Voice and Pilates
Through my work as an actor and trainer with Magis, I have integrated core awareness, breath and voice work in a way that I had previously felt impossible.
In my years at Columbia’s MFA program our voice work and our physical training were kept very separate. We had one way of warming up the voice that was simultaneously relaxing and stimulating, and then another way of getting to the body that was muscular and intensive. The two systems seemed to fight against each other.
After graduation I certified as a Pilates instructor. Although my certification was through a very classical program, I soon branched out to study modified Pilates and Alexander work. I began taking classes at Kelly Kane’s School of Core Integration and studying weekly with an Alexander teacher named Nancy Wechter who has a private practice in Manhattan. I discovered a kind of core work that was not classical Pilates (often quite muscular and choreographic) but much more akin to yoga or physical therapy. The diaphragm was encouraged to move freely, the mind-body focus was on the alignment and energetic connections between bones, freely moving joints and a kind of yielding and widening of the external muscles to the deeper smaller groups closer to the spine – the muscles connected with breath. After a few years of exploration, I found myself no longer moving from a place of rigidity, holding or strain. I began to develop a new pattern for my body: deepening the abdominals in a way that allowed freedom for the breath and yet stability and protection for the spine at the same moment.
In Magis training I began to teach this new kind of Pilates to the actors. I wanted them to open up their bodies AND voices as they strengthened their core muscles. I began to cue bones and joints and encourage a softening rather than a gripping to find very simple movements. Then I began adding in vocal exercises and sound to the sessions. We progressed the movements from basic core principles into a few classic Pilates moves. The goal is to keep the breath free and the voice open in the face strong core challenges. I call it "Voice and Pilates." I am combining three techniques in our warm up: Linklater voice work, core principles of Pilates greatly influenced by Kelly Kane's School of Core Integration, and basic directional principles from the Alexander technique.
I find that the physical and vocal work in this combination enhance one another. If the breath is free, the body moves better. When the body is moving in an efficient and directional way, the voice deepens and resonates naturally. By the end of a 40 or 45-minute session I feel open, centered and resonant. I am ready to jump into vigorous physical or vocal work – whatever the day’s rehearsal/training.
--- Margi Sharp
Uniting Action to Impulse in Character
Push...Pull...Reach ...Throw...When attached to apart of the body, the four actions open up a new way of approaching Character for me. First, we work solely with the body. Pushing, pulling, and throwing with the knee, forehead, pelvis, nose, etc. Second, the voice is added, presently using text from The Great Divorce by CS Lewis. Without judging or attaching meaning, I said the text with the intention coming from the energy of my knee. I found that I allowed my character to go higher in my voice range, adding layers of humor that I had not originally conceived. Thirdly, we said the lines of text in complete stillness. I was delightfully surprised that the lines came out with ease yet held a clearer intention than before. Nothing was said "in general" George pointed out afterwards. Finally, we combined the text with a subtle version of the movement we used, creating characters that would definitely appear in life, with movement and gestures not easily found with a psychological approach.
I spoke in class last month about why I'm interested in bringing Tai Chi and Qi Gong into the Magis training sessions. Qi Gong is the starting place for Tai Chi-- the preparatory exercises one does before beginning the movements that make up the form itself. Some of them are basic warm-up exercises: circling the hips, the knees, the head, to promote flexibility and freedom of movement. Others seem more esoteric and speak of using breath and movement to even out or balance Qi or Chi, the body's essential energy.
I think many warm up exercises for actors, from all different methods and traditions, are concerned with this idea of finding balance. We want to prepare the body so that we are free to be an open channel for whatever impulses may arrive in the course of the work. Often the most interesting work on stage requires us to throw ourselves off balance; as in modern dance when the dancer engages in an extreme tilt of her body that requires her to let herself "fall" and then "catch" herself again.
As actors, we are often required to be brave enough to be willing to throw ourselves off balance. We give up better-paying jobs in order to take an acting job that interests us. Performance commitments may mean we spend less time with family and friends. A director may ask us to speak while engaging in extreme physical movements. Even if we aren't "Method" actors, sometimes the subject matter of a play may touch on ideas or emotions that rattle us internally.
Finding a place of balance in our lives can make us feel safe enough to throw ourselves off balance on stage. Qi Gong has been the latest manifestation of that search for balance for me. When I can take the time to find a still center, to feel strong and balanced, I then feel ready to go wherever a class, rehearsal or performance may take me. Feeling off balance can be scary for someone who doesn't take being in control for granted. But when I can remember what it feels like to find balance, I am more willing to risk that thrilling feeling of falling, knowing that I will be able to catch myself again.