Mid-Term Madness…

Took the Script Analysis Mid-Term yesterday. In truth, though I felt familiar with the material, I did not study as I should have. In fact, I absolutely forgot about it until the night before. (See, I’m seeking ‘truth’ in my career. No holding back.) So as astutely as I could under the circumstances, I did the old college cram. Now that the test is over, I am reasonably sure I got a B. I know I did not fail. More importantly though, I know the material from both paying attention in class, taking copious notes, and that last cram probably stuffed some more knowledge in there. So while I am disappointed I was not ahead of the curve here, I am happy with the result. (Now I’ve winged myself…Alexander Technique asks that we pay more attention to the more important ‘process’ than the ‘End-Gains’. Ouch.)

The other Mid-Term for Alexander (speaking of…) I DID begin early. I have spent about 12 hours on it and produced a 10-page document which I believe will earn an ‘A’. That process was a good one. I believe, so will be the result. It is included in the journals.

Here they are:

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ACTING FOR DIRECTORS:

10/02/13

Continuing with Director Reports;

#4.) Max Reinhardt [Expressionism] – by Mallory

  • First director to achieve wide-spread recognition.
  • Studied under Otto Braum
  • Believed theatre should be a “larger than life spectacle!”
  • First use of revolving stage, which promotes the idea of ‘progressive scene-work) [Midsummer Night’s Dream].
  • Did, at his peak, 48 shows in one year.

PRESENTATION: Good presentation and detail in research. Well organized, articulate, personable. What would help is more eye-contact and engagement of the audience.

#5.) Peter Brook – by Janiel

  • Founder of the International Center for Theatre Research
  • Breaks theatre down into four categories: Deadly, Holy, Rough, and Immediate.

PRESENTATION: Good eye contact and expounding off the page. A few important words got dropped here and there. A little scattershot at the end, due to time constraints she rushed a bit. Maybe the material could be streamlined for economy without losing the depth of the subject matter.

#6.) Martin Scorsese – by Amos

  • Themes include Catholicism, redemption, crime, violence.
  • Not interested in ‘realistic’. Said that every film “…should look the way I feel.”
  • Says his life is, “…religion and films.”

PRESENTATION: This was the best presentation by far of all the Directors. Amos was very natural, at ease—which puts us at ease, good projection, enunciation, clear, held the attention of the room, wore a spiffy bow-tie which drew attention and added credibility, had interesting facts, was thoroughly engaging, and earned a hearty round of applause. I had no major criticism of Amos’ presentation.

#7.) Ann Shapiro – by Ingrid

  • Tony Award winner
  • Interested in people who ‘look’ free, but aren’t.
  • Extremely humble during critical praise.

PRESENTATION: Warm smiles. Ingrid has her Icelandic accent but overcomes the challenges respectably. Ingrid needed more substantiation for claims, more specifics and information about why Shapiro is notable and unique.

#8.) Auduseo Boal – by Haide

  • Themes: Social Justice, Power of the People, believes in theatre of advocacy.
  • Coined: Theatre of the Oppressed.
  • Was kidnapped, tortured, dropped off in Argentina, and still he continued his work.
  • Was also a politician—part of the city council—had theatrical presentations in government meetings.
  • 1981: Created the first Theatre of the Oppressed Festival.

PRESENTATION: Very good elaborating off the page, and she made good eye contact throughout the presentation. She rushed a bit and at those times, her words raced each other to get spoken. I would pace a little slower, more deliberately, with an emphasis on projection and diction to make sure the audience gets every word with her great voice.

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Before the presentations, I went over to my assigned director (who has not yet given me a script for our classical monologue) and she told me she had one for me at the end of class. At the end of class, I approached her and she said she didn’t have it with her but she would email it. “Today?” I asked. “Today.” She said. At 8:45pm, I texted her to remind her about the script. I mentioned we have our first presentation on Wednesday and told her I’m not a super whiz at memorizing scripts. She replied, “I’m not worried. I’ll send it later. I’m busy right now.” Well shit. Everyone else has their scripts. I immediately thought to myself, “Of course you’re not worried. If you were worried about it, you’d SEND THE FUCKING SCRIPT.” Point being, come on…do what you say, be prepared, and understand it’s not entirely about you and how you’re feeling. Everyone in the class has scripts but me. Now maybe I’m a little touchy because I want as much time to read the script, but am I out of line for wanting what I am supposed to get when I’m supposed to get it, and when it’s been promised? So the acting lesson from this is probably: You never get what you want, when you want, as much as you need, and that’s it. So deal with it, Tom.

