It is my thesis that elements of the spiritual practices of other cultures, specifically Taoism and Zen Buddhism, are being employed in 'Western' conservatory acting schools. This article will examine the context of the relationship between spirituality and actor training by discussing areas of commonality with examples from the techniques of specific teachers working in the field.
Spirituality in Actor Training
The creative process of living and experiencing a part is an organic one, founded on the physical and spiritual laws governing the nature of man. 1
Konstantin Stanislavski, was a strong proponent of combining the intellectual or known and the spiritual or unknown. In his advice to actors he wrote, "So an actor turns to his spiritual and physical creative instrument. His mind, will and feelings combine to mobilize all his inner elements ... out of this fusion of elements arises an important inner state ... the inner creative mood." 2
In the introduction to his book Free Play, Stephen Nachmanovitch describes access to an inner life as, "that quality of connectedness and wholeness, which we also recognize in a fine pianist, painter, or poet." 3 What is this quality of connectedness and wholeness? If it refers to a spiritual concept, is there a connection between the spiritual teachings of other cultures and the training of actors? In this article I will pursue this question, employing interviews with a dozen of the leading teachers in Canada and Britain and through an examination of the literature in both fields. My research leads me to believe that there is a direct link, that spiritual elements form a strong foundation in the training of actors in ways so prevalent as to be common place.
In these times of increasing demands for accountability I believe we need to appropriate the spirituality of other cultures to inform our acting training. It allows us to get back to the basics in order to connect with the basic humanity of our lives.
In my twenty-five years as a conservatory theatre student, professional actor, and university teacher I have perceived a common search being undertaken by my peers and myself. What is it that brings creativity and inspiration? From the beginning of my actor training I also became aware that some of the techniques taught in the studio to explain these essentially unexplainable questions had their roots in other cultures. Whether it was yoga, meditation, Tai Chi or other martial arts training there was an effort made to allow me to contact an "inner" side to myself. Recently, my employment as a teacher has caused me to take a closer look at my own techniques and exercises and to examine the whole question of the spirituality of actor training.
While no single culture or place has a monopoly on spirituality, the belief systems of Asia and their connections to the arts have held a fascination for the West since Marco Polo. Perhaps because the languages of China and Japan are pictures as well as linear abstractions the artists of those lands can make better use of their non-linear or peripheral mind. We in the west often cannot or will not understand what cannot be represented to us using words. It is this unconventional knowledge that is at the heart of Taoism and Zen. They seek to restore the spontaneity and naVve selflessness of the child, sort of a benevolent anarchy. Both belief systems strive for a state of freedom where there is no separation from mind and thought. There is only experience. Literally translated Tao is the way of life. It is this desire for spontaneity and creative freedom that has caused our teachers of Acting, including myself, to look to Asia for help and guidance.
Being sufficiently removed from my own formal training I thought it wise to go back to Theatre school to see what had changed and what new techniques were being used. In the spring of 1993 I attended the National Voice Intensive at Simon Fraser University and the following year I conducted personal interviews with faculty members of the National Theatre School of Canada and Manchester Metropolitan University in England. In addition I exchanged letters or phone conversations with various other teachers, mentors and peers. This is a distillation of that research and is meant to be a snapshot of the methodology of those particular people.
Most of the teachers that I spoke with have undergone some sort of period of spiritual questioning in their own lives and are aware of the impact this search has had on them. Whether it involves working with a primary source in the country of origin or using secondary sources, many have consciously exposed themselves to the spirituality of other cultures. But as Virginia Snyders, Director of Drama at the Guildhall School in London said:
An awareness of the uses of meditation and an awareness of other cultures is a necessary part of actor training. I would find it difficult to define exactly what exercises we use from foreign cultures because inevitably teachers, if their teaching is to be worthwhile, cannot just grab at foreign ideas but must teach from themselves and their own commitment.
