Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Upcoming "Joan of Arc" Performance at Lincoln Center

In preparation for our presentation at the Performing Arts Library at Lincoln Center on Monday April 20 at 6PM, I thought it would help to have a forum where the actors working on Shakespeare, Schiller, Shaw, Brecht and Anouilh could throw around ideas about their scenes.
Let's do that on this post: we can run a thread of comments here, ask questions, continue discussions.

Anatomical Metaphors for Actors

Anatomical Metaphors for Actors

This week we began a slow, intentional look at the foundations of Magis Training and began deeper explorations and connections from one component to another.
Margi Sharp let us through and anatomical grounding of the work we do with “Voice and Pilates” … a fusion of her own work and experience.
Looking at the length of the psoas muscle, I was visually engaged in an ideas that others have tried to talk me through for years, but being a visual person I needed to see it. Seeing the psoas connecting to the muscle groups that go from head to toe (literally) I understood now why we stretch the leg to the side while at the same time stretching the tongue in Linklater training. Seeing a side view of the anatomical diagram of the psoas and the “inner front line” or “the core” as we refer to it in describing actors’ movement, I understood the connection of this muscle whose function (as Margi pointed out) is to lengthen, as opposed to the “superficial front line” whose function it is to fold. Working with the image of the psoas like a hammock that holds the weight of our organs as we move I was able to imaginatively visualize allowing this muscle to do its proper work, thereby letting go of unproductive tension in the ribs, chest and lats.
As the work went on, Margi pointed out that many of our core exercises quickly engage the superficial front line into our habitual “folds” that we know as sit-ups and crunches.
These outer muscles engage automatically and almost immediately, instinctively. As if the organism says “oh I know what this is… it’s a sit up.” The habitual folding of the outer front line can make us think we are strengthening our core, when in fact what is happening is that we are perpetuating the bad habit of engaging the outer front line to do the work that is more properly done by the inner front line.
Now here is the “Eureka-moment” for me. Margi mentioned that the inner front line takes longer and more deliberate attention to engage than does the outer front line, but once the inner front line is awakened and properly engaged in its proper work, it will remain engaged and working properly for lengths of time that would otherwise wear down the superficial front line. Deliberate attention. Longer time, but greater payoff.
These are basic principles that theatre masters have been offering to students for centuries.
Yet in our “short-cut” culture that values speed and immediacy, we usually do not get to the deliberate because we settle for the immediate. Subconsciously we wonder why we ought to take a longer time with something when it can be “done” in a shorter time? Of course “done” here is a relative term and it is easy for us to think we are done with something when we see superficial results and we stop before we can see deeper results.
This is a metaphor for our creative work, and I dare say for much of our everyday work. Perhaps the particular working of the psoas and its specific demands have something to teach us on several levels.

First: on the practical, bodily, organic level we must understand that different muscles in our body require different kinds of attention to awaken them. This seems to change every day. A yoga teacher we had would always begin with simple arm raises on breath just in order to find where we are today. What do my muscles need at this moment? How must my attention search for what it is that the particularity of my organism is demanding at this moment?

Second: on the level of craft, we notice that it can be very easy for us to think we are “done.” Sometimes we engage only superficially and the semblance of engagement fools us into thinking that we are engaged so we do not search more deeply. This anatomical realization asks us to constantly be aware of this trap, to distinguish a superficial engagement from a true engagement and once recognized, to press on through the superficial, the habitual, the easy to the more painstakingly deliberate use of the body that characterizes so many forms of traditional theatre and dance forms.

Third: on the personal level, we must ask ourselves if we give into short-cuts too readily. Can we see patience as something that is in fact very practical? Is the immediate response always the best one? Or is there a deeper, truer response lying just under the surface of that habitual response?