And she seemed as promising personally as a director for an enthusiastic and on-the-ball experience. Maybe I’ll get the script tomorrow. Who knows?

ADDENDUM: I now have the script. 12:30am. Actually, it’s a pretty good one:

DANTON: I do not understand the word ‘punishment’. You and your virtue, Robespierre! You take no bribes, run up no debts, sleep with no women, always wear a clean coat and never get drunk. Robespierre, you are abominably virtuous. I’d be disgusted if I’d spent thirty years with such a self-righteous expression stuck on my face, running about between heaven and earth, only for the miserable pleasure of finding people worse than myself. Is there nothing in you, not the merest whisper, that says to you, very softly and very secretly, ‘You lie! You lie!’

[ROBESPIERRE: My conscience is clear.]

DANTON: Conscience is an ape tormenting himself before a mirror. We all dress ourselves up in high morals, then go on the town to get the goos time we want. Why get in each other’s hair about it? I say, each man to his own pleasure; and the right to defend himself against anyone who threatens it. But you! Have you the right to turn the guillotine into a tub, to wash people’s dirty laundry with their severed heads for scouring stones, and all because you like to wear a clean coat? Yes, if they spit on it or tear holes in it, defend yourself, but what business is it of yours as long as they have you in peace? If they’re happy going about in dirty clothes, does that give you the right to slam them into their graves? Are you the policeman of heaven? If you and your Supreme Being don’t like it, hold a handkerchief to your nose.

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ACTING II:

10/2/2013

We got our results from the final monologue presentations. I scored a 23 out of 25. In other words, the monologue I thought was about the crappiest thing I’ve ever put out on a stage, this monologue where I did the wrong words and was entirely self-conscious and nervous and out of the head of the character I was playing…kicked ass! THAT will roll a big-ass bowling ball in your head, my friends, if you are at all serious about theatre and acting. Oh well, at least the ball is rolling. I’m gonna’ complain about a great score? Not on your life. We talked about Miss Whitherspoon a bit. I was all talked out about that play in script analysis, so my comment was, “I really liked the giant chicken.” Memorizing a partner scene from Venus in Fur. Good scene, good partner. I gotta’ get this thing into my head by Monday, along with a script score, analysis, a full reading of the play…whew!

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ALEXANDER TECHNIQUE:

10/2-3/13

 

These days were all about getting my Midterm Exam completed. I wanted to do a good job. We had to not only answer questions and define terms, we also had to talk about each term directly as it relates to our own experience in the class. On the one hand, as a take-home, the pressure is off to some extent. On the other, I’m just a thorough guy and I have to write a serious paper. I’m just absolutely sure nobody’s turning in a 10-plus pager with cited sources and all that jazz. I shall include it for the record as it has summary experiences and that strikes me as important to include in this journal:

 

Tom Miller – 9/29/2013

FALL MIDTERM – Intro to Alexander Technique

Professor: Kathy Sarra

1.)    What is the Alexander Technique?

A simple answer to this question, found on the landing page at http://www.alexandertechnique.com/ which states: “The Alexander Technique is a way to feel better, and move in a more relaxed and comfortable way… the way nature intended.” In a deeper sense, the Alexander Technique (Developed by Australian actor, Frederick Matthias Alexander [20 January 1869 – 10 October 1955]) is a “…method for improving freedom of movement, balance, support, flexibility, and coordination” (Alexander). It allows for more natural and fluid locomotion and movement of the body/mind to adapt to, and peak-perform in light of, downward forces of gravity and unnatural constructs of modern human conventions and artifices.

  • I sit, hunched over for hours at a stretch, in a chair which is neither ergonomic nor supportive of the natural human structure. My sense of the top of my spine is my neck. Therefore, my head lumps forward at the neck. My body feels ironic comfort in the most disempowering and unnatural position because my self-map is not accurate with the true nature of the human body and condition. This results in stress, pain, headaches, discomfort, and an unnecessary expenditure of energy. In the Alexander Technique, we discover that the spine is in the center of the head. Just this knowledge alone begins a process of self-identity—the body is supported at its core by the head, neck, and spine relationship. We come to discover that in understanding the mechanizations of the body, we develop an accurate body map which allows us to lift up, expand our back, and allow a posture of ease…of not trying to attain but simply of allowing for a natural expression, of simply recognizing and enacting the details of our true physiology.

2.)    Primary Control: “The Inherent and intrinsic mechanism for balance and support in the body. It assures that uprightness will be effortless and that movement will be supported and fluid. Primary control depends on the preservation or the recovery of a dynamic relationship between the head and the spine in movement or in stillness” (Conable. p1).