Consequently, although many of my staff use exercises from Japan and Russia (and some of them have worked in India and China), I suspect even they would find it hard to define exactly which exercises come from other countries ... 4
This difficulty was confirmed in my research. People were hesitant to discuss the subject of spirituality in actor training for fear of being misunderstood or accused of preaching. They recognized the influences on their own lives, but they rarely speak of it in the studio. Inevitably though, as the National Theatre School's movement coach Jo Lesley, whose research interests include work with First Nations spirituality, stated, "If it is in my life, it's in my work and in my teaching." 5
We live in a secular age, an age of reason and intellect. If we cannot describe something in words we are unlikely to accept its existence as fact. We have separated our minds from our bodies and both from our emotions. And while it is true that it has become recently en vogue to get in touch with one's feelings, emotion is still something not to be seen in public. This creates a paradox for actors who must, while remaining a part of their society, go beyond the bounds of normal behavior. They must find their own voice and the courage to have enough faith in their talent and creativity to allow them to evoke something of the "greater" for the rest of us. Their emotions, by the very nature of their art, must be seen in public.
Much of today's actor training needs to focus on this inner state because by the time students reach a conservatory school in their early twenties they have been conditioned by society to distrust structure and belief systems. Brian Doubt, former instructor at Canada's National Theatre School and currently on the faculty of Concordia University, put the challenge facing acting teachers this way:
Students come to class 'in their heads', with a certain intellectual preoccupation. So one of the challenges is to get them to make a connection between the mind, the body and the emotions. This intellectual preoccupation makes itself manifest by students behavior: cynical, not trusting, not comfortable, not aware of physical idiosyncrasies, unsure of their emotional life and with a separate body and mind. 6
It is this separation of mind and body that perhaps provides the chief rationale for incorporating spiritual discipline and methods into actor training. The goal is to ground actors in their bodies and to the earth for without a strong sense of centre we have no base from which to travel. Without a strong sense of self there can be no starting point for training because a knowledge of the flow of energy within our bodies is essential in order to expand our emotional depth or the range of our movement without a crippling waste of effort.
Actors need to have available all the possibilities of human character starting with their own. We train in order to make ourselves more aware actors. Since the actor's instrument is himself we must first become more aware human beings. We do not need to teach actors that their work must have the control of reason or rational thought, they come with that naturally. They know that whatever their intuition, their work must submit to the form of the role they are preparing. However, in training, where no opening night lies in wait, they need help to get in touch with an inner life. As Jacques Maritain, one of the world=s foremost lecturers on creativity, says on this point, "My contention, then, is that everything depends, on the recognition of a spiritual unconscious but emerges from it." 7
There are limits to what can be achieved by rational thought. "In the process of approaching reality we inevitably reach a stage which is beyond thought, where mere intellection becomes helpless and we can only intuitively experience it." 8 Actors must have faith in their own intuition and talent. Without it they will lack the courage to create. "A chief characteristic of this courage is that it requires a centredness within our own being without which we could feel ourselves to be a vacuum." 9 Spiritual strength allows actors to overcome fears and take risks. It allows them to tap into a rich vein of creativity with the knowledge that there is something beyond the five senses. Other societies that have produced great art have had a strong mythological and spiritual base from which to draw. We do not. Therefore it seems logical that we exploit available sources from other cultures to make up for this lack in our own. This notion was put to me by David Smukler, Head of the National Voice Intensive and a member of the Theatre faculty of York University. In an interview he suggested the following rationale for what he felt was a growing trend:
Teachers use the spirituality of other cultures to form a frame work for the work because we have abandoned in this century any kind of real structure. The majority of the world has moved away from an organized system of belief. So they are without a structure to back up the events of life. Because we have lost all structure we have this gaping hole in us that was called spirituality. We look at the actor and we used to have a very strong spiritual tradition in our theatre. Even in the nonreligious theatre there were spiritual traditions. What has happened in the twentieth century, Margaret Mead and others have talked about this, we have taken the arts and moved them out of the society, we've separated them, made them culture.
