Keep the Channel Open: An actor’s experience with The Alexander Technique

Martha Graham

Martha Graham

I have always enjoyed this quote from one of America’s most influential dancers and choreographers, Martha Graham. I believe it speaks to the spirit of all artists by encouraging us not to judge or edit our creative impulses but rather allow the art to flow through us, through our whole self, through our instrument.

The physical seat of this channel for me lies with what F. M. Alexander termed the Primary Control (the relationship of the head to the spine). I have noticed that when I am creatively stuck or stifled, my Primary Control is locked and visa versa. This stiffening also hinders my breath, my mind, and my emotional availability. A few years ago I was performing in the musical Little Women. I finished one scene and was transitioning into the next when in a split second I noticed that I had no emotional connection. I also noticed that my breath was shallow. Instead of panicking or trying to make the emotion happen I freed my Primary Control, my breath automatically dropped in to my core and I was flooded with presence. By this I mean, I was immediately brought to the present moment of what the character was experiencing. This unlocking of the channel then allowed the emotion to happen effortlessly. In addition to my emotional channel opening, my breathing became easier, my voice was richer, and my acting was more honest because I was not trying to make anything happen.

I had a similar experience just last month when I was acting in my first major motion picture. I had performed in some small on-camera work before but nothing this grand. The famous actors in the film did not cause me to hold my breath or panic, but having all of those large cameras, producers, lights, and hair and make-up people in the performance space started to effect my nerves. I was constantly freeing my Primary Control to help me stay present to my scene partner and to the script. My nerves (or stiffening of my Primary Control) snuck in from time to time but overall I was very pleased with how I was able to balance my breath, my Primary Control, and allow my channel to remain open.

Corrie Danieley is an Assistant Professor of Theatre at Northern Kentucky University where she directs main stage plays and teaches Movement for Actors, Voice Development for Actors, Performing Shakespeare, Audition Techniques, and The Alexander Technique. She is a Teaching Member of Alexander Technique International and a member of Actor’s Equity Association. 

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