  • After the first day of Alexander class in which we were informed where the top of the spine is—where the head sits on the spine, I immediately notice a ‘lift’ in my posture, natural and not forced. I have an elevated awareness of my surroundings and this carries with me for the rest of the day.

3.)    Downward Pull: A pattern of tension we impose upon our bodies based upon interference with sources of balance and support, ie. Gravity, modern non-ergonomic artificial methods of support (chairs, lumpy beds, tables-too-low, lack of self-awareness of supportive body positioning, etc) (Conable. p2).

  • As mentioned above, not knowing where the top of the spine is results in head-droop. Looking where the feet are going instead of forward with peripheral and spatial awareness results in a forward lean, bent spine curvature, muscle fatigue. Matching a faulty body map with comfort—one which says that ‘slump’ equals ‘relaxed’.

4.)    Constructive Conscious Control: The fight against downward pull. The conscious ability to be aware of downward pull and to not be subjected to its physical conventions (Conable. p2).

  • After experiencing an introductory few classes in Alexander Technique, my mind begins to check in with my body. My mind notices there is a slouch and ‘allows’ for a softening, an adjustment that relieves extra effort and stress, a lifting up and widening, a superior body-correct posture. The mind/body connection develops within itself a new and improved system of checks and balances structured in naturalism rather than superimposed artificial downward conventions.

5.)    The Laws of Human Movement According to Conable:

  1. Tensing of the neck creates tensing of the whole body. Release out of tensing must begin with the neck.
  2. The head leads and the body (spine) follows in sequence (Conable. p2).
  • Walking among my peers at the University of Florida during a stampede from one class to the next, leading with the head, relaxing the neck, being spatially aware, I sense an ease, patterns, a flow, spaces open up, there are no conflicts, collisions, it is a natural weave and bob…threading a needle. Before Alexander, I have stress, everyone is an obstacle instead of a ‘Means-Whereby’ one gets from here to there. I see impacts and impasses coming towards me like walls and barriers. In Alexander mode, we are waves in one sea washing and supporting each other along our way.

6.)    According to Conable, why does the condition of the muscles of the neck determine the condition of the whole in movement (2 reasons)? Describe your experience with this idea.

  1. Tensing in the neck distorts the rest relationship of bone to bone in the skeletal system impairing the skeleton’s ability to deliver weight efficiently.
  2. Tensing in the neck interferes with involuntary muscular support for voluntary movement (Conable. p4-9).
  • At the start of this course, I come in with a seriously painful neck issue (Bad sleeping posture? Bad bed support? Injury I was unaware of?). It is clear that this pain, located on the right neck and shoulder affects my posture as a whole and causes stiffness & resistance throughout, as well as a reference pain in a completely other area that is clearly related.

7.)    According to Conable, what are the Laws of the Spine? Define and give examples.

Laws of the Spine:

1.) The Head Must Lead. Ex. Over many years of evolutionary development, we can see that in invertebrates, the head always leads and this allows for dynamic organizational support of the rest of the body during movement. It informs the movement with “beauty and integrity.”

2.) The Vertebrae Must Follow in Sequence. Ex. According to Conable, “Sequencing throughout the spine cannot occur if the head doesn’t lead. He provides an example one can perform sitting in a chair to experience the differencing between the sequenced spine and the chaotic spine. Only when leading with the head into a bend with torso-over-lap will one experience a proper natural sequencing of the spine.

3.) The Spine Must Lengthen In Movement. Ex. Conable points out, “The spine either lengthens or it shortens,” and implies this can be easily observed by watching others in movement.

4.) Movement Should Be Equally Distributed Among The Joints Of The Spine. Ex. Our author Conable informs us that our spines will let us know (provide signals: stiffness, burning muscles, tightening, etc.) when our spines are not presented with equal distribution of motion (Conable. p14).

  • After a number of Alexander classes in which my kinesthetic awareness and body map have improved through direct experience, I am now far more aware of the ease and comfort of applying these rules and the fatigue, stiffness, pain, and discomfort of not applying them. I am more attuned to my body and can now direct permission for my body to ease in these circumstances.

8.)    What is your kinesthetic sense?

“The Kinesthetic sense tells you about your body: its position and its size and whether it’s moving and, if so, where and how” (Conable. p19). Our author Conable provides a terrific example wherein one puts one’s hand over the head and is still keenly aware of the position of the hand, the look/sense of the hand without seeing it.