Our students come to us with wounds instead. They have all these experiences and psychological awareness and no way to process it, no structure. Whether one agrees or disagrees with the structure there are no structures to rebel against. So the religion and spirituality of the mid-twentieth century has become psychology. And that's not working. People are looking at all the things we investigated in the twentieth century and are saying, 'They are not working, they're not working.' So you start looking at the other traditions, to help us get some sense of what is going on. 10
For Smukler, using the spirituality of other cultures in his teaching comes out of the needs of his students and their mutual search for a structure. It is this structure that provides actors with the link between the psychological, the physical, and the intuitive.
It is not only the emotional life of the actor that can benefit from this cross-fertilization of cultures. Their physical bodies need to be reanimated and brought into union with the mental and emotional facets of their instruments. They need to examine their posture, tensions and habits that have been accumulated over a lifetime. Actors must find some way of breaking free of the strictures placed on them by the society in which they live. It is a society that does not easily lend itself to creativity. Michael Chekov, considered by many to be the father of the modern theatre school, complains:
Under the influence of materialistic concepts, the contemporary actor is constantly and out of sheer necessity suborned into the dangerous practice of eliminating the psychological elements for his art and overestimating the significance of the physical. Thus, as he sinks deeper and deeper into this artistic milieu, his body becomes less and less animated, more and more shallow, dense, puppet-like, and in extreme cases even resembles some kind of automaton of his mechanistic age. Cold, analytical, materialistic thinking tends to throttle the urge to imagination. 11
We look to spiritual methods to complement the normal training of the actor; to awaken an inner and intuitive life in both mind and body. While this discussion may be concomitant with current New Age thinking it is not a recent innovation. The sensitivity to spiritual concepts may be a recent development in western actor training, but these training methods have been used for hundreds if not thousands of years in the Noh, Kabuki and Kathakali theatre of Asia. As our exposure to these and other forms increased, it was only natural to borrow what could be used because the training of actors at its most basic is not culturally specific; certain elements are common to all that we call Theatre. We all have a body and a spirit that need to be receptive to themselves and the stimuli of the moment to moment reality of the given circumstances and style of the play. Joseph Chaikin calls this the presence of the actor. He says in his book of that title:
The senses must be awake to what's happening and to what's being created, transforming the space, always able to return to the quiet inner starting point. That quiet inner place is always there, whether you are in contact with it or not. 12
This idea of a central core of stillness, an area of calm in the storm of humanity is a common tenet in both Zen and Taoism.
In actor training the focus of the work on the craft of acting begins with relaxation. The quiet allows students to listen to themselves and their bodies. This marks the beginning of learning, of self awareness. Actors must come to know the life-force that moves within them and as with the spiritual student this awareness leads directly to the breath. The goal for both is the same. With focused concentration on the breath recognition occurs of "the living current" moving through the body. 13 Whether we call this meditation, relaxation, or creative visualization, it forms the basis of most first year acting classes. It also provides the clearest evidence of a link to spiritual practices by placing the focus on the breath.
