What better theme for October than the Headless Horseman! So what does this have to do with performing, you may say, ah, well, that’s exactly what I want to address today!
So often I’ve heard from students, ‘I feel like I act or sing from my neck up’ and their body/voice feels like it’s not connected and they don’t have any control over it. An example would be, those pesky hands that just seem to have a mind of their own and either fly up when you don’t want them to or you have to pin them down to your sides and they just can’t or won’t move at all.
I know that feeling and have done several approaches to re-connect my head and body, so they work as one, feel apart of me and I can perform using all of it, rather than just parts. I’ve been really lucky, that one of the first things I did was dance training as a teenager, so that really got me into knowing the body well and to have a heightened sense of when it’s working or not working physically for me. That didn’t always mean I knew what to do to correct it, though. So, I’ve spent years trying to find ways to feel in touch with my body. This training, also, gave me a heightened awareness to see and feel what is going on in others, so it’s easier for me to try to raise awareness in others or find ways to deal with it that are unique to each student.
So, what are some of the ways to re-attach your head?
One thing I can say and you may have noticed, is that I am not going to promise you
comfort. I’ve heard a lot of people say, I want to be ‘comfortable’ on stage. ‘Comfort’ doesn’t come into this and it’s not that you won’t feel comfortable that depends on the character and what they are going through or the themes behind the song you are singing. It’s not, often, on any stage about ‘comfort’. If anything it’s about being ‘comfortable’ with being ‘uncomfortable’ on stage.
The stage is a heightened place, where everything tends to be larger than life. Now, you maybe saying that I work in TV or film where everything is small or on a concert, sorry, it’s not about the size of what you are doing, it’s the emotions behind it, they are all there, trying to get out and to be said to the outside world. They don’t always come out in nice little neat rows either, you can feel happy, sad and angry all at the same time.
Now, why am I talking about emotions when we started with a locked body or disconnected body. Often, when we feel fear, we lose touch with our sense of feel, it’s quite common like in a car accident, a person can’t feel anything, but seems to be OK and then, once the shock of the event wears off, the feelings rush in. Now, this is an extreme example of how the body can react in a highly stressful situation, what I try to help people with, is to be OK with the extra stress of performance and be in touch with your body as well.
When I was first training, I had a lot of teachers saying that they liked my work, but I was either making it too complicated or that I was disconnected from my body, too much in the head. I’m a real thinker, especially when I was put in front of people, as I’m not keen on big groups – believe me this is not lost on me – the irony, now that I have chosen this career as my career. So I needed to reconnect and be OK with my feelings that were going on. Things like, ‘Am I doing this right? or ‘The teacher just asked me to do this thing, but I’m not sure of what that is?’ or whatever. Even just talking about the lack of connection would make me go even further into it because I just didn’t know anything different.
So here are some ideas of what you can do….
Niki Flacks is a great one for this work and she does classes at the Actors Centre (London) every so often, but it’s not for the faint of heart, she really gets your emotions going and reconnects you to not only your body/voice, but all those feelings that can be frozen inside.
Next, well, I’ve found the Meisner work is brilliant, it’s all about getting in touch with all those ‘bad’ habits and exploring new ways to deal with them that are organic to you.
For that in Brighton, there are a few, but my Favourite is Brighton Meisner.
Now, I know you may say, if you are a singer reading this, it’s all about acting approaches, all of this applies to any performing and is for anyone who is feeling that disconnect with their work. I’ve also found the of Delia Lindon very useful (Shoreham), as well as working with Roy Hart teachers – most of these, as I know are in North America.
For singers (Hove), you can, also take one to one singing lessons or check out my new solo group lessons, by clicking here! I’m very keen to help people find ways of reconnecting their head and body.
For the actors (Brighton), you can check out when I’m doing the acting class here!
If you can’t afford to do any of these ideas, here’s some stuff you can do:
Stamp your feet when you realise you’ve lost connect with your body. They are the furthest away from your head, so reconnecting to them can help bring it all back together. Now you may think this is odd, but, in the case of a strong monologue or very emotional song, it’s easy to make this a part of how to bring the piece across.
Or, you can practise this in front of a ‘safe’ audience. Now how do I define a ‘safe audience’, they are people who will watch and listen to you and only say nice things. You can create this group by telling them, they are not allowed to criticise you, merely enjoy what you do, that way you and they know that they are only there to support you in a positive, friendly and kind manner.
If your hands are ‘creatures’ that don’t belong to you, shake them out, wring them, get back in touch with them. Maybe even grab them if they are flying around and allow your frustration with them to come out in your monologue, scene or song. This is what rehearsal is for, but the worst thing you can do as a performer is suppress them. The body needs to move and by holding onto and not allowing them movement, can only make the matter worse. So start to practise allowing your awareness of what is going on and then, most likely, do the opposite.
So if your hands are the type that don’t move at all, fake it! Move them, find what their natural speech or pattern needs to be. You don’t want to make it the same every time, so explore. Here’s some online inspiration with Madagascar – I like to Move it!
A great one for helping you when you lose your lines is to move, move around the stage, just move or, if for some reason you are directed to not move, move something, anything, your neck, your fingers, wherever you are noticing that you are ceasing up, move it – even if that means you need to do a little dance with your hips to get your legs to unlock. So you move and then let go, it’s not about doing the movement forever, just to shake it out in a way. If it’s frustration, let it out – whether that’s through your voice or body – they both work.
Maybe just learn a funky chicken dance as a default, just to keep yourself amused, having fun and enjoying a fun moment. See, the Headless Horseman was just misunderstood, really he just needed to get his head and body moving again!
Love to hear your thoughts, as I’m sure I’ve not covered every possible situation….