Sunday, March 16, 2014

Getting You OUT of the Scene

Emma Jarrett
Do you ever just sit and people-watch? When's the last time you did that? You do know that's a part of your job as an actor, right? Your classroom is every public place you enter, every private encounter you have. Every person you study and every behavior you map out can inform your craft, if you'll let it in. Emma Jarrett has some beautiful insight on how to not just let it in, but how to let YOU out, too. Read on!

Getting You OUT of the Scene

I observe actors: I am intrigued by how you embody a character's ideas. So, in truth, I observe ideas expressed in physical form. Ideas embodied by you, the actor, in the way that you move and speak.

As an enthralled child at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon, I remember enjoying how little the stage greats seemed to have to do to capture my attention. My expertise now, as an adult, lies in observing the subtleties of the physical form both as a lover of theatre, but also as a trained professional in the field of intention and movement.

And during that time I have acquired one very simple driving belief that leads me to work with actors in the way that I do.

I believe that each of our actions is created first as a thought.

Without some form of intention, decision, design, and process, we simply cannot express ourselves physically. As an actor, without that clarity of intention, decision, design, and process, you cannot efficiently bring your character to life.

And here's why.

As much as we might hear to the contrary, our muscles cannot move themselves, nor remember how to move. Muscles just work on orders received via the nervous system.
Message to contract: Movement made.

And made exactly as commanded, and always in accordance with our ideas and the thoughts that give rise to those commands.

The fact that, on the good days, the precision of actions required appears to flow without thought does not mean that there is not some underlying intention and command flowing also. There has to be or you wouldn't be moving.

So if, as an actor, your job is to embody another person's ideas and their way of seeing their world, then it is the ideas of that character that need to be seen in your movements and voice.

And not your own.

To illustrate, let me tell you a story:

A very tall young man walked into my studio and appeared to be ducking to get under the doorframe to greet me. But, rather noticeably to me, he somehow never straightened up again as he extended his hand in greeting.

We talked. He explained his issue with wanting to pursue an acting career after his studies at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, but that he was being told he was already typecast because of his "bad posture".

"I have been told you might be able to help me, but I've been reticent to come and be told by yet another professional to 'Stand up straight!'" he said.

"Well," I smiled, "if there's one thing I can promise you with hand on heart, it is that I will never tell you to do that. It makes no sense to me."

Hurriedly, he continued:

"But, that's what is getting in the way of my career. Casting directors keep telling me that with my stoop I'm going to be stuck in meek, beggarly characters and my only hope of fame is later in life as Quasimodo or Richard III, and I did both of those in school plays! Everyone points to my posture and tells me I have to do something about it," he added with annoyance.

"And you have come to the right place," I responded, "So, take heart. There's a very high probability we can solve this for you, if you are willing to look at it from rather a different angle."

He looked quizzical but attentive and sat down to start his study of what causes "posture" and what changes it.

Having made further assessment, I continued, "I don't believe you need to pull yourself upright to solve your stoop. I believe you are already working hard pulling on muscles to round your back and get you lower to the ground."

I waited to see whether that registered.

"I also believe that, because of the remarkably efficient way that your spine and system is made, if you and I interact in such a way that helps you to stop pulling yourself down like that you will, in fact, rest back up with a beautifully flexible, inner relationship of bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments, vertebral discs all working at their optimum."

And all this time I was demonstrating as I stood there what happens to my shaping when I pull hard on muscles that squish my trunk and then what happens when I stop.
"Would you like to try an experiment to check this out?" I offered.

Already, from listening to this simple idea there was a difference in how he was arranging his body. There was an ease that hadn't been there before and when I used light manipulation of his neck and spine to give him more of a tangible experience of the belief I was sharing, he literally transformed out of his rather stooped, apologetic appearance.

He turned and tilted his head to look down at me from his newly-elevated vantage point and an ease and confidence showed in his facial expression.

He smiled slowly.

"But what have you done? I don't feel any effort through my spine. Usually when I sit up this tall I feel pain between my shoulders, but instead I actually feel open and easier," he marveled.

And so began the lesson in cause and effect. What causes what in our systems and what is required to affect change.

As he paid and we parted company, he noticed (I'm glad to say) a certain ingratiating stoop he affected in order to interact with me. "OH! I'm doing it again!" he declared. "I'm doing it to meet you at your level, to help you feel more comfortable rather than have a giant imperiously lording it over you!"

A-ha! Idea revealed... that had led to an action. He had his homework.

Now conscious of this personal belief and rule that he had been acting on, this young man can change how he chooses to appear to others and can decide to "stand tall" in any situation.

With this freedom, as an actor he can now embody someone else's ideas without unwittingly imposing his own.

He can get himself OUT of any scene he's offered.

How about you, dear readers of The Actors Voice: POV? How do you get yourself out of the scene? Have you had similar experiences? How did you break through? Emma and I would both love to hear from you! Thank you, Emma, for your POV!

About Emma Jarrett
Emma Jarrett has always been a lover of performance and ideas put into tangible form. Trained in England, Emma imparts her unique perspective of The Alexander Technique--informed by 25 years of studying human potential--to help solve physical and mental performance issues. She works with actors and musicians across North America and in London, England. Find out more at

Bonnie Gillespie is living her dreams by helping others figure out how to live theirs. Got a question, some feedback, or a great tip to share with the world? Email Follow Bonnie on Twitter, circle up at Google+, subscribe at YouTube, download THE WORK podcast at iTunes, or hit "like" at the Facebook. For cool weekly emails from Bon and a free MP3, opt on in. Looking for Self-Management for Actors coaching? START HERE! Yay!

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