This paper explores how the Alexander Technique concept of ‘use’ provides a means for exploring tension within the pedagogy and practice of mentoring young actors/artists. It presents examples taken from classroom instruction, linking the Alexander Technique with acting performance as two related and synergistic processes. It also provides examples from basic curricular processes and examines a composite case study, which stands as an aggregate portrait for students working in a university-based conservatory training programme. The discussion concentrates on how learners develop a lively, flexible and psychophysically grounded craft and ends by reflecting on the function of the Alexander Technique and its ability to provide a framework for theatre artists.
The Alexander Technique offers more than a relief of physical tension for the actor. It is an effective means to come to know habits of posture and movement and to develop a greater range of conscious choice directly relating to embodiment. Additionally, the AT thought process begins with a positive suggestion of “Letting/allowing…”, just as the acting process asks for “Yes, and…” to engage impulse, imagination and lively exchange. The psycho-physical freedom that this thinking invites, allows the actor to suspend the habit of controlling response and limiting authenticity. The actor is also more able to access and incorporate on an intuitive level all of their research and personal investigation. In this open and readied state, the actor moment to moment expresses truth through his/her physical being, as informed by craft and intuition.
I direct myself towards expansion as a gentle wish while I am acting … especially when I have excess tension in the moment of high stakes. Developing this skill is ongoing and continues to provide surprising results.
– Ally Gordon, actress and NSD graduate
I feel honored that you would ask me to write about my experience given my initial struggles with the Alexander Technique. I believe it has been your persistence that has allowed me to be more than simply the habits I had formed over the first 22 years of my life.
Engaging with the Alexander principles has helped me as a person and as an artist inwardly and outwardly. I have come to understand that the technique needs to be truly practiced in one’s life not just when we wish to look or feel good, but when we are alone and accountable to only ourselves. Having the ability to inhibit one’s habitual responses in life is magnificent!
Everyone who sees me and who knew me before grad school cannot believe the difference they see, and this is in large part due to you and your teaching of the Alexander Technique. A third year student once told me she felt taller after two years of AT studies and I didn’t believe her. Well, here I am graduating and I am taller! And, I can’t begin to tell you how much my walk has changed as well.
This work has asked that I confront myself and own how I limit myself physically and mentally. You have taught me tools to release and let go of the excess not only in scene preparation, but also in the moment right before I go onstage and when I am onstage.
I used to sweat bullets and not know how to deal with the impending tension that would arise from the excitement and anxiety of being on stage. Now I KNOW how to inhibit and redirect this energy and use it to reach the objectives of the scene. It is empowering beyond belief!
When I’m doing a monologue, standing on the subway, meeting someone for the first time or am at an audition for a musical and I sense my knees go tight, I refuse to let this become a downward pull. Instead I free myself of the excess tension and redirect myself so that the blocked energy can ease as flow throughout the whole of my physical self. Whatever I am doing lightens up and improves.
You have been one of my greatest influences in my three years here. My boyfriend and I love to watch the video you made of my acting work spanning the two years of being in your class and the huge transformation that is reflected. I now realize that I’m on a journey which is more in my own hands than I could have ever known.
– Danielle James, actress and NSD graduate