  • In class, I develop a deeper awareness of what is typically an effortless sense, but one in which one is not so keenly attuned and tapped into. The use of Kinesthetic sense is imperative in this work because just as we become subjected to downward forces of which we are not aware–related to disempowering patters (hunching at work over computers and devices, sitting in a badly supported chair, walking in heels, etc.), we can begin to reclaim our bodies by connecting our Kinesthetic senses to our willful direction and awareness. It is as if I find a new and beneficial tool in the toolbox I was not using that makes every project easier to accomplish.

9.)    Recognition of the Force of Habit: A first step in Alexander Technique is recognizing the Force of Habit. Our habits, which we develop over our lives, can be both beneficial and harmful; think the habit of brushing one’s teeth vs. the habit of not wearing a seatbelt. Habits in the use of our bodies can interfere with our understanding of our body map (or can inform to create a false-sense body map) and can get in the way of proper Kinesthetic awareness. As we may not be entirely able to make these observations on our own, this is one reason why it is imperative to have an experienced and qualified Alexander Instructor to guide, educate, and facilitate improvements in the way we use our bodies and our mind/body connections for greater awareness and a healthy life.

  • Over time in this course, I am made aware of errors in my body map (where the top of the spine is located, the fallacy of a ‘waist’, skeletal relationships, the nature and beginnings and ends of muscle groups, proper breathing, and the like.) In discovering nuances and details of both my body in motion, at rest, and my body map, I experienced greater ease and comfort, spatial awareness, kinesthetic awareness, and methods of Constructive thinking and rest. But just as importantly (especially for an actor) I experience a sharpening of observational skills when people-watching—how do they comport themselves, body language, physicality, postures, etc.? Very beneficial!

10.)  Unified Field of Awareness (Attention): This term describes an optimal state of balance between the processing of inner and outer information. Our author, Conable, explains that this is the ideal state of balance for Alexander students—the very balance we had naturally as young children, and it is a state of balance that if lost through the Force of Habit and/or Downward Pull, can be recovered! (Conable. p31).

  • I strive for balance as a practitioner of Zen and martial arts. Both body, and mind – inner and outer, this balance is indeed being recovered—if for no better reason than the fact that I am aware of an expanse in Kinesthetic awareness which, prior to this Alexander course, I had not been paying nearly enough attention to.

11.)  Inhibition and Non-Doing (Related ideas, but not the same): Inhibition is defined by our Author, Michael J. Gelb [Body Learning – an Introduction to the Alexander Technique] as: “Conscious thinking that prevents…natural alignment and best functioning of our ‘equipment for motion’.” He goes on to define Non-Doing as: “Avoiding interference with reflex functioning” (Gelb. p164).

  • I experience inhibition in contact work (I am not a ‘touchy-feely’ person but that aspect of my personality is easing with experience, all to good effect), certain fears and self-doubt that prevent me from going ‘ALL OUT’ or being entirely committed to an action or movement without the additional thoughts of ‘what might people think?’ I experience non-doing in a Zen way. Best described, though perhaps a bit esoterically, in the Tao as ‘effortless action’ – a tree does not ‘try’ to grow.

12.)  Debauched Kinesthesia: The author of our textbook, Michael J. Gelb [Body Learning – an Introduction to the Alexander Technique] defines Debauched Kinesthesia as: A corrupted and therefore untrustworthy sense of position, tension and movement (Gelb. p164).

  • A major example of this is that at the start of the course, I am entirely comfortable in a compressed position with my head slightly forward and down and a self-awareness that the top of my spine is the lower back of my neck. A false map is in place in this scenario whereby the body is in a disempowering state and using more energy than needed thus resulting in stress, tightness, poor posture, pain…and yet until being made aware of this, the body has adjusted to this habit “Brain Dialogue: It’s what the mind seems to want me to do so against my better judgment, I’ll do my best to accommodate even though it’s wrong.”

13.)  Sending Directions: Consciously directing the brain to make use of the body’s most supportive functioning. Alexander’s specific directions or ‘orders’ for himself are: “Let the neck be free so that the head can go forward and up so that the back can lengthen and widen” (Alexander).

  • After discovering where the top of the spine is located, I send the message to my brain, “The top of the spine is between the ears.” In reinforcing this direction, my body begins to adjust my faulty body map of top of the spine being at the base of the neck (resulting in poor posture, uneven distribution of weight throughout my spine), and thus my map begins to correct itself and there is a more natural, less effected positional awareness.

14.) End-Gaining: The author of our textbook, Michael J. Gelb [Body Learning – an Introduction to the Alexander Technique] defines End-Gaining as “Grasping for results without thoughtful attention to process” (Gelb. p164).

  • I experienced this several times in the form of ‘trying too hard’ during a hands-on session.

