What defines a Practitioner?
British Dictionary definitions for practitioner
The definition can also be explained more specifically to performing and the Arts.
‘Theatre practitioner’ is a modern term to describe someone who both creates theatrical performances and who produces a theoretical discourse that informs his or her practical work.
Chosen Practitioner Research
The Alexander Technique is a way to feel better, and move in a more relaxed and comfortable way – the way nature intended. A teacher of Alexander Technique helps you to identify and lose the harmful habits you have built up over a lifetime of stress and learn to move more freely.
The Alexander Technique can also help you if:
- You suffer from repetitive strain injury or carpal tunnel syndrome.
- You have a backache or stiff neck and shoulders.
- You become uncomfortable when sitting at your computer for long periods of time.
- You are a singer, musician, actor, dancer or athlete and feel you are not performing at your full.
Who Was Frederick Matthias Alexander?
F.M. Alexander (1869-1955) was an Australian actor who began to experience chronic laryngitis whenever he performed. When his doctors could not help him, Alexander discovered a solution on his own. He had not been aware that excess tension in his neck and body were causing his problems, and began to find new ways to speak and move with greater ease. His health improved to such an extent that his friends and several of the doctors he had consulted earlier persuaded him to teach others what he had learned. Over a career span of more than fifty years, he refined his method of instruction. After teaching for over 35 years, he began to train teachers of what has now become known as the Alexander Technique.
What is the Alexander Technique?
The Alexander Technique is a way of learning to move mindfully through life. The Alexander process highlights any inefficient habits of movement and patterns of accumulated tension, which interferes with our natural ability to move easily in accordance to how we are designed. It’s a simple yet powerful approach that offers the opportunity to take charge of one’s own learning and healing process. It is not just a series of passive treatments or exercises but an active exploration and reeducation of the mind and body that changes the way one thinks and responds in activity. The Alexander Technique is a method which helps a person discover a new balance in the body by releasing unnecessary tension. The technique teaches the use of the appropriate amount of effort for a particular activity, giving you more energy for all your activities. It can be applied to sitting, lying down, standing, walking, lifting, and other daily activities. It produces a skill set that can be applied in every situation. Sessions are meant to leave you feeling lighter, freer, and more grounded – improving ease and freedom of movement, balance, support and coordination.
Benefits of the Alexander Technique
Excess tension in your body can cause a variety of unpleasant symptoms and it can interfere with your ability to perform activities well. Therefore it is not surprising that most people come to the Alexander Technique because they are in pain (backaches, sore necks and shoulders, carpal tunnel syndrome etc.) and/or because they are performers who want to improve the quality of their singing, playing, acting or dancing. People of all ages and lifestyles have used the Technique to improve the quality of their lives. The Alexander Technique has been taught for over a century, and during that time a number of prominent individuals have publicly endorsed the Technique. Among them are:
Authors: George Bernard Shaw, Aldous Huxley, Robertson Davies, Roald Dahl, Jane Brody
Actors: Paul Newman, Jeremy Irons, Joel Gray, Mary Steenbergen, Julie Andrews, Patrick Stewart, Kevin Kline, Joanne Woodward, John Cleese, Alan Rickman, John Houseman, Robin Williams, James Earl Jones, Christopher Reeve, Judi Dench, Ben Kingsley, William Hurt, Keanu Reeves, Hillary Swank. Heath Leger, Pierce Brosnan
Musicians: Paul McCartney, Sting, Julian Bream, Yehudi Menuhin, James Galway, Sir Colin Davis
The importance of The Alexander Technique for Actors
“As long as you have this physical tenseness you cannot even think about delicate shadings of feeling or the spiritual life of your part. Consequently, before you attempt to create anything it is necessary for you to get your muscles in proper condition, so that they do not impede your actions.” – Constantine Stanislavski, An Actor Prepares
Why do actors need to practice Alexander?
The Alexander Technique is fundamental to the training of actors and is a crucial part of the curriculum at all accredited drama schools and conservatoires across the UK, USA and Europe. Stanislavski understood that excessive tension interferes with creating the spiritual life of a character in performance. The Alexander Technique, as a method, deals with this directly, empowering the actor to become aware of the physical habits that get in the way of their performance and transforming these habits, improving breathing, coordination and vocal projection – thus helping the actor to create the physical aspect of their characters with greater ease and allow fuller emotional expression.
