I went to the Getty Center yesterday to see the London Calling exhibit, an exhibition of works by painters in London in the post-WWII period.
While I was there, I tried to make use of my understanding of the Alexander Technique as I moved through the exhibition. The Alexander Technique is not an acting technique in itself, although it is very relevant to acting, and actors in the MFA acting program at the Yale School of Drama are required to study it for the entire three years of the curriculum there. My “elevator pitch” on the Alexander Technique is that it helps us to become aware of, and address, habits of what I call “micro-scrunching”, subtle contractions of muscles that we make unconsciously that interfere with our ability to move through our lives with ease, poise, and presence. For actors, this “micro-scrunching” interference causes a host of problems. One of these problems is it obstructs the actor’s process of exposing his or her vulnerability. The great psychologist Wilhelm Reich talked about the way in which our muscles often function as “armor” against the psychic blows we inevitably encounter in life. This armoring undermines the actor’s ability to make palpable his or her own vulnerability, his or her own need for meaningful connections with the world. The Alexander Technique is wonderful in terms of counteracting that physical armoring process.
Another benefit of the Alexander Technique is that it can have a subtle but undeniable effect on our perception of our environment. By eliminating unnecessary muscular effort involved in perception (such as the process of fixing our gaze on something), we are free to have a closer encounter with our world. At the museum, I found that when I invoked the Alexander Technique reminders, my experience of the paintings I was regarding changed significantly. For one thing, I became more conscious of the physical surface of the painting; the textures presented themselves more strongly. At the same time, to the extent that the paintings in question depicted a scene in three-dimensional space, I found that I had a greater experience of depth-of-field in the images. This, in turn, asked me to look at what I was seeing not merely as painted figures, but as figures in three-dimensional space, which in turn asked me to regard them as people. On the whole, I found that when I remembered to invoke the Alexander Technique, my physical and emotional experience of the painting was enriched, and I had a more vivid, sensuous experience, and as a less guarded, intellectual one.
A richer sensory experience can not help but enrich and strengthen an actor’s work. The experience at the museum re-affirmed my conviction about the value of the Alexander Technique all over again.