Sharon Jakubecy Klehm was interviewed for The Actor’s Summit last year. She has worked with many professional performers so they “nail” auditions, overcome Performance Anxiety, and perform with confidence.
Watch this interview and see what an Alexander Technique session looks like. See the transformation that the interviewer experiences as Sharon guides him through a release of compression and collapse in his body.
“It’s all about application,” she says. “If you understand the work but can’t apply it to what you want to do, it’s not very useful. For example, when I teach, it’s ‘Okay, we’ll do some floor work, some hands-on guidance, some identify and release tension, but now let’s have you stand up and do a monologue.’ At the very beginning of a monologue, a performer’s habits jump in right away, so as soon as they go up on stage, I’ll ask them what they notice. They might notice that they’re locking their legs, or their lower back, or their chest—and that’s before they even begin speaking. Then at the next class, I’ll have them say just the first line of the monologue and notice what they do when they’re getting ready to speak. Do they gasp for breath? Lift their chin? Tighten their neck? Then I give them guidance regarding how to undo all of those inhibiting habits—’un-getting ready,’ so to speak. That’s one of my favorite terms. I teach actors how to ‘un-get ready.’ ”
Jakubecy thinks the growing interest in Alexander work stems from an August 2008 article in the British Medical Journal reporting the results of a study that had been done in England on the relationship between back pain and the Alexander technique. It compared the effectiveness of Alexander, exercise (in the form of walking), and massage in the relief of generalized lower back pain, and Alexander was found to be the most effective of the three. Patients who had 24 Alexander technique lessons experienced 85 percent fewer days of pain in a month than the control group. “So with the publication of that study, more people started seeking out Alexander technique for back pain relief,” Jakubecy says.
If you talk to an Alexander teacher, you’re probably going to hear them talk about ease of movement and efficiency—both extremely important when it comes to acting. And while studying the technique certainly requires that you invest your time and money in the practice, I’m here as an acting teacher to convince you that it’s a tremendously worthwhile investment both for your work and yourself.
A big part of the Alexander Technique is becoming conscious of the unconscious physical habits we’ve developed to move through our lives and do the things we need to do. Most of these habits involve chronic tension or overexertion aka using more effort than we really need to.
Engaged in continuously over time, chronic tension and overexertion have an impact on our neuromuscular system: the tensed muscles form a kind of body armor that we use to brace ourselves against the incoming emotional volleys we’re constantly subjected to.
For actors, this is a problem. We need to be emotionally available to the impulses being directed at us by our scene partners and the armor chronic tension outfits us with obstructs this process.
One thing we learn with the Alexander Technique is how unconscious we are of much of this chronic tension. This means we can’t expect to be able to just throw a switch and deactivate the armor when we want to—or at least not without some training. It’s this training that’s one of the most valuable things that the Alexander Technique can offer an actor: the ability to consciously promote physical openness and receptiveness, which go hand-in-hand with emotional openness and vulnerability.
The ability to be vulnerable is essential to crafting a memorable performance, but so is the ability to engage, to assert oneself, to play to win. The characters we play have needs and we need to embody these needs and then take up the character’s struggle to get those needs met. If that involves confrontation or conflict, we need to be able to enter into this conflict fully, to truly care about the outcome of the conflict, and to use our will, body, and voice to resolve it in a way that means that our character’s needs are met. In this process of pursuing what we need, we want to avoid either under-exerting or overexerting ourselves.
The Alexander Technique is terrific for learning to do what is necessary but not more so that we manifest our emotional truth without clogging ourselves up with unnecessary tension.
There are other advantages to the Technique as well. Through the study of the Technique, you will gain an intimate understanding of the human anatomy and how it functions, allowing you to see more subtle possibilities as you explore a character’s physicality. But in some sense this is icing on the cake; the Technique’s capacity to help us become more emotionally available on the one hand and to assert ourselves without overexerting on the other are gifts any actor can derive enormous benefit from for fuller, richer, more memorable work.
Andrew Wood is the founder of Andrew Wood Acting Studio in L.A., artistic director and founder of Uranium Madhouse, a Los Angeles-based theater company, and Backstage Expert. Check out his full bio here!
Ready to take your performance on stage, on camera, and in the spotlight to the next level? Sign up for Power Poise Performance a 6 week workshop for professional performers who want to up level your game so you feel unstoppable in auditions, on set, and when all eyes are on you! October 2 – November 6
Your pelvis is a physical center of nerves, muscles, organs and bones which connect you to your creativity, sensuality, and confidence. When you are suffering from pelvic pain, lack of sensation, and/or inflexibility, you can struggle with intimacy, personal power, well-being, and living passionately.
During Alexander Technique sessions, I meet many clients who do not have an awareness of their pelvis, groin, and lower abdomen. It almost seems as if that is a “No Man’s Land” (Or No Woman’s Land). Women, especially, are taught to keep the knees together or we will expose ourselves and possible be labeled a slut. Somewhere in our historical education, we were told that our pelvises and the organs and nerves contained within them are dangerous or that they will get us into trouble.
Ironically, we have pelvises with reproductive organs and highly sensitive nerves that tap us into our sensuality, our sexuality, and creativity. We are made to be sensual because we have the equipment to be so. A very thorough historical and anatomical volume that I highly recommend is a book titled “Vagina: A New Biography” by Naomi Wolf.
