing Alexander work: You don’t need to make your body do anything. Instead, it’s all about the thought of doing something which actually sets off physiological responses in the body.
Here’s an exercise like one Janet gave us to prove that point:
Don’t actually do this but instead, think about reaching for something in front of you. Now pay attention to what happens in your body. What do you notice?
When I do that, my fingers start to tingle. My body is responding to the thought of reaching for something. This is the idea of Alexander work and what I want you to keep in mind when you do the exercises.
Below is a simple Alexander exercise Janet shared you can get going with, but really it’s best to work with someone who knows what they are doing. I highly recommend using this American Society for the Alexander Technique site to help you find a great teacher to help you one-on-one. Your craft (and future audiences/writers/directors) will thank you!
There are many different exercises in Alexander (like a lifetime’s practice worth!), but try this one standing up:
Think about your neck being released and free so that–
The head can release forward and up out of the top of the head (Think about the possibility of nodding.)
Think about your shoulders releasing out to the sides.
Think about your heels being grounded into the floor.
Think about your knees releasing forward.
Think about your back releasing back.
Go for a walk around the room while thinking the thoughts above.
With practice, this simple tool can help your body find a more proper alignment. This will help you find your voice, free you up to your emotions and get you to really start from zero as you begin work on characters.
With practice, this simple tool can help your body find a more proper alignment.