Dr. Chang Chung-yuan in his book Creativity and Taoism describes the breathing technique common to Taoist Yoga:
In Taoist breathing a slow, deep, rhythmic inhaling and exhaling is a basic requirement in the early stages of training. When air is taken in, it is to be sent as deep as the abdomen. It is for this reason that the kidney centre beneath the navel is called the sea of breath. 14
Zen also sees breathing as a central rhythm of life and as permanently connected to the spirit. As in Taoism the focus is on placing the breath deep in the belly:
The stress is upon the out-breath, and its impulse from the belly not the chest. This has the effect of shifting the body's centre of gravity to the abdomen so that the whole posture has a sense of firmness, of being part of the ground upon which one is sitting. The slow easy breathing from the belly works upon the consciousness like bellows, and gives it a still, bright clarity... The air is not actively inhaled; it is just allowed to come, and then, when the lungs are comfortably filled, it is allowed to go once more.15
The breath is allowed to be free in the body and not grasped at, as if there were some danger of insufficient supply. David Smukler's mantra to students at the National Voice Intensive follows this pattern exactly as he tells them to, "let the cool air drop in, turn warm inside and release out warm." 16 Smukler believes that breathing this way allows the breath time to travel to the belly, which in Buddhism, is the place of the second chakra, the emotional centre of the body. In this way the actor, who is true to the reality of the moment, need not think about how the words will sound, he simply has to breathe. The breath carries the messages into the body, receives an impulse from the belly and then can flow up and out as speech. In Zen and Japanese Culture Daisetz T. Suzuki says:
The Japanese often talk about 'asking the abdomen' or 'thinking with the abdomen'. The head is detachable from the body, but the abdomen, which includes the whole system of the viscera, symbolizes the totality of one's personality. 17
To faithfully portray the character as conceived by the playwright, an actor must understand the human intentions of the role. I have found in my own classroom that meditation techniques, with their emphasis on passive ego-less observation, are conducive to increased understanding without judgement or editorial comment. To accomplish this there must be a sympathy for the character despite any apparent negative characteristics. All things must exist; negative and positive, in a balance. To the Taoist, "This sympathy was the primordial identification, interfusion, and unification of subject and object, of the one and the many, of man and the universe." 18 The acting student must also learn to interfuse with the character because there is only one body to use for both the actor and the acted. If the body is the same, it must be the ego that is altered. To incur another ego is to sublimate your own. This ego-less-ness reflects the belief that we do not do our thinking or our creating with our ego. Actors must simply trust that their training and technique will operate automatically if they have faith in themselves.
Another instance where spiritual ideas help actors is in the rejection of a zealous striving for success. This facilitates a maximization of intuitive creativity because it allows an actor=s talent to surprise them in a way that could possibly exceed their rational mind's conception of the character. This faith in the possibility of surprise contends that creativity and talent are more than the sum of the brain=s cognitive powers. The paradox is that often the desire for inspiration is the guarantee of its nonappearance. Spiritual training allows the actor to create the circumstances under which intuition or talent is allowed to work repeatedly. A mode is constructed in which what is manifested inside can be directly manifested outside without interference. Choices regarding what is appropriate for the character can be made after the fact; to do otherwise is to censor oneself. The elimination of this prior self-censorship is the primary benefit of a firm connection to a central core of stillness.
The National Voice Intensive is, as its name suggests, a rigorous five week workshop bringing together forty performers and a dozen of Canada's premiere voice teachers. The central focus of the instruction is the teaching of breathing. From the very beginning sessions David Smukler and his staff instill the verbal and physical vocabulary necessary for the student to understand viscerally the philosophy being discussed. Through a series of exercises the Sacral Chakra (the area at the base of the spine between your coccyx and peritoneum) is identified as the pivotal source of all vocal work. He refers to it as "The Swamp". That area of the body is sensitized by the employment of creative visualization while the muscles of the abdomen and lower back are stretched and strengthened allowing the breath to descend into the belly and back ribs. A connection is then established first with sound and then with words, using Shakespearean text as source material, between "The Swamp", breathing, and speaking. At first I found this to be disconcerting if not frightening because it removed my ability to engage my mind and my judgement in the process of creating a performance. But with practice I surprised myself by contacting a depth of emotion that I had previously been able to engage only by chance. My observation of the progress of myself and others convinced me that this freedom from prior control left the work more honest and more human. It was as if the words presented themselves to the speaker for the first time, the instant before they were spoken, all because the impulse was removed from your mind to your lower abdomen.
The following exercises are indicative of this technique and contain obvious reflections back to Taoist and Zen breath exercises. They are excerpted from David Smukler's vocal warm up:
Sitting on the floor ... legs rounded in front ... establish breath flowing in sacrum and mid-brain before releasing forwards ... Close your eyes: Observe the sounds around you. Think of past experiences. Observe your feelings. Permit the breath to flow without control. . . Imagine that in your pelvis there is a swamp of emotions. Allow one of those emotions down there to find a touch of sound. 19
These exercises are part of a new pathway that is consciously built in the actor from the source of his creativity to the given circumstances provided by the playwright. Shakespeare is the author of choice because he often deals with the apogee and perigee of human emotions, giving the student frequent opportunities for strong emotional connections.