The anatomy of the pelvis, hip joints, spine, and diaphragm are interconnected. With a clear understanding of your pelvic center and the gripping you hold here, you can release old patterns of fear, armoring, and constriction, letting your juices flow. Your joy and your passion can inform your relationships, your work, and your artistry in the world. Your hips will open, your breath will drop down, and you will SHINE.
With the gentle and sophisticated hands-on guidance of Alexander Technique on your head, neck, and spine, the soothing freedom of Breathing Co-ordination of the ribs, belly, and diaphragm, and exploration of the pelvic anatomy (CLOTHES ON OF COURSE), you reach a profound calm state in the nervous system and discover HOW to release the muscles and joints of your sacred center.
I have seen people transform in Alexander Technique sessions. There is a fire within that is unleashed as a young female actor allows her abdominal wall to soften and move with her breath. An older man in his 60s stands big and tall and is reminded of his strapping stature when he was younger.
What lies dormant in your pelvis? What creative endeavor have you given up on? How have you shrunk yourself? Begin to observe your pelvis. What is it like to let your breath move you deep down into the pelvic floor? How do you feel when you five your groin some space and uncross your legs?
I look forward to hearing from you! Reply in the comments below and please share.
You got the phone call. You are going in! This could be a chance of a lifetime!
You have to be at the top of your game. But what if you get nervous? Can you handle to pressure? What’s going to happen when all eyes are on you?
You know that when you get nervous your body acts like it doesn’t have a brain anymore. Maybe you are like some of my clients who fidget. Or you lose all awareness and you have no idea what you are saying with you body language.
Unconscious behavior thrives when you are nervous. Habits that interfere with your clear thinking and professionalism take over your body and your voice so you look like a powerful force on stage and on camera.
Some of the biggest mistakes you make when you get nervous diminish your stature and your body’s ability to deal with the demands of higher levels of adrenaline.
Watch the video below to see if you make these mistakes:
Being calm in high-stakes situations takes training. When you learn how to ground your body and your nervous system, you can very consciously choose how you want to communicate in auditions, pitch meetings, and performances.
Training in the Alexander Technique gives you skills to heighten your awareness. You learn to release the tension patterns that prevent you from breathing easily. You gain conscious control of your body so you can release over activated muscles. You can soften your shoulders and allow your chest to open inviting your audience in to your world. You are free to express your authentic emotions without the nagging inner critic telling you “This is too dangerous!!! Shut down!”
Your awareness or your consciousness opens up the possibility of choice, of power over your own destiny, of thinking thoughts that will streamline your success. If you want this choice, this powerful consciousness, it requires training, practice, mindfulness and CURIOSITY. Being curious allows you to see clearly what your unconscious patterns without beating yourself up. Curiosity moves you away from trying to be right and allows you to venture into the world of the unknown and non-habitual, a world of vulnerability and authenticity. Here is where you truly connect with others and share your truth.
If you want this curiosity, vulnerability, and honesty, sign up for our free video series!
The Santa Monica Shakespeare Festival begins August 9 with “Twelfth Night” and then continues with “Taming of the Shrew” on August 15. Visit Santa Monica Shakespeare for information and tickets.
I have had the honor to teach Alexander Technique during the Classical Training Intensive with Louis Scheeder and John Farmanesh-Bocca.
Performing Shakespeare has heightened challenges for the actor. Shakespeare’s characters truly mean what they say and they are usually dealing with life-and-death circumstances. These circumstances trigger anger, confusion, desperation, exalted joy, rage, overwhelming love, deep desire, and suicidal sadness.
These are all emotions that the normal person does everything in their power to avoid. They are difficult and painful to honestly communicate.
In my first 2.5 hour training with these enthusiastic actors who were hand-picked for the training and festival, I emphasized the essential ability for the actor to be able to breathe.
Under the high-pressure stakes of Shakespeare and rehearsing in front of renowned Shakespeare teachers and other highly-skilled performers, many of the actors interfered with their own ability to breathe freely so that the emotion could not pass through their bodies.
Here are some of the ways they interfered:
1) Sniffing in a deep breath before beginning a monologue. This sniffing action requires your body to work much harder to receive the breath necessary to support the complicated language and rhythm. You will actually make yourself more nervous and your body will tighten with tension.
2) Rushing to begin and get the monologue over with. When you rush, you usually have to push the words out and you compress your neck, ribs, and spine. The actor I worked with was losing her lines. Even her memory wasn’t serving her because the rushing triggered a “Fight Flight or Freeze” response.
3) Pushing the head, neck, and shoulders forward to communicate anger and/or frustration. This requires a lot of physical tension and cuts you off from your breath and voice. You also close your body off by narrowing the chest, shoulders, and abdomen.
As I worked with the actors, I gave them the light and guided touch that Alexander Technique teachers have in order to communicate the release in their neck, shoulders, and abdominal wall.
Each actor reported feeling lighter and that it was easier to breathe. This release of tension in the neck and shoulders make them look powerful and open.
I invited them to think about having space for breath to happen to them. They did not need to BREATHE. Their bodies breathe FOR them. Another way to think about this is allowing for length, width, and depth in the torso.
They all practiced Constructive Rest which is a floor exercise that allows the muscles of the torso to release into length and width.
I led everyone through an awareness exercise that demonstrated that breath moved them from the inside. They did not have to force breath in and out. This can profoundly center and calm your nervous system before auditions and performances.
Our second workshop is this week. I am eager to share the “tools” of Alexander Technique while they perform their monologues. The spaciousness in the body, which allows for free and easy breath, supports the difficult circumstances of seeking revenge, proclaiming your love, or plotting the demise of you forsaken lover.