All About Difference

I know. I haven’t written a blog in ages. But I have a very good reason. Nick Hern publishers have commissioned me to write a book on Feldenkrais for actors and as I have to write it in between my public Feldenkrais practice, drama school teaching, running and karate training and attempting to be a half decent mother/spouse/sibling/friend to various different people, the book takes up all other available corners in my life.

So this will be short.

Its just that writing the book (as well as starting a new term at a new drama school) has really focussed my thinking around why Feldenkrais is for actors. Moshe Feldenkrais certainly thought so. According to a conversation I had recently with eminent US Feldenkrais Practitioner Dr. Frank Wildman (who was at the legendary workshop Moshe gave to Peter Brook’s International Research Group and Teatro El Campesino in 1973), Moshe thought that his work could be best realised by an actor. He was thinking of Peter Brook’s kind of very fully rounded and sometimes very physical theatre actors, but I think the work is relevant for any kind of theatre – and for film and television too.

Nevertheless, sometimes its hard for actors to bridge the gap between rolling around on the floor and acting at first.So what is it all about? There are so many ways you could answer the question of why Feldenkrais helps actors and so many aspects you can pick out from presence to range of possibility but the aspect I keep coming back to in every chapter of the book is sensitivity to fine differences. Its clear that part of being a great musician lies in the ability to feel, hear and produce very fine differences in how a note is played for tuning, timing, phrasing, volume,  quality. Otherwise it will be a clumsy thing:  the tuning could be out, the timing could be off and the music is likely to lack the colour and expression it needs or perhaps  be one or two big generalised washes. The more sensitive the musician is to hearing and producing fine differences between one possibility and another the more accurate and nuanced their playing will be.

Its kind of clear when you talk about music. But actually it’s the same with actors and movement. The more you can hear or feel small differences between movements in their quality, timing, direction in space and how all the different parts of you can be involved, the more nuanced your ways of moving and so of being, behaving and responding can become. The way you talk, walk, gesture and behave is inseparable from the movement that enables it. If you can only move as a block  then you will walk, talk, gesture and behave as a block and all your responses to other actors will be as a block .If you have more articulation and variety, more sense of difference between one possibility and another, you will have a more finely nuanced range of response available. Less awareness of fine differences can mean a performance that is more generalised, less specific and less a-tuned to the moment. Or just the same kind of performance all the time.

Noticing differences is important in every method of training. No learning can happen without it. If you can’t notice the difference between hitting or kicking the ball one way or another you can’t become skilled at tennis, baseball or football – and I am sure you can supply your own examples from your own experience.  But learning to become aware of,  feel and work with small differences lies at the heart of Feldenkrais. The Method is particular in the detail it goes into, the quality of listening it invites and the depth of understanding Moshe brought to it. If an actor can learn to discern differences at the level his Method involves it can only help them become a highly tuned and very sensitive instrument.

Of course developing the ability to hear and produce fine differences requires the actor to develop other skills too such as listening – without which noticing differences cannot take place – and that in turn involves being present in the moment and aware enough to listen in the first place. Crucial skills for an actor. And to hear what you are doing you have to reduce the background noise and interference from unnecessary effort: you have to get out of your own way. Again pretty useful for an actor.

Once you can be present, listen to yourself and notice fine differences in yourself, of course you can also listen to others, be present with others and notice fine differences in others better: your ability to pick up nuance in what another actor offers you and to offer a nuanced response in return is greatly enhanced. And as we all know it is in that space between one actor and another that drama lies. As director/theatre-maker/writer/teacher John Wright said to me – performing requires complicite between the actors and between the actors and the audience. Feldenkrais helps by enabling you to be in complicite with yourself first.

Of course there is much more to be said about the relationship of movement and behaviour and ways of being …many questions have been begged and much has not been said …. but this is a short blog. For the rest you will have to wait for my book……..

“What does increased sensitivity mean? It means telling the difference between minor increments or decrements in minor changes. It means you become sensitive to the little lead that your partner gives you, to the change in your own voice, to your partner’s voice, you become more sensitive, more differentiated, more awake” Dr. Feldenkrais in a recorded conversation with actors of Peter Brook’s International Research Group and El Theatro Campesino in 1973

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