As part of task two we had to deliver a presentation workshop on our chosen practitioner and their technique. I chose to explore the Alexander Technique further as it is something slightly different to all the acting methods introduced to us in the other workshops, as well as the fact that it is relevant to all the performance pathways: dance, acting and singers alike. Furthermore, the face that my best friends mum has just finished her training as an Alexander teacher after a 3 year degree course, and has been visiting music conservatoires and drama schools to practice workshops has meant that I have heard the benefits of the method first hand, which excited an interest to find out more!
When it came to presenting my research in a workshop form I wasn’t exactly sure how I was going to do so, as obviously any Alexander work should be done by a professionally trained teacher, as it is dealing with correcting and aligning the body properly. As I am clearly not in a position to do this I decided I would give them a brief insight of the history behind the technique and how it is relevant to actors. I did this through the medium of videos which I had found when carrying out my research, and found really interesting and useful, and therefore wanted to share them with the rest of the class. I was slightly wary that they might find the use of videos boring or like I wasn’t engaging them sufficiently as a leader, however I genuinely believed it was the most straight forward and beneficial way of learning its uses secondhand. If I was working with a smaller group perhaps, I would have been more inclined to have used a member of the group as an example and work through their character and and habits with them (even though I wouldn’t be able to correct this professionally we could have started a discussion on noticing the problem areas or habits). However in a large group filled with mixed pathways, this was more complicated and less of an option.
I decided to include a short activity which I had used several times in drama workshops or class warm ups when doing character work, however I adapted the game and applied some of the things I learnt from my Alexander research. The exercise involves the company getting into pairs and then walking round the space completely naturally, person A would continue to do this while person B walks behind them observing their movement, posture, and alignment. Once the person feels they have captured the physicality of this person they would tap A on the shoulder indicating that they should move t the side and watch B’s impression of your walk – depending on the results you could then get them to exaggerate the physicality increasingly on a scale from 1-10, to make it easier for A to notice the extent of their habits more noticeably. The hope is that this representation of their physicality would almost act as mirror image and flag up any abnormalities or issues with your walk and stature. I thought this was very interesting to watch from an outside point of view, seeing the genuine article and then how much people noticed and how they subsequently had to change their own body tension and alignment to capture their partner. I would have liked to explore this further but I felt very rushed for time.
I also thought it would be beneficial to show the group the most basic Alexander position and talk them through how they can use this to relax and realign the vertebrae in their spine in a calm and focused way. The Semi-Supine position is something most people should already know, but they just don’t know how to best implement it or of the benefits behind it. I talked them through the purpose of the position and the areas of their body that they should be paying attention to. I also wanted to make them aware of the common misconceptions of it simply being a way to relax, as although the position is very relaxing, the idea is not to drift off and let your body slouch, rather an exercise where you are encouraged to focus on the positioning of each of your body parts against the floor – paying attention to each vertebrae. It just so happens this is easiest way to put your body in its most neutral position. Again I felt very conscious about the time and while I may have liked them to have the opportunity to do this for longer to feel the benefits an let their mind focus and get used to the position, I didn’t want to risk wasting time and so I just talked them through the process at a quicker pace and then explained how someone who was practising Alexander would normally do this for 15-20 minutes a day.
The response I got from my class mates was as I expected, and I got the impression that a lot of them thought it was slightly pointless or couldn’t see the relevance or how something like that needs to be taught when it seems that the sole element of it is ‘correct posture’ but obviously this isnt the case. I can appreciate my workshop wasn’t the most riveting or active, however as mentioned before it was more about getting an idea for the method and how it can be used as it isn’t something one can teach in a single workshop presentation on its own. When we did the question and response session at the end of the workshop, I was expecting to get not many questions or responses to what we had done, which was true to some extent, however I was pleased to get feedback and opinions from Lou and some of the other actors who expressed how they could see how it would be beneficial. Because there wasn’t many responses I felt the need to put it right by summarising everything I said and reemphasising how important it is in ALL of the disciplines, in an attempt to reengage them. Although there were aspects of my workshop I know I could have improved on (if I had more time and were better organised), there were moments that I was really pleased with and felt I performed well in. For example, the way in which I singled out members of the class as examples when doing the walking around exercise, so I could physically demonstrate the areas of tension on this person and how you can identify them and how they could potentially get in the way of performance.
While the class didn’t necessarily provide a response full of enthusiasm and questions I could tell that they had absorbed the information and had started to think about how it might help them which is exactly what I hoped for. I was really pleased with Josh and Scott’s questions which opened up the opportunity to elaborate on specific areas such as the relevance of the book behind the head, and whether t is best to practice on a soft or hard floor and the reasons behind this. By getting questions like this it made me more confident that the class actually found what I had taught them useful and may start to pay more attention and try and use it when creating characters or even just give them the insight into noticing what might be unaligned in their own bodies.
Below I have attached the evidence of my workshop in an introduction to Alexander Technique, as well as my course leader’s evaluation and written commentary on my performance:
Helena Rudd – Course Leader feedback
Learner name: Beth Easdown (Musical Theatre pathway)
Qualification: UAL Extended Diploma in Performing & Production Arts
Unit number & title: Unit 9 Developing Performance and Production Skills Description of activity undertaken
Beth was asked to choose two relevant practitioners to research / investigate. Based on this she was asked to:
Select one of her practitioners – Alexander (Frederick)
Identify a technique that is clearly associated with their work – appropriate use of tension
Develop an exercise / workshop using this technique which could be taught to her peers in one of the sessions Assessment & grading criteria (for which the activity provides evidence)
Learning Outcome 1 Be able to identify, select and use appropriate techniques and skills for the identified discipline
Assessment criteria 1.2 Demonstrate practical, technical and theoretical understanding (Pass) How the activity meets the requirements of the assessment and grading criteria, including how and where the activity took place.
The exercise / workshop, led by Beth, took place in the dance studio here at college. It lasted 10 minutes approximately and she worked with fellow year 2 students who are also working on the same assignment. The workshop was filmed and the video record has been uploaded to the Conservatoire EAST Performing Arts YouTube channel in a playlist titled U9 Practitioners and Techniques. There are three video clips named ’03.10.16 Beth Easdown pts 1, 2 & 3’ which show her introducing the practitioner, explaining the technique and then carrying out the activity with her peers, there is also a summing up at the end with Beth’s observations.
Beth explained that Alexander was himself a former actor who, having experienced difficulties with his voice, had identified that he was using inappropriate tension in parts of his body and this was causing his problems. Beth showed a video of someone who had experienced benefits in their performance training by using Alexander principles. Beth then showed her peers the semi-supine position explaining that this would normally be carried out with a book of an appropriate thickness under the back of the head before getting them to try it themselves. She then asked them to get into pairs and for one to observe the other closely as they moved around the room. She asked the observer to try and copy the way their partner was moving, their carriage etc. and then got the partner to observe ‘themselves’ through looking at this copy. She reversed the exercise and this time asked the observer to exaggerate their partners ways of moving. She then used one person to demonstrate their ‘copy’ of their partner as an example. Beth then showed a video clip of an Alexander teacher working with an actor on how to create a character with exaggerated physicality without using tension that restricts the actor. Although Beth asked her participants how they found the workshop, she didn’t actually give them an opportunity to answer instead summing up how relevant she felt Alexander technique was to performers of all genres.