Leland Vall
Certified Instructor
Alexander Technique in New York City
Manhattan - Downtown and Midtown
Great Neck - Middle Neck Rd
leland@freeyourneck.com
917-239-6313

Alexander
Technique

A Tool For Transformation
Sitting Posture - Alexander Technique

Leland Vall
Certified Instructor
Alexander Technique in New York City
Manhattan - Multiple Locations
Great Neck - Middle Neck Rd
leland@freeyourneck.com
917-239-6313

Alexander
Technique

A Tool For Transformation
Sitting Posture - Alexander Technique

Alexander Training and Acting Training: Similarities and Differences

Leland, my Alexander teacher, sometimes says to allow the head to rest on the spine “like a placid body of water”. It is not an idea unique to Alexander work. You can find similar notions of the head as a free-floating entity in many styles of acting work, and I’m sure you can find it in Zen and other approaches to spirituality. So what does Alexander have to say about this state of “placid resting” that is different from other disciplines which make use of the same idea? Or do they complement each other?

If an actor is given an instruction to let their head rest thus, they probably also are being told that they need to “loosen up” – that too much tension is inhibiting their connection to the camera or to the audience. In Alexander, the suggestion to let the head rest thus might be followed by the suggestion to let the head and feet go “away” from each other, to let the body expand. The actor in question probably would not be told anything like this – unless they are working in a musical or in opera – rather, they would be told, having “loosened up,” that they ought to “get grounded” or to “drop in” to the character.

To “drop in,” to the actor, means to let the character flow through your body, naturally, without reservation or hesitation. This is an interesting distinction to make vis-à-vis Alexander work, which, it sometimes seems, is *all* about hesitation.

The distinction really rests on this: acting work, although certainly process-oriented, is still concerned with some kind of goal: filling the house on opening night, or nailing the take. Alexander is not goal-oriented; there is only process without end.

Another suggestion Leland suggests is to let the exhale run more fully than we may be accustomed to doing: to let the breath, so to speak, “breathe” on the exhale; to seek the end of the exhale. The point is also made in Alexander that in fact we can *only* speak on an exhale; there is no such thing as speaking on an inhale unless we want to sound like we’re sucking up helium. There is often the reminder that breath is inevitable and so there is no need to breathe “deeply” (because all breath is deep, whether it is large or not), that the inhale will happen on its own. But actors, especially in formal training programs, are often instructed to speak “on” the breath. To Alexander this would be nonsense: there is no such thing as speaking “off” the breath.

So what does the acting instruction really mean? To speak “on” the breath is a twofold instruction: it has to do with projection (needed to fill up a theater and be heard in the back row) and it has to do with direction of thought: if the intention or action being conveyed through the line is “on” the breath, this is shorthand for saying that it is resonant, can be felt, is effective.

“Resonance” is a term I’ve yet to hear even once in my Alexander lessons. Where there is only process, there is less relevance to resonance.

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2 Comments

  1. Sue

    Although I’m not an actor this post has made an impression on me. I had never thought about the inability to talk on inhale before but how true that is. As a gym user I always try to be mindful of exhaling on exertion and this certainly works. Lately I have been allowing my exhale to be longer than my inhale and I feel my core engage more readily when I run if I do this. Thank you, Everett, I enjoy your musings!

  2. admin

    As Everett’s Alexander instructor, this is the first of his posts that I think needs a comment.

    It’s important to remember that the Alexander Technique, especially in relation to acting, is not a rigid code. For example, a character might suggest tension or slouching, and there is nothing wrong with actor wanting want to explore that further. But the actor might also want to explore the possibility of portraying tension or slouching without actually being tense so that they can avoid injury. The Alexander Technique is valuable to the actor because it helps uncover unconscious habits and reveals in their place new choices and possibilities.

    Your comment about resonance is also interesting because I’m surprised that I haven’t mentioned it. I’ll have to quote my teacher, Jessica Wolfe, on that one: “Light projects, sound resounds.”

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