The combat techniques of the martial arts have a direct link to spirituality. They were taught, at the Voice Intensive I attended, by Sam Massich. He often referred in class to the philosophy behind the martial arts and how that affects us as performers. He felt that we must maintain a balance between the "fire" and "water" of our personalities in order to reach out as artists. And that to be a fountain of energy required a knowledge of when combat or aggression is appropriate. He challenged us to have the power, of what he called our "personal dragon" inside us. 20 His workshops led to a discovery of the balance between the positive aspects of both aggression and compliance and forced us to come to terms with the "shadow" or violent side of ourselves. The connection to the vocal work was never overtly stated but there was a tangible sense of both psychic and physical strengthening. The training resulted in a lower centre of gravity that seemed to place the voice in closer contact with a larger source of power.
John Paul Fishback, former Artistic Director of Calgary's Sacred Space Theatre Company and another of the instructors, led two workshops involving archetypes we encountered as he guided us on a Shamanic meditative journey. He said of his past work, "the spiritual training has made me a whole person." I asked him to elaborate on how he felt his training had made him a better actor to which he responded:
I don't have any fear associated with acting. I don't have the delicate vulnerable ego attachment to it anymore. I developed a thing called the Actor Medicine Wheel which says we must start with the spiritual techniques we have for opening the body: the stretching work and the martial arts work etc. The wheel is a place to come home to. If you open the body you are safe to start opening the heart because you need a strong container to deal with the things you have to deal with when you start opening the heart. There needs to be a freedom from judgement on the ideas that are going to appear. 21
The strength of will needed to portray human emotions using yourself as the raw material is precisely the same strength the young monk in training is seeking in his quest for the place of quiet stillness. For the actor these techniques are sufficiently alien to engender enough discipline in their acquisition that old habits can be overcome and forgotten. By placing a unified philosophy of teaching combined with an absolute faith in their methodology of approaching the voice, the teachers of the National Voice Intensive allow their students to make deep personal discoveries about themselves. The ability of the actor to hide behind the mask of the character is removed. Forcing them to use themselves in this emotionally baring way allows the students to realize that there is no excuse not to be free in their work. Once a commitment is made to allowing the truth of the moment to be your guide, everything else becomes a cheat. Whatever spiritual borrowings have taken place all advance this goal by providing a structure upon which a new journey is possible.
The National Theatre School in Montreal is one of the oldest and most highly regarded training programs in Canada. Its sole purpose is to prepare people for the professional theatre. If there was a school that did not have time for "fringe" methodology I expected to find it here. Instead I found, in the faculty I interviewed, a cognizance of the role the spirituality of other cultures plays in their work. Movement coach, Lesley, begins and ends each of her classes with a ritual action patterned on a medicine wheel. 22 Sheldon Rosen, the playwriting instructor, urges his students to allow their writing to be a beacon for their voice. He says, "They must let the material out before they try and shape it." And through a focus on the eastern concepts of "ego-less-ness" and "non attachment" to their thoughts they can, "Stop getting in their own way." 23 He believes that people do not know what they know and that writers can surprise themselves with unguarded access to their intuitive selves in the same way as actors, if they trust their instincts and accept the fact that the intuitive can be logical.
As the Alexander and Tai Chi instructor, Steven Glassman is completely dedicated to the idea that the mind and the body are one. And that a personal spirituality cannot be divorced from the craft of the actor because the choices you make as a person affect your work as an actor. It is therefore natural to equate the spiritual journey to the training journey. According to him:
Self awareness is at the heart of almost any spiritual discipline and it is also at the heart of acting because you can't really develop the quality of listening, whether it is to your own intuition or to, on a physical level, another actor onstage or your audience ... if there isn't a sense of being connected to yourself and a sense of being centred. I would say that at the National Theatre School the first year is very much geared to exploration, opening up, taking risks ... and self-awareness is the alpha and omega of it all. 24
While he feels his work has a spiritual component, it is not religious or even tied to a particular philosophy. Alexander, for example, developed his technique for very practical reasons, he had vocal problems. He came to believe that bad physical and mental habits were inhibiting his voice production. According to Glen Park in his book The Art of Changing Athe Alexander Technique is a way of learning to use your mind and body well. It is a way of bringing the whole person into balance.@ 25
Glassman's own work has taken him to Java and he also credited the time he spent in a Gurdjieff community as being seminal to his growth as a teacher because of its emphasis on discipline being the path to knowledge. For him, the Alexander technique was a simple and practical way to utilize those ideas.
