Effort. Webster’s defines effort as “work done by the mind or body: energy used to do something.”
I spend more time than you can imagine thinking about, analyzing, and trying to minimize effort required by a body to achieve anything – including the effort required to do nothing. My senses are actually assaulted by the overwhelming effort exerted by bodies on a daily basis. This has always been one of my reasons for working with actors (and performing artists in general) – to give the bodies attached to the actor/dancer/vocalist the ability to be effortless in creating their art. Watching an artist on stage struggle (in my eyes, don’t worry, nobody else is seeing it the way I am) just to live inside a character and speak (or sing) those words is actually painful to me. Watching the actor in real life (my clients, artists throughout NYC, in a talk-back, or even in still photos at a meet-n-greet) and seeing the toll that struggle is taking on his/her instrument is excruciating – primarily because I know that it doesn’t need to be that much work. Stay with me as I explain?
The Bartender Story
I’m currently one-third of the way through a pilot program for bartenders (sponsored by Rutte Distillers). Over 12 weeks, I’m teaching a dozen bartenders self-myofascial release, to recognize and change their patterns of skeletal disorganization, Pilates-based strengthening work, and then applying all of that to retraining how they shake, stir, pour a drink, and how they stand behind the bar. In other words, we’re building a dozen effortless bartenders in New York City – and we just so happen to be using as our raw material some of the best in the business! Bartenders (along with chefs and front-of-house staff) are (like performing artists) one of my specialties. What all of you have in common is the fact that you have extremely physically rigorous jobs that also require great vocal integration.
Within the Rutte Pilot Program (#RutteBPP), I see participants in class once weekly for 1.5 hours, assign homework, and then visit them on the job to help apply the principals and see what is going well and where we still need work. Because most bartenders are in constant (at least low-grade) pain and discomfort, the bartenders who signed on for the program have jumped in with both feet. They may work a 14-hour shift and get home at 4 am, but they will work on their forearms and spend a few minutes in resting position before they fall into bed, only to wake to do their Pilates homework before the next 14-hour shift. They create time for this work because they are recognizing the impact a few minutes of work and some small changes are making in how they feel and what they are capable of physically compared to that of a month ago. They have “bought in” and tare coming to class reporting that their backs, necks, and feet don’t hurt at much. Shoulders that were on their last legs are getting a new life. And they are utilizing their new tools to “get out of trouble” when something starts to go physically wrong.
Aside from the fact that they look so different from their colleagues, the thing that stands out when I make my weekly visits is how much less effort they are exerting to do the same job they did a month ago.
How This Applies to Actors
Now let’s turn back to the actors I work with and how/why you care about my bartender program results. Short story? The same damn thing happens to my actors and dancers.
Imagine what it would feel like to have to apply 50 percent the physical effort each night to create and/or live inside your character’s body? Imagine if just the walk to the subway felt effortless? Imagine if you spoke, sang, or screamed and a resonant sound came out effortlessly because your instrument just showed up to do its job, instinctually, because it not only was physically trained to do that, but also because there were no physical patterns or stuck fascia getting in the way? You would be effortless. And because harder physical work requires (even subconsciously) greater mental and emotional work, your talent, coupled with your study and the practice of your craft would have so much more space and freedom.
I’m told (a lot!) that this work is for young actors and training programs. “Experienced actors know all of this.” I’m told training programs already have this piece of the puzzle down and/or no time or money to apply these principles. But what I see are actors struggling to survive inside bodies that are exerting extreme effort – and losing the battle against forward head position, bunions, and vocal ease, among other things. I see one shoulder dropped, social media posts about getting to the chiropractor to “fix” a neck (weekly), and shows set before 1990 where everyone has rolled shoulders and forward heads (if that is not an acting choice). Does the rest of your audience notice this? Perhaps not. But does all of this mean you are working at least 50 percent harder than needed? Yes.
So Why Do I Care?
Recently, somebody sent me a note about something related to services I offered for their fundraising efforts. She said, “Thanks for the great idea! I investigated it and now we are getting similar things from within our community, so we don’t need your offer, but if you would like to donate money…” Well, my actor/singer/musician/vocal teacher student, my Shakespearean actor with 40 years on-stage, my 23-year old well-trained musical theatre actress who in her words “fell apart” on her first post-college tour and found me to “fix” her all consider me part of your (theatre) community – just like my gracious, generous, grateful bartenders do theirs – because they all grasp that I love and am awed by what you do in the world, I just don’t want it to require so much effort.
What You Can Do Now
- Look in the mirror or at some photos. Where is there imbalance? Stop believing that is because of your “scoliosis” and you can’t do anything about it. [Note: I have and do work with many severe scoliosis clients with great success, but the reality is, most of us at some point have been diagnosed with some degree of scoliosis. I’m not meaning to make light of that, but simply to suggest that your imbalance may be a product of habit and muscle imbalance in relationship vs something you cannot address and be empowered to change.]
- Learn about your fascia and how to care for it yourself.
- Explore how you are using and caring for your instrument. Be open to new practices and ideas. Practice change in your everyday life, the hours at the gym can’t combat what you are doing the rest of the day.
- Have a professional analyze your movement (outside of their space) and show you your patterns of disorganization (and how to address those in your daily home practice).
- Make that daily practice a part of your everyday life. This means days you work and days you don’t. Vacation too. You have one instrument, taking care of it is your most important job.
- Dump the idea that abdominal muscle engagement is “tension” – this is 90 percent of what is getting actors into trouble and one of the biggest changes we need to make in your world! In fact, the next time someone tells you to “release” your abdominals or “belly” – pinch them!
- Remember that we are all on a journey when it comes to caring for ourselves and awareness. Don’t beat yourself up for what you don’t know or what isn’t yet second nature. Our world is changing and its impact on us is as well. Yes, we should have all learned this stuff in grade school – but we didn’t so each time you practice awareness and alignment you are taking a step forward.
- Ask for help, but make sure that the people helping you truly understand how bodies work and are able to explain the logic behind anything they ask of you so that it makes sense to you. Don’t do anything just because some “expert” told you to (including me!)!
- Don’t trust your precious instrument with anyone who isn’t open to new ideas or constantly working on their own instrument – none of us are perfect, we’re all on the same journey, some of us are just a little ahead of or behind you in ours.
Be in this conversation. The biggest thing that has happened in my bartender community is that we are now all talking about the issues with which they all face and that there are solutions!
Latest posts by Marcia Polas (see all)
- Becoming Effortless - 1 March 2016
- Rethinking The Actor’s Instrument: It Shouldn’t Hurt - 24 August 2015
- Managing Audition Anxiety: Tangible Practices - 17 February 2015