The Importance of A Supple Chest

Continual Professional Development has become a real buzz term and is a requirement of many professions. I have been asking myself what  it means in relation to artistic professions, especially acting. Of course artists don’t come in for this kind of regulation(!) – and mostly that makes sense because its not the same. If you are in a genuinely creative practice, the practice itself IS development. Just the act of doing it. Or it should be. Potentially there is a new artistic challenge in every new project undertaken. And actually there is a crucial and defining importance in giving yourself the space to develop and continue to develop what YOU do as an artist as opposed to what someone else would have you do. And then finally as you become more and more experienced there is a question of who you can usefully learn from too. Sure, at any stage you can always learn from exposure to what others create and how, but most actors probably do that anyway in their own way just as part of the way they live and work.

And yet there are risks in creative professions. Risks of getting stuck in ruts especially. If you are an actor in the UK, a lot of development happens in rehearsal rooms or on set: learning on the job from working with other talented professionals in the business and from the challenge of the part. But there is a risk of not getting enough jobs to develop or of not getting jobs that allow you to develop within them or of ending up doing the same thing with a part even if it could allow you to develop because there isn’t the time or it doesn’t feel safe to do anything else. Or simply because you know that’s actually what they hired you for. So maybe there is a place for space to develop outside of a piece of work. I am not sure what that is or what is needed or wanted and whether Feldenkrais has a part to play in it. I am thinking about it. I always like to hear what actors are thinking about it too.

But one aspect I am clear about is that for everyone, however many opportunities you have, however well you are able to use them, and however successful you are, there are always the more subtle issues of what possibilities you have within yourself to play with; what possibilities you are aware of and how you can continue to develop them.

A story: Think of an actor with a wonderful imagination. He gets very good roles to play where he can exercise his imagination too. And he does. He is very successful. But despite his skills, he tends to hold his chest a little stiffly. We can’t know why. Maybe he needed to grow up quick and be a man with a strong chest; maybe it was/is his defence against the world; maybe he has worked out a lot in the gym, maybe someone he cared about told him what a beautiful chest he has; maybe he smokes too much; maybe he just never really figured out that it could move in so many more ways than it does. And anyway its not that unusual – many men hold their chests like that, its almost a cultural imperative. And partly for that reason and partly because he is young and it isn’t so set yet, it is not so noticeable at first. But as he grows older it becomes a more distinct part of who he is. He doesn’t know it about himself. Not really. So he doesn’t know to do anything about it. And its not the kind of thing people can put their finger on easily so no one is going to say it to him either. He builds it into his characters in surprising ways but it is always there. It means that he walks with a cowboy lilt (especially on one side) because twisting his chest is not something he really knows how to do (especially to one side). He can change his walk to a surprising degree when he wants to but he would never think of a walk that really involved twisting because he can’t do it easily and doesn’t know he could. The characters he plays have a certain brittleness, intensity and reserve to them even when he is being playful or ‘open’. There is nothing wrong with that – in fact its pretty interesting – but it would be hard for him to play against those qualities unless he learns how to find a softer and more supple chest.

There is nothing wrong in him simply going on as he is. He is very successful and very good. But it sets a limit to what he can do that maybe he doesn’t have to have. And as he gets older he is likely to become more set in this pattern, losing more mobility in the chest and so (apart from the threat of injury to his neck or lower back because they may need to do more than they should if his thoracic spine is not so mobile and the restriction it could place on his breathing) his available choices will continue to narrow and that will be a shame because one of his great virtues as an actor is versatility.  BUT if he did begin to unravel this pattern of his, if he did find more mobility, more softness in that chest, what new characters would he be able to find? Where would it take him? What new range would he have available? What a great new toy box. Wouldn’t it be worth it? Thing is, how would he get to do that? Does he even know that he could or that it would be a good idea? Probably not. Not unless it leads to pain – which it might, but its a pity if it has to do that to bring it to his attention

Well I made that actor up, but I can think of actors and actresses with stories that go along pretty similar lines – you probably can too – and the answer to the last question would be the same. ‘Probably not’. But by now I am sure you know I am going to say that that is exactly the kind of CPD Feldenkrais can help with. Nothing to do with interfering with your process, or telling you how to act, but a chance to explore – either one-to-one or in a class – your own patterns and habits at any point in your life and career and open up more possibilities to get out of a rut or go into much older deeper patterns that may be setting limits. Or simply to provide more toys.

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