It is the conflict between doing the task well and the desire to succeed that is often troublesome to western students who have been raised on the idea of "no pain, no gain". Their societal conditioning leads them to desire an end before they have even begun. This desire for result and the traps of old habits were the inspiration for F.M. Alexander to develop the technique that bears his name and is taught today at many theatre schools and resident acting companies all over the world. To Steven Glassman at the National Theatre School, "it is the glue that holds the training together.", because of its emphasis on dealing with your own personal stress that can be applied to any class. "It becomes a way of dealing specifically with their bodies when a director says, 'just relax.'" 26 Freeing the body also allows for a freeing of the mind that allows for release and development of the imagination. There is a shift from thinking about trying, to a concentration on the process. In a parallel to the Buddhist concept of freedom from emotions Alexander said:
Knowing how to stop, demands a technique of inhibition in which refusal to give consent to habitual (subconscious) reaction is the basic means for change. It is the only reliable means by which man can overcome the effects of emotional 'gusts' which show themselves in prejudices, jealousy, greed, envy, hatred and the like... 27 Glassman believes that his students are aware that the Alexander technique is about how you live your life; that it is about having a greater sense of exploration. This work provides a link between all the elements of the training because it is a way of working from your centre and staying connected to your body even in moments of stress.
In a creative visualization he describes a typical Alexander exercise with a meditative origin, "Think your arm long. Think of your bones separating. Your energy flowing like water or as smoke flowing down your arms." This image provides students with a focus that can be actively employed to give their bodies direction and establish a connection between body and imagination. He concluded that the connection between spirituality and actor training is the courage it provides to the student:
Spirituality is about living your life as fully as you can and finding out what is essential, having a certain peacefulness inside which comes from self-awareness; you know who you are and what your capacities are. Having the courage to deal with your weaknesses and your fears is really a lot about acting, You have to have the courage to face a lot of that stuff.
Tai Chi is also an integral part of movement training at the National Theatre School. In my interview with Mr. Glassman he described the rationale for the inclusion of this technique in the syllabus of the first year acting course at NTS:
If I look at it from movement training, I think why so many people now use Tai Chi ... its because in the east their tradition has always recognized the marriage and the innate integrity between mind and body ... it's a great discipline ... because the first term we go through the whole form, a short form, fifty-four movements. It uses movement, breath and visual focus, so it's very demanding. Because it is slow the students can put into practice the physical awareness or observation work that we are doing in Alexander or voice etc... . the exercise we do in Tai Chi asks the students to begin to expand their antennae to a more expanded field of awareness ... So I would say that Tai Chi very much helps with a sense of focus which works from a sort of quiet place but a very strong place and its asking the students to be aware of themselves as they move. It is not about getting to the end but being in the process of living it from one position to the next. 28
In this way, Tai Chi becomes a barometer and a guidepost for the journey into greater self awareness that the students must take as they embark on a career of becoming other characters. The spiritual or "quiet" place is achieved through the discipline, the practice of practical techniques, the constant repetition of physical and mental tasks until they become second nature. When the mind is free from concentrating on the task, it becomes able to create.