15.) Means-Whereby (attention to the): The author of our textbook, Michael J. Gelb [Body Learning – an Introduction to the Alexander Technique] defines Means-Whereby as “Focus on the appropriate process to achieve a goal.” Alexander himself tells us we are largely more focused in life on the result (End-Gaining) but the more important aspect is a focus on process (Gelb. p164).

  • I participate in a thing called ‘Billiard Therapy’ which is a fun way to apply techniques learned on playing billiards well to life in philosophical metaphor. Our “billiard-therapist” Robert Ramsthaler says this: “Don’t worry about hitting the balls in the pocket. Focus on your form. When you get tired of missing, that part will come.” I have seen both immediate effects, and long-term process-oriented results in my limited experience with Alexander Technique. As for the Means-Whereby, our class movement exercises began awkwardly, a few bumps, unsure direction changes, nerves…and over time, we now move interactively as almost like a single organism with far greater spatial awareness and sensitivity.

16.) The Use of Self: This is Frederick Matthias Alexander’s third book, first published in 1932 in which he posited that the incorrect ‘use of self’ may cause unnecessary human suffering. It contains Alexander’s account of how he developed and made use of his technique (Alexander).

  • I continue the journey to learn how to more correctly use my ‘self’.

 

Part II:

17). Habits and Use:

My habits of use include an imbalance between internal and external (my movement was very much self-centered and lacking in wide spatial awareness. I saw fellow travelers as obstacles. Poor breathing and rapid heartbeat before performances of scenes. Holding myself in a posture with my head dropping and in a compressed fashion. Tending not to look people in the eyes. Being emotionally distant and closed in the way in which I interact with others, particularly strangers. And, sometimes being overly sensitive, both empathically and in terms of what others may or may not think about me. I love my habits!

18.) My journal describes the difference between first walking to class and finding all the traffic (other students rushing to get somewhere) to be obstacles. My thought were, ‘where did these people learn to walk?’ After experiencing a number of walking-based exercises which focused on spatial awareness, I have since taken on a new perspective: I see the spaces between people and I dive into those spaces, like a game. I effortlessly weave in and around and it is like flowing through with awareness and compassion rather than a ‘get out of my way’ mentality. I discuss using Alexander breathing, relaxing, letting go, and giving permission for ease to get control of nerves before performances, and that’s helped. In Alexander, we have contact exercises, we partner up, make emotional connections, eye contact, and this experience has helped me to grow more comfortable interacting with others. As explained earlier in this mid-term, just the awareness of a proper body map (here’s where your spine starts, here is the bottom of your torso, here are the joints in the legs) has caused a re-evaluation of my body awareness. My posture is improved and my relation of mind to Kinesthetic awareness has measurably expanded.

19.) I have been using Constructive Rest as a daily and nightly (about 10 minutes each) as a part of my routine. It has put me in touch with myself, helped relax me and stay aware of what my body is doing mechanically throughout the day. I can now easily place my mental awareness in various particular parts of the body…how do my toes feel? How are my ears doing today? What does my scalp need…a little rub? I also find the Constructive Rest plays into Constructive Thinking (I typically included meditative techniques—or more correctly I should say meditative ‘no’-techniques, and I become extremely focused throughout the day without straining my brain. It’s a good feeling.

20.) My Use-Of-Self is without a doubt improved, simply as a matter of a much broader, much more balanced general awareness. Because of computers, social media, TVs, the anonymity of Twitter, gaming, gadgets galore, we are so—as a species—out of touch with others in the mistaken belief that we are more in touch. As a metaphor, it’s like going to an herb garden online, or a zoo. You do not have the experience of sharing some time with one another, of touch, intimacy, enjoying moments without feeling like every single minute of the day one needs to think about what’s coming next, what’s coming next, what’s coming next! I enjoy the class because it allows me to easily and effortlessly step into a ‘what’s happening now’ sensibility. What’s happing now? Who is it happening with? How is it happening? The enjoyment of the Means-Whereby all on its own, not having to try just like trees don’t try to grow, rediscovering that playing kid we all have inside of us that could have as much adventure, maybe more, with a stick than with an X-Box. I feel a sense of universal gratitude.

 

*  Tom Miller

Sources Cited:

  1. Alexander, Frederic Matthias. www.alexandertechnique.com. Sourced 10/2/2013. Alexander Technique Express. 2013.
  2. Conable, Barbera & William. How to Learn the Alexander Technique – a Manual for Students. Third Edition. Andover Press. Portland, Oregon. 1995.
  3. Gelb, Michael J. Body Learning – an Introduction to Alexander Technique. Second Edition. Henry Hold and Company. New York. 1995.
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