There are many methods and approaches in the acting world. What is unique about the practice of the Alexander work is that it offers the actor the opportunity to assess what is happening during the performance and improve it. Understanding how you do what you are doing in an Alexander way is what Stanislavski spent his life’s work exploring.
The main focus of using the technique amongst actors is to teach them how to ‘use’ themselves better; specifically focusing on the relationship between the coordination of the muscles and the mind. So, if an actor is performing with rigidity then the actor is not using himself/herself properly; in this case, said actor and the audience will experience this as poor vocal production, lack of freedom in their movement, and a tense or forced expression of emotion. The negative impact on performance is obvious. Moreover, actors often have an unreliable sensory appreciation of their performance. They may not be aware of excessive or unnecessary tensions, or they may sense it but not understand how to change what is going on. Through studying the Alexander Technique actors become aware of their habits of ‘misuse’. Alexander work includes hands-on work as part of the process, where the teach will offer suggestions and directions for the actor to create improved use of theirs bodies. Actors also have the capacity to self-direct themselves and change habits of misuse to improve their performance. Through self- direction the actor creates new ways of performing so as to not impede actions.
Acting Student’s experience with the Alexander Technique
Interfering with the Primary Control
F.M. Alexander discovered the importance of the primary control, which, defined by Frank Pierce Jones, is “that a dynamic relationship of the head and the neck promotes maximal lengthening of the body and facilitates movement throughout the body.” It is the work of the Alexander teacher to teach the student to stop interfering with their primary control.
Personal examples of Student’s experience with the Alexander Technique
Eric, Daniel and Rachel were student actors who had the opportunity to study the Alexander Technique as part of their MFA curriculum.
Eric’s military background was apparent in his “use.” His head was pulled back, his neck muscles were shortened and his upper body strength was over-emphasized. He appeared energetically over-protected. His weight training further shortened his stature. This pulled his shoulders forward, taking the weight of his head back and down on his neck, which then pressed forward on his vocal apparatus. After seeing photos of himself, Eric became motivated to take charge of his use.
This Alexander class viewed the Bravo interview with Christopher Reeve that included an excerpt in which Clark Kent transforms into Superman. Reeve, having studied the Alexander Technique, skillfully uses his downward pull to drop into Clark Kent and releases out of his habit to transform himself into Superman. Through Reeve’s example, Eric was inspired to use Alexander’s principles to guide the performance of his one-person final project. Inhibiting his downward habits, including a habitual pattern of sitting in his hips that placed pressure on his larynx, he became fuller in stature and freer in sound.
Daniel had a dance background, yet lacked spontaneity. He would hold himself up, rarely allowing the natural support from his reflexes. When asked where his centre of gravity was, Daniel would point to his chest, which is called the “centre of levity” in dance training. Finding support from one’s centre of levity is not conducive to stability nor strength, so when Daniel brought his thinking to his chest he was easily taken off balance. As he brought his thinking to his pelvis he was able to remain centred and stable on his feet when challenged. Daniel’s ability to change his thinking through the Alexander Technique shifted his position-oriented use to a more flexible and centrally available one, allowing more of his whole expressive self to be present for his acting.
Rachel was attempting to stop upstaging herself with her hands, which she used when the words were slow in coming and when she lost trust in herself, and thus the primary control. Employing the Alexander Technique, Rachel improved her coordination. This process of gaining awareness, using inhibition and direction allowed her the time needed to reduce unnecessary hand gestures. Rachel’s access to her inner life was a valuable resource for the building of character. Without interfering with her inner connection, she was able to stay in the moment, enlivened and connected, and more compelling on stage.
Redirection and corrections
These students learned that by finding greater ease through redirection, they can grow in stature, poise and the ability to be spontaneous in their performances. Their voices fill the theater with increased strength and enhanced resonance. The overall effect on the repertory company is that of more evenly balanced performances by the students, a more effective ensemble between student actors and professionals, and heightened enjoyment for the audience.
At the core of an actor’s training is the process of learning to respond truthfully in the moment to imaginary circumstances. Constriction of the body in the form of fear and performance anxiety causes a hyper-responsive nervous system over-contracted muscles and an unbalanced skeletal system. As a result, timing becomes erratic, lines and actions are anticipated, and emotional responses become forced or faked. The Alexander Technique can serve as a powerful catalyst for opening the actor’s instrument to the deepest resources of available responses in the moment of performance. The results are a blend of vulnerability and absolute commitment that can create riveting moments in the theater.
