Blog: The Holistic Actor

The energy we generate on stage is powerful enough to reach across the stage into the audience and alter them. Harnessing that energy as actors is something we all aspire to, and acting training teaches techniques which give us tools to access that store of energy. Technique, however, is just a part of acting. Technique tends to be, in the UK, a very cerebral approach, a mental state. Secondary to that mental state is the physical state, and finally, the metaphysical, the energy. It is the energy, the life-force of acting that we should be seeking to discover.

“Your mind, emotions and body are instruments and the way you align and tune them determines how well you play life.” Yogi Bhajan.

Holistic Acting is an approach to acting that attempts to harness that energy, to balance the mind, body and spirit of the actor and to harmonise them, creating a total actor, a holsitic actor.

Holistic Acting explores techniques that may be useful for actors to consider alongside their training. Using established practices and applying them to acting training may extend your ability and push you on to greater achievements. Above all, Holistic Acting is nurturing.

The technique reviewed here sits neatly alongside cerebral techniques as complementary. Image Streaming is outlined very effectively by the acting coach Brian Astbury in his book Trusting the Actor. Astbury discovered the technique in Wim Wenger’s book The Einstein Factor and adapted it for actors. It is a deceptively simple technique to practice with a partner or alone with a recording device and is particularly effective as a precursor to character work.

The technique works best if it is begun in the same way you might begin a meditation, or a relaxation process. Ensure you are sitting comfortably, that you are warm enough, and you will not be disturbed. If you are working alone then now is the time to start recording. If you are working with a partner, ensure they have paper and pen to take notes. Take several deep breaths; in through the nose, out through the mouth, calming yourself and clearing your mind.

It is important not to force the images, nor to influence or judge them, or analyse them while you are actually streaming. Just allow them to come.

Then, begin to speak about your character. Start with “S/He looks like…” or “S/He is wearing…” Start simply, describing hair colour, or clothes, until the images start to flow freely. This may take longer depending on how often you use the technique. Don’t be worried if you cannot “see” things – sometimes the images come as a feeling “I feel cramped and small” or “I’m irritated” – or, very typically at first, “I feel stupid”. The important thing is not to correct yourself, to let yourself speak, without censure or stopping, allowing the images and feelings to stream from you.

It is important not to force the images, nor to influence or judge them, or analyse them while you are actually streaming. Just allow them to come, no detail is too small or too pointless to be mentioned.

If you are working with a partner it is their job to record as much of the stream as possible. Sometimes proximity to another person may make the stream difficult to start. In which case they may prompt the stream by asking questions, such as “How do you feel?” or “What can you see?” or sometimes, during the stream, if it seems to have halted, then they may prompt with the words “and?” or “go on”, but their primary role is to record.

An image stream lasts as long as it lasts.

It could be five minutes, it could be longer. When it is complete, review everything. If you are working with a recording, you need to then take on the job of the partner, listen to the recording and take notes on it. If you have been lucky enough to work in a pair, you would review the notes together. Look through the highlights, point out recurrences, look at themes, colours, feelings.

Image streaming helps to bring a character to vivid life, as it is often highly imaginative, sensory and detailed. Do not, however, get caught into a trap of thinking, “Well, in my image stream I was wearing a bright red dress, and the costume designer has put me in blue – that’s wrong.”

Perhaps your character is dressed in blue, but in her own imagination she wears dazzling, glorious red – what a wonderful inner life this could give your character.

Similarly, don’t throw out anything that you have already discovered about your character in rehearsal or via your own preparation – these can be very useful starting off points. If you already know where the character lives, or what they wear, or how they speak, it can be very useful to place that awareness into the stream at the beginning and see where it takes you.

“If we fail to nourish our souls, they wither, and without soul, life ceases to have meaning…. The creative process shrivels in the absence of continual dialogue with the soul. And creativity is what makes life worth living.” Marion Woodman.

Trusting The Actor by Brian Astbury is available through Amazon. ●

Follow @HolisticActing on Twitter

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