Perhaps nowhere is the link between spirituality and Alexander technique more eloquently stated than in Glen Park's book The Art of Changing. The entire second half of the work focuses on maintaining an energy flow in balance and harmony. Park makes no apologies for his views that Alexander is a technique that has benefits for the whole person and not just for the body. For him it is more than a system of relaxation and body alignment. The world is, he says, "an energy dance, a dance of Shiva", and man is energy, therefore the Alexander technique can be a way of channelling that energy. 29 His work has led him to the building blocks of both life and art. Of his students he says:
They notice changes of a fundamental kind taking place. These changes are difficult to put into words because they are about an aspect of life we don't often talk about. In a sense they are not about an aspect of life at all, but about the source of it. 30
Students delve into a refined state of self awareness where they can listen to themselves as if for the first time and without judgement about what is good or bad about their emotional responses to what they see. They can begin to make choices. If the information that influences these choices is the fiction of the play then it is easy to see why this technique has been so universally accepted in conservatory training programs.
What struck me most about Glen Park's book was not its thesis but the fact that it is a required text for first year students in Britain's largest University conservatory theatre training program, Manchester Metropolitan University. The students begin their studies with a clear textual link between spiritual growth and acting training. In my correspondence with Niamh Dowling, the program's Head, she had described the school as having a somewhat "holistic" view of actor training and pointed to The Art of Changing as a source. Their curriculum does, however, combine the esoteric with the practical; the students receive two terms of anatomy beyond the more usual movement and voice classes. Dowling started the movement class I attended with an Alexander based relaxation/meditation session in which partners alternately assisted each other to relax by laying their hands on the part of the body in focus at the moment. The main point of the exercise seemed to be to make a firm connection from the sacrum to the occipital bone. One of the partners lay on the floor in a semi-supine position with their feet flat on the floor and their knees up. They were then encouraged to establish a flow of energy from their head to their pelvis through the spine. Once the flow was established they started to move around this axis of unity with the aid of creative visualization and the constant contact of the partner. Text was added to movement to integrate their voice work into their body work. The class then continued with the other partner repeating the process. Eventually the partners evolved a self-taught ritual form that contained just enough risk in the movement that concentration was required. When previously learned text was introduced old vocal patterns were broken by the unique physical relationship brought about by the repetition of the form. By the end of the class it was a complete integration of the body, the voice, and the actor that had incorporated elements of meditative breathing, the discipline of Tai Chi, and Alexander's rejection of old habits. 31
Alexander Clements, the senior acting coach at Manchester Metropolitan, summed up his belief in the connection between his training techniques and spirituality when he said, "Centring is spiritual." 32 Patricia Roy echoed fellow voice teacher Smukler, when she described her work to place the breath lower in the body to contact the emotional chakra or centre, which she refers to not as "the swamp" but as "mud". Whatever the terminology that is being invented there is an underlying teaching goal to marry the physiological truth with metaphor. Roy said, "We have to constantly keep finding new ways to redefine our messages." The use of spiritual tools is one way to provide some structure for that process. It provides a methodology for observation without judgement and for the discovery of mental clarity. She describes that clarity in terms of "... a unity between mind, body, and breath." Of her use of spirituality in her classwork she said, "I did a three hour workshop ... and my first hour was on peace, harmony and getting the breath down in the body." 33 Without such efforts she felt her students would inevitably carry too much tension into their work. Clements summed up the feelings of the faculty when he said, "I talk of the neutral self and the developed self and I think there are spiritual elements involved. Actors have to go on some terrible journeys ... they need to be able to come back to a relaxed self. The training must give them those tools." 34
A teacher of acting has a responsibility to prepare students in as complete a way as possible for the rigors of the stage and the vagaries of the profession. Each person will bring their own backgrounds and beliefs into their work because, for each of us, theatre starts as a personal journey. Spirituality, like training is not absolute. It is a guide or a way of doing things and each student will interpret and take away different things from each lesson. The fundamental task of the performer is to live in a character on stage as if the circumstances of the performance were real. It is about, "being in another way." 35 This is a difficult concept to teach because it involves intangibles like talent, intuition, and faith as much as a four octave range and a certain kinaesthetic sense. It involves balancing patience, practise and discipline of both mind and body. It starts with the breath as the rhythm of life that connects the centre of a person to the outside universe. The rewards that may come with the acceptance of these techniques and some hard work are courage and power, the courage to always be ready to move and the power to stay still.
