Alexander Technique and Connecting with Your Body
Performer John Tate shares his experience of using the Alexander Technique and other tips for actors to connect with their body.
By John Tate
As an actor, your body is your tool. Your body encases your voice and takes you from one side of the stage to the other and the whole time the audience is watching. But haven’t we all been guilty of forgetting to include our whole body in our performance when on stage? I know I certainly have. Many a time I've finished my big dramatic monologue and can feel my face start to flush and the veins in my neck start to pop.
The Alexander Technique helps you release those muscles that you weren’t even aware you were tensing.
Here are some suggestions about how to reconnect with your body:
I had never heard of the Alexander Technique until I went to drama school. Learning about it really was a ‘blow your mind’ moment.
The Alexander Technique was invented by an Australian actor who, whilst performing, kept losing his voice. Every time he lost his voice he would go to the doctor to fix it and once he had regained his voice he would lose it again. This continued until one day he asked himself ‘What if the problem isn’t my voice, but how I’m using it?’ He formulated a technique in which he didn’t look at the tool, but how he was using it. Was he contracting his throat? Was he breathing correctly? etc.
At drama school the Alexander Technique was taught alongside voice lessons, the voice can’t resonate to its full capacity if your body is tense, leading to the phrase ‘tension kills vibration’. If you try and tense every muscle surrounding your throat, you’d find it very difficult to talk, let alone project to a room of 500 people. You’d find yourself straining pretty hard.
The technique does a lot more than just helping your voice. It helps you become more efficient in your everyday life from sitting, washing the dishes and even holding a pencil.
There are countless books and recourses on the subject. I recommend starting with The Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique (STAT), where you can familiarise yourself about the technique and there's a directory to find your nearest teacher.
Yoga gives you flexibility and it also gives you strength. One of my teachers says, “Strong people float through life” and I think she’s right as it’s a physical and mental realignment.
Yoga has helped me greatly; I am 6ft 2in and like many tall people I started to get back pain - as early as my mid-20s. Yoga showed me that my posture wasn’t as good as I thought and that I had been tensing muscles in my back that I didn’t really need to.
Since practising yoga regularly, I feel more comfortable in my own body. I can get up and move with far more ease and with a sense of grounding. Yoga is also a great way of helping you relax so get on it, It’s great!
When dancers walk through the door you notice. And wouldn’t that be a useful thing to have if the room you're walking into is an audition room?
Dance (Not Movement)
Dance often seems to lend itself to period pieces (who wouldn’t want a period drama sitting nicely on your Spotlight profile?) but it also gives so much more. It helps with our posture and presence.
People with dance training have a certain way about them, some skill that I’ve never seen in anyone else. When dancers walk through the door you notice. And wouldn’t that be a useful thing to have if the room you're walking into is an audition room?
There are many different types of dance and having a basic skill in even one really helps your employability. It’s also a fun way of exercise and meeting new people.
Movement (Not Dance)
Movement is slightly different from dance. Dance is, well what you imagine, but movement is more about expressing with your body. Acting without words. Once you get your head around communicating with movement rather than with words it opens up a whole new way of telling a story.
A great example is Animal Studies. This is an exercise where you observe every aspect of an animal – their energy, how they move - and mimic it. Then you slowly revert to being human again whilst keeping some aspects of the animal in your body.
This is one of my go-to exercises when approaching characters. It gives me a quick way of accessing a person and their physicality.
Your body is your body, you do what you want with it but there are things you can do that will help you in your career. It is your best friend, your companion and your instrument. Treat it well, and you’ll be sure to reap the rewards.
John Tate is an actor and recent graduate of The Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama.
Born and bred in Liverpool, and having started his career in the Liverpool Everyman, he has worked both as an actor and trainee writer with a passion for environmentally friendly and sustainable theatre.
John has recently appeared in National Theatre Wales and Sherman Theatre's online production of ‘Ripples’ by Tracy Harris.
Photograph by Samuel Black.