I was keen to work on a project with actors where the principals of the Alexander Technique underpinned the rehearsal process and performances. The main principles of the Alexander Technique are to have fun, be free from unnecessary effort and tension, know how to bring your nervous system to quiet so you can then come to presence and connection, and understand how your instrument - body and voice work. If done well, this is how the actor can become a true story teller where they are listening to each other and including the audience in their expanded field of awareness.
Step one – find a script. We chose True West by Sam Shepard. While the characters in the play are older than Sam and Jacob, it is brilliant writing and perfect for exploring how to develop characters, do good script analysis, and explore a rehearsal process where the craft of acting is held in the highest regard. Good writing is very important and it is a brilliant play.
It also gives the actors a chance to develop the mental, physical and vocal stamina to perform a two-act play. A lot of actors do scene study classes where they work on one scene and only develop the stamina for maybe 5 minutes. A 1.5 hour play where the actors are present and listening for the whole time, and therefore being truly alive in each moment requires stamina.
I also wanted to give them the opportunity to explore everything involved in a production from acting, props and costume, venue hire, marketing, ticket sales etc. A big task. That is why we decided on a 6 months rehearsal period.
Yes, 6 months. Daily Alexander, movement and vocal work is needed over this period of time to develop the foundations for a whole play. Sure, the actors could have a routine and do this by themselves every day, but most don’t. When you have a script you are working on it makes the need for this discipline so much more real, and to my absolute joy the actors threw themselves into studying these foundations.
The first hour of every rehearsal was spent on Alexander, movement and voice. On top of this the actors met and worked together often, working on the script, back story and their foundation skills. They also did other fundamental workshops as they occurred.
My only other requirement besides the daily work on their foundation skills was to buy and read Howard Fine’s book “Fine on Acting”. I think this is the best “how to” book for actors and reading it while in rehearsal gave us a chance to deeply understand the book and the craft, especially how to avoid the traps that actors and directors can fall into.
To be continued...