Every human being has a very personal relationship with their body.
Most of us rely on our body to be present in space for our careers: however, “presence” in the acting world has a slightly different meaning. When actors address their presence in a scene, we are discussing our “presence” holistically: Were we in character? Were we listening to our scene partner? Did we feel connected to our environment? How about our character’s emotional life.
These questions are essential in acting because if we are not feeling connected to our circumstances, we cannot perform from a place of truth. Unfortunately, for a long time, I neglected the physical extension of “presence”: movement. Before my acting training at the University of Texas at Austin, I would always get notes from my directors for my physicality on stage. I remember getting a reminder that my arms were extremely stiff during a scene where my character was experiencing emotional turmoil. As a result, I spent the first year of college speaking with acting faculty about a resolution. I would always tell them, “I don’t know what to do with my arms” This was technically true. However, I found this to be less than an accurate explanation of what I was experiencing. In reality, I was not truly connected to my circumstances. Therefore, my body wasn’t connected either. You’ve heard of “mind, body, and soul” which can be visually represented as a Venn diagram that formulates a person. This applies to acting also.
During college, I started taking movement courses. We studied multiple techniques including Pilates, Yoga, Clown, improvisation, and mask work. Most, if not all of these techniques, encourage you to lead on your impulses; to let your body speak for you. In these courses, I learned that our physical vessels are simply a continuation of our emotional expression as actors.
Furthermore, I have always been surrounded by dance. My work with Dance Waterloo and observing training dancers at UT makes this so. I have come to admire how a dancer’s brain and body collaborate seemingly effortlessly. There is an evident impulse in each and every dancer that I have seen work.
The impulse comes naturally to us from a young age. When we are children, we jump, scream, cry, speak our minds, and run when we want to. It is not until we are socialized by external influences such as our parents and environments that we are trained to no longer behave from impulse. This is often useful in specific settings– might it be professional or academic. However, it can hurt us in communication and everyday life. When you sit down on a bus, move if you think you’d be more comfortable at a window seat. If you want to take a picture of the skyline in public, do so. If your friend makes a hurtful joke, explain to them you’d prefer they didn’t again.
These ideologies apply to all performers and artists. However, they are useful for all backgrounds and bodies of work. When it is helpful to bludgeon our impulses and when is it not?