The Alexander Technique offers the actor a very specific psychophysical process, a means of guiding a performance toward a deep sense of attunement with each moment as it unfolds. The study of the Alexander Technique is a gradual, in-depth process of re-education, requiring time and repetition. As the actor rebuilds a more reliable kinesthetic feedback system, he or she grows to be a more consistent, mature and dynamic performer, vividly contributing to the magic of the overall theatrical event.
Alexander class exercises
What to expect in a lesson
- Initially you may discuss your reasons for taking lessons and your teacher will explain what happens in a lesson.
- Your teacher will guide you through simple movements and everyday activities such as sitting, standing, walking or bending, communicating through skilful hands-on guidance and verbal explanations.
- Part of the lesson may include lying down in the classic Alexander Technique semi-supine position which allows maximum support for the back to relax and expand.
- Although you will not be engaging in any kind of strenuous exercise, the lesson relies on your active participation.
- Your teacher will recommend that you wear unrestrictive clothing. Trousers or leggings are ideal. You may be asked to remove your shoes.
The regular practice of lying down in the semi-supine position will help in encouraging the changes sought with the Alexander Technique, and is invaluable for maintaining a healthy spine. It is a way of giving yourself a ‘little Alexander lesson’.
- Lie down on a fairly firm surface, like a mat or rug on the floor, with a couple of paperback books under your head to raise it slightly.
- Bend your knees with your feet flat on the floor about shoulder-width apart.
- Take some time to allow yourself to ‘arrive’ and settle in this new position
- Notice how you are in contact with the floor and your head with the books; notice the main weight-transmitting areas – the back of your head, the two shoulder blades, the back of the hips and the feet
- Quietly notice what is around you, what noises can you hear inside and outside the room, what can you see? Notice those shapes, forms and colours to the sides, above and below (it doesn’t matter that they’re not in focus)
- Each time your mind starts to wander, gently bring your attention back to where you are here and now, simply noticing what you can see, hear and feel
- Try these thoughts (remember they are just ideas never actions to do):
- be aware of the direction of the crown of your head towards the wall and of your feet towards the opposite wall; also, of your right side out to the right, the left out to the left, and of where up and where down is
- think of the whole of your back, starting at your tailbone and gradually working all the way up to the top of your spine, with the idea of a gentle unfurling all the way up, together with an expansion or widening of your torso
- since your hips and feet are fully supported by the ground you can imagine your knees being so free that they could just float up away from your hips towards the ceiling.
This position gives the best support and rest for your back and is the perfect way to de-stress, refresh and feel energised.
How long and how often
Ideally, 15 to 20 minutes each day to lie down, is enough time to help restore suppleness and realignment of the spine, and to reconnect the relationship between your mind and body. As well as the physical benefits, the semi-supine practice will give you that all important time to be aware of yourself, to quieten your mind and just stop.
Alan Rickman wrote: “With the best intentions, the job of acting can become a display of accumulated bad habits, trapped instincts and blocked energies. Working with Tom and the Alexander Technique to untangle the wires has given me sightings of another way. Mind and body, work and life together. Real imaginative freedom.”
I chose to explore and present this Practice as a family friend has recently graduated as an Alexander Practitioner after completing her training and is currently touring top drama and music schools to shadow and assist experiences teachers of the method before moving on to start her own practice.
There is also a personal reason to why I chose to explore this Practitioner; my dad recently had several operations which left him extremely weakened and less mobile and despite the intervention of having the operation in the hope of helping his back and legs pain, he still experienced severe sciatica. As a result Jeanette (our family friend) offered to practice on my Dad as a way of helping him and gaining practice and experience while in training. My Dad was a very enthusiastic runner and sportsman and suffered a lot both mentally and physically when he couldn’t run due to his back problems which left him very weak, however the exercises given to him after being practiced on helped him a great deal. Although I know this is not an example of the Alexander technique being used in relation to the arts, I felt inspired to explore the benefits of the technique even more and discover its effects in other areas.
I have also recently offered to be a body for Jeannette to practice on in the future so she can continue to practice now she has graduated and I hope by doing this I will make discoveries about my own body and how I can correct problematic areas whilst also learning more about the practice as a whole.