I attended the 2000 Annual Barstow Institute on the Alexander Technique,
which took place in Crete, Nebraska, from June 17-24, 2000. I was
able to learn a great deal, both about the Alexander Technique,
and about teaching in generalall of which will be useful to me
in my own teaching. I grew so much as a person and a teacher because
I had this opportunity to attend the Institute. The teachers at
the Institute are highly skilled, and I made several wonderful observations
from watching their work.
I also had one very extreme moment of personal growth while I was
working one-on-one with a teacher (which I will attempt to describe
During the Institute, we focused exclusively on the ideas of F.M.
Alexanderthat is, how one's neck and head relate to one's body,
and how every subsequent movement and action stem from this very
important connection. I spent a great deal of time working with
my movement and becoming more aware of my body in space. I also
worked extensively with the practicalities of excess stress. These
ideas are, of course, vital in theatre (and life too!), and I will
be able to work with my acting students more effectively because
my understanding of the body has been increased, and my usage has
improved. Because of the Institute, I can help my students to understand
their bodies more fully and I can work with them to better use their
bodies in performance.
Alexander is all about finding out what it is that you are doing
by helping one to become more sensitive. Alexander is about thinking
and doing, and how your thoughts affect what you do. This is key
in theatre, as in all art forms, because awareness of the body and
its affect on an audience increase an actor's effectiveness. I further
posit that the ideas in Alexander, of thinking and doing, can be
applied to all disciplines, because our performance work on anything
depends on our thinking. The week was devoted to thinking about
my thinkingand I was able to reflect on the fact that I am often
too product oriented, forgetting the importance of process.
The biggest "ah ha" I made was this simple idea: pay attention
to the how instead of the what. Actually, it was more of a reminder
than a new thought, but I had forgotten how important a thought
it is! The decision to pay attention is an action in and of itself,
and the most important one. I was constantly reminded to make what
I am doing with my thinking a little bit more important than what
is happening. I then had the opportunity to stand back and see what
happened. Inevitably, the what got better!! This is very important
in my work with young actors because I do want them to improve.
I also became intrigued with one teacher's idea: that we are continuously
experimenting. This word, experiment, made a huge difference for
many of the other students at the Institute because it took the
emphasis off of being wrong. So often my students are afraid to
riskyet without risk, there is no growth. I want to work with
the word experiment as a way to encourage risk taking "try a little
experiment" seems so much easier and friendly a way to phrase direction
and encourages students to actually try what you are suggesting.
Some of the ideas and words that were frequently used during the
Institute included: gentle, delicate, let go, invite, notice, wishing,
my, I awareness, and subtle. I made a list of these because I think
that they will be helpful to my teaching vocabulary-inviting a student
to participate, for example, and the ever-important idea of awareness
as integral to growth of any kind.
My personal growth experience involved the release of my upper
torso from by legs, allowing my entire body to grow "up." This release
eased breathing and movement. I have been waiting for this release
to happen for some time, as I know that I am "compressed" in my
torso (I can see it and feel it). It was such a stunning moment
that I burst into tears. I then worked on performing a monologue
and found a whole gracefulness of movement had opened for me in
a new way!!
Finally, I continue to contemplate the idea that one does not have
to continuously evaluate what one is doing in order to make progress.
Often constructive thinking will help more than evaluative thinking.
Since young thespians frequently become trapped in the evaluation
process, this is an important concept. When you're checking to see
what you are doing, you are implying a subtle failureyou wouldn't
be checking if it wasn't right. What happens if you leave that thought
out of your work while you are working? Will your progress be better?
The Institute confirmed this idea for me.
Alexander is also about the willingness to change. Often, I get
stuck in a pattern that has "worked" in the past, although I know
that I must continue to grow. This affects my teaching and my artistic
work. The Institute, by focusing on my body usage (which I want
to change), had a greater impact on me because it reminded me that
change is about the whole person, not just a part, and I need to
remember this for my students as well. I'm not just asking them
to consider an idea in isolation; I may be asking them to change
their wholeworld-view, and this can be scary and exciting.
I found the teachers most effective at the Institute. I was also
intrigued by the small group work that is a part of the Barstow
Method of teaching Alexander, and I believe I benefited from watching
it in action.