Getting Rid of Rules

One of the best things about Feldenkrais for actors is that there are no rules. Its all about exploration and not at all about ‘do it like this’. Of course there are better and worse ways to do anything but it depends from person to person (we all have different structures and a different starting point) and according to what we want to do. Nothing is true for everyone all the time and certainly not true for all characters you want to play either! Opening your chest may be great for running or playing someone ‘regal’ but its not going to help with putting your shoes on or playing someone very insecure (crass examples, but you get my point).

But there is more: a Feldenkrais Teacher will never say ‘stand with your feet in parrallel and hip-width apart’, not just because its not helpful in every situation – but because in simply following that instruction mechanically all the time you lose a great opportunity to find something out. All actors know that everyone stands differently and finding how your character stands and walks and moves is key. But not all realise just how important it is. Not that many can really do it well. And all can improve – even those with great skill.

Some consider that how a person stands or walks ‘external’ and so not really worthy of study, while some would say its how a person ‘reveals who they are’. I would say how a person stands, moves, acts is actually integral to who they are. Dr.Feldenkrais often ponted out that when you were born your nervous system was not fully wired up. Unlike a dog or deer or fish or even bird, you could not get up and go without a very long apprencticeship. You couldn’t even get your hand to your mouth without learning how to do it. And you went through that proccess of learning – of developing the web of neural connections in your nervous system – differently to any other child. Sure you are a human being, so you learnt along similar lines to other human beings: how to suck, how to find your mouth with hands, feet and the objects you learnt to grip; how to lift your head, roll, sit and so on. But you learnt in a context unique to you and within experiences unique to you and an emotional life unique to you, and as you grew up you were drawn to developing some skills and not others and to belonging to or distancing yourself from certain groups of people and so on – and so bit by bit you (and your nervous system) developed with all your unique patterns and habits of moving and doing things  that means no one has your hand writing, no one walks like you, smiles like you, talks, eats or smokes a cigarette like you – and no one behaves just like you, acts, responds, loves, hates, thinks – or stands just like you.

We can see it in others: we pick up on the story people bring with them, we respond to who they are even if we can’t say exactly why or how but we do. But its very hard to see the story we bring on ourselves or to appreciate what we do that tells a tale as soon as we get on a stage or stand in front of a camera. Who we are is so utterly there in how we stand and move that someone who knows you well will recognise you from far away even if they can’t recognise your clothes or see your face. We can spend a life time unravelling that, whoever we are. And yet if we don’t actually know what we are doing, how can we make a choice about what we do? Even Helena Bonham Carter complains that she hopes she is being very different playing a character and hates watching it back because she only ever sees herself. Of course in a way that’s obvious and inevitable – we are in some sense indelibly ourselves – but we can find out more about what we do and so what we have to play with, and we can expand on what we can do by exploring: by re-learning possibilities we have lost and discovering new ones. Enabling you to do that is how Feldenkrais enables people to get out of pain (by becoming aware of the patterns that are involved in the pain and enabling/developing patterns that aren’t) and its how it can help you continue to develop as an actor whatever stage you are at. So you see, you lose rather a lot if you fail to notice where and how you place your feet by always mechanically moving them to the prescribed ‘parrallel and hip-width apart’ – by following the rule.

At a fundamental level, how you place or use your feet is a result of what is going on in your feet, ankles, hip joints, back, ribs, shoulders and even how you carry your head; it has something to do with how you respond to gravity and how you breathe. And that’s something we can get a handle on. Noticing the relationship between all these elements in yourself will start to enable you to unravel the particular ways you do things and the ways you could do things – and give you clues about how other people do things too. And that’s exactly what Feldenkrais helps you do. Isn’t that more interesting – and useful – than rules? of course it means you have to hang out with not knowing the ‘correct answer’ because there isn’t one – or rather there isn’t just one. You have to be prepared to pay attention to small details, to go slowly so you can notice what you are doing and pick up differences, to develop observation and awareness skills and not everyone has the patience for that. But if you do: what a treasure trove for an actor – whether you are a still a student or at the top of a glittering career.

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