Breath ... The most vital nutrient for the Actor
When I'm on stage or screen, I intentionally find moments to observe my breath. I know it will enhance my performance.
For the past month, in The Actor’s Way, we have been practicing BREATH. I have been using techniques culled from years of practice along with ideas about functional living, based on the the work of psychotherapist Wilhelm Reich. The work and ideas on Reich are very simplified in the process of working with the Actor; I simply include his ideas as a part of my lifelong interest in psychotherapeutic practices. I do not believe I will be a casting director for all time and in preparation for that transition, I am setting my sights on a career as a psychotherapist. I should be honest and say that my mentors in England were deeply influenced by psychotherapy and all things theoretical. Perhaps it is no surprise that I am similarly persuaded.
Either way, some 30 years later, I too find myself thinking about consuming myself with the mind-bending thoughts of psychotherapy …. when I am 70. Before then, I have work to do, as The Patron Saint of Actors, , as a casting director, as a Producer and most definitely as an Actor.
The Actors Way is a path and a journey towards actorly enlightenment if you will. I smile at my audacity. Enlightenment is no small world in the spiritual realm, so allow me to clarify.
For an Actor to be enlightened and to feel emboldened, takes not just courage, but breath. And while there is much focus on yoga breathing and the exquisite sounds that Actors take part as they free the voice, there isn’t really much specifically for Actor about the breath; the way it empowers an Actor to soar, the way it brings one to centre, to self, to Being. I am talking about the screen Actor whose skill-set, though similar to her cousin over on stage, is somehow different. There is a different nuance and awareness of self required of the screen Actor
For all the intention, and motivation and backstory, and obstacles, and action-ing that the Stanislavskian Actor purports to engage in, or the mask-dropping that the Meisner Actor must undergo, none of it has any effectiveness without the enlightenment of breath. For us to be fully functioning and functional as Actors we must have a deep and personal relationship with our own breath and breathing process. Most of us want a deep relationship with a back-story or a motivation and we go in, blazing a trail with lines learned, certain we’ve got it. And we probably have. But ...
but in the process, we have given no love or thought to the breath, how to coax it forth, how to listen to it and it’s needs. We sort of exit the body, go direct to the brain, have a slew of good ideas about the character all the while strangling, suffocating worst still, neglecting, the breath. Or throwing in a few quasi-“big breaths”, that are about as effective and meaningful as sounding beautiful but boring whilst spouting Shakespeare.
But the breath. How do we approach the breath in the Actor’s Way?
As though it is a neglected child that we have locked away. We seek to find that child and re-habilitate her by giving her room within us. We feel her move and expand. We give her space. We recognize her tendencies and habits. We release her. We understand that the emotions ride on that breath and that we revere Actors for their capacity to move the emotions within themselves, and therefore within others.
We learn in the Actor’s way that when we cut off the breath, we are like overlords, cutting off the vital life source of an entire planet. How quickly we would rise up against the overlord and yet we remain unconscious to our own tyrannical tendencies as Actors. In the Actor’s Way, we watch the breath, playfully, gently. We imagine ourselves like all living creatures, plasmatic and pulsating in-and-out taking in breath as a vital nutrient and releasing her with gentle, easy control. We take in a breath and remember that every living creature functions in this plasmatic way, in this way of contracting, releasing, contracting, releasing and we make ourselves functional again in line with biology; not letting the over-lorded ego, armour us up so tightly that we are literally asphyxiating as we fake our way through the audition…..
In The Actor’s Way we recognize how we become armoured against the day-job, the relationship that doesn’t feel right, the lacks and the limitations, we intentionally recogonsie those things and then we - with a very gentle breath - we let it go. As we let go, we surrender. As we surrender we come back to our true selves and we “as breath and arms work together”, gain beautiful, functional access to our core self. It starts with a single breath.
In The Actor’s Way, to not breath functionally, is to become a dysfunctional Actor.