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Technology and The Actor’s Instrument: Part Two

10.10.14 | Comment?


CATEGORIES actor training, movement, social media, storytelling, well being

SOLVING THE PROBLEM AND REPAIRING THE DAMAGE

As a Pilates teacher/movement consultant who specializes in how clients move/behave within their own environments, I spend a lot of time out of my studio space needing to be connected to clients via text, email, and social media. I use my phone and iPad as lifelines in travel situations and to respond to emergencies and make scheduling changes throughout every day. I do not have Tech Neck (only) because I am exceptionally aware of my ability to fall prey to it. In other words, your first step is awareness.

Once you are aware of a pattern, it is easier to change. Have someone take a photo of you in profile, both sitting and standing comfortably, the fewer clothes the better, and from both sides. Examine the photos. Really look at your lines. Even print the photos and draw a line as described earlier from earlobe down. Recognize your own patterns (or call me and I’ll define them for you).

Hold the Phone (in Alignment)
Seated on a backless chair or bench placed against the wall, place your sitz bones under you – physically pick up one butt cheek and move it out to the side, put it down and then move the other. We’re trying to place your pelvis front to back in alignment. The bottom back of your butt cheeks and the bones you can find with your fingers on either side (front and back and right and left) of the top of your pelvis should be against the wall securely. The right front and back and left front and back should be even with each other – if you imagine those bones to be the rim of a bowl when sitting or standing, you don’t want the bowl to tip forward or back – when on the floor on your back, they should still be even with each other.

Now place your back against the wall – remember that in alignment, our ribcage sits evenly over our pelvis, resist the urge to tilt the lower front of your ribs up toward your face. The space between the top of the hip and the bottom of the ribs should not be touching the wall. This is your lumbar spine and it actually curves in some.

Again have a photo taken in profile – make any adjustments as needed. Try to keep the area across your back just below your shoulder blades wide and feel your shoulders spread further away from each other – not back or forward – but along a horizontal line. Do not try to push your shoulders against the wall, just stretch the tissue from side to side and widen your back in relationship to the wall. The edges of your torso – the entire width of your torso are all trying to be in contact with the wall. From the previously taken photo, determine if your head is facing forward or if you are tipping your chin up or down – if the wall in front of your were to come forward, the very tip of your nose would touch it and no other part of your face. It’s unlikely the back of your head will touch the wall yet, that’s okay. I’m sure this feels like an enormous stretch and there are lots of bones on one side of your back jutting into the wall and perhaps none on the other. This is okay too, we know you’re out of alignment, we simply want to begin to adjust how you use your electronic devices.

A more typical actor tech position with back in extension and shoulder blades pressed together.

Tech position more typical among actors.

 

Wall practice to support aligned physicality.

Wall practice to support aligned physicality.

Now pick up your smart phone and hold it in front of your face – not allowing the sides of your back or shoulders to pull away from the wall or your head to come forward. Stay there and text, read (or tweet what you are experiencing to me). Understand what it feels like to be upright using that device. Once this becomes easier to grasp and perform, you will be able to make the same adjustments without a wall behind you. This is your new pattern.

Realigning a Tech Neck
Now that you know how you want to use your body, your next job will be to release the fascia that is holding you in that pattern. I know that Pilates does an incredible job of changing patterns, but there are not enough hours available to teach you enough Pilates (or Alexander or any other somatic technique or practice) to compete with how much time you spend using your bodies in your current patterns. We actually need to physically release some of the casting before we can begin to retrain our body to hold our aligned structure (and in this case, Alexander is not enough – we can release and relax all kinds of bad tension, but if we don’t build good tension into the right places, we will either a) fall to a puddle on the floor or b) place bad tension in our head, neck, or shoulders).

Each actor should learn his or her own fascial patterns and tendencies, how to check alignment, and release overworked fascia daily. This requires 10-15 minutes if you begin with what I call “juicy fascia” and a neutral pattern, then decide to maintain it. This work begins at the soles of your feet and will include legs (especially lower), arms, hands, and upper chest and ribcage. Juicy fascia allows for increased blood flow and for muscles to relax when not in use. This means a body at rest actually gets to rest. Your awareness of your skeleton and how you use muscle to move, speak, and function changes when you have healthy fascia. And your mobility and flexibility will increase.

Your Daily Practice
Once the fascial issues are resolved, you need to have a daily practice of using your body within structural alignment. This has nothing to do with fat or thin – it’s about power and control, and ability to lose or let go of control as well. Training your body to move and support itself within alignment allows it to work for you or as I think of it, to show up when you subconsciously ask it to. This means your muscles gain the right degree of strength and power to support your breath. Your body will learn to hold its alignment even when you are creating a character physicality with Tech Neck – or you’ll call someone like me to give you a few simple cues to doing both those things at once, but like any choreography or direction you’ve learned or taken, you will store that in your subconscious versus having to actively add it to your work onstage.

When you operate in this fashion, you don’t hold tension in our head, neck, or shoulders. You don’t grip our jaws, limit our ability to express ourselves, or restrict your vocal resonance or power. You are effortless. But effort and (more importantly) attention and practice is required to get to that place and it must become a daily practice. In other words, on a day off or between jobs when you don’t have an audition to prepare for, you still must spend a bit of time working on your instrument and preparing it for the day ahead and future jobs. Riding the subway, getting groceries, using your smart phone all require physical effort of some kind, how you use your instrument in those activities does impact how it will support you at work. When you are working, you must be vigilant each morning and night to find your way back to your neutral physicality. Miss one day and your perception of your alignment begins to change.

Finally, each character you play has his or her own choreography and patterns. It sounds silly but walk across stage saying the same words in a similar fashion and pick up the same letter opener with your right hand eight shows a week and you have now trained your voice and body repetitively as if you were doing it at a gym. It is important that actors are made aware of the repetitive movements of a character and then taught some movement that opposes that. The best example I have is use of a broadsword. If you hold the broadsword in your right hand and advance on your scene partner a series of times and defend against their advances a series of times, you need to find a way to work that right side in the opposite direction at least a few times a week (to failure) and the left side in motions similar to the advance and weight and grip the right arm has practiced onstage. This is reverse training and it allows you to walk into the next role without the patterns of the character you just left.

We are training our muscles and fascia every minute of every day whether we are conscious of it or not. As an actor, your job is to take the best care of your instrument humanly possible. As I say to all of my clients, it isn’t supposed to hurt to do your job. Let’s make that the new norm…and have Tech Neck among actors become history.

Marcia Polas
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Marcia Polas

Marcia Polas is an occupational Pilates teacher and movement consultant. She focuses on the study of bodies at work and trains students to be effortless in their bodies, no matter how rigorous their job. She teaches workshops, group classes, and private sessions in person and virtually throughout the world. She is based in NYC, and firmly believes it shouldn't hurt to do your job.
Marcia Polas
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