For the actor in training, life is often a series of frustrations and seeming failures. What once seemed easy and natural can collapse under the weight of a conservatory training program. Through the employment of methodologies based in part on the spiritual exercises and ideas of other cultures, we as teachers, can help provide a path through this confusion. We can prepare an actor to be aware of himself, to know where the breath is in his body and to have the strength to proceed without knowing the end. Our major training institutions are quietly using some very old techniques in their studios. I believe that there is nothing to be reticent about. If the goals are the same for the spiritual student and the actor then it is our responsibility to borrow techniques. As western society spins in an ever more secular fashion, the power of the theatre to examine the truth of human relations will be even more necessary.
Stanislavski may have been the first teacher to recognize the importance of training the soul of the actor. He felt that the spirituality of the actor as person should not be ignored because it is that person that is being used for the character. His company was exhorted to remember:
An artist takes the best that is in him and carries it over on the stage. Always act in your own person ... you can never get away from yourself. The moment you lose yourself on the stage marks the departure from truly living your part and the beginning of exaggerated, false acting. Spiritual realism, truth of artistic feelings ... these are the most difficult (achievements) of our art, they require long, arduous inner preparation. The difference between my art and that [practised by others] is the difference between "seeming" and "being". 36
James Forsythe B.F.A (Alberta 1976) M.F.A. (Victoria 1990)
Head, Drama Program
The author acknowledges the support of the Brandon University Research Committee.
[^] 1. Constantin Stanislavski. An Actor Prepares, trans. by Elizabeth Hapgood. (New York: Theatre Arts Books, 1936) 44.
[^] 2. Constantin Stanislavski. An Actors's Handbook, ed. and trans. Elizabeth Hapgood. (New York: Theatre Arts Books, 1963) 81.
[^] 3. Stephen Nachmanovitch. Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art (Los Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher, 1990) 5.
[^] 4. Virginia Snyders. Letter to the author. 19 March 1993.
[^] 5. Jo Lesly. Personal interview. 13 May 1994.
[^] 6. Brian Doubt. Personal interview. 13 May 1994.
[^] 7. Jacques Maritain. Creative Intuition In Art and Poetry, A. W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts. (New York: Meridian B, 1955) 67.
[^] 8. Chung-yuan Chang. Creativity and Taoism (New York: Julian, 1963) 102.
[^] 9. Rollo May. The Courage to Create (New York: Bantam, 1976) 3.
[^] 10. David Smukler. Personal interview. 2 June 1993.
[^] 11. Michael Chekov. To the Actor on the Technique of Acting (New York: Harper and Row, 1953) 2-3.
[^] 12. Joseph Chaikin. The Presence of the Actor (New York: Atheneum, 1980) 66-67.
[^] 13. Chaikin 66.
[^] 14. Chung-yuan Chang 155.
[^] 15. Alan Watts. The Way of Zen (New York: Pantheon B, 1957) 156.
[^] 16. Smukler.
[^] 17. Daisetz Suzuki. Zen and Japanese Culture, Bollingen Ser. 64. (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1959) 105.
[^] 18. Chung-yuan Chang 21.
[^] 19. Smukler.
[^] 20. Sam Massich. Classroom session. National Voice Intensive. 27 May 1993.
[^] 21. John-Paul Fishback. Personal interview. 15 May 1993.
[^] 22. Lesley.
[^] 23. Sheldon Rosen. Telephone interview. 12 May 1994
[^] 24. Steven Glassman. Personal Interview. 12 May 1994.
[^] 25. Glen Park. The Art of Changing (Bath UK: Ashgrove P, 1989) 241.
[^] 26. Glassman
[^] 27. F.M. Alexander. qtd. in The Art of Changing.
[^] 28. Glassman
[^] 29. Glen Park 196.
[^] 30. Park 241.
[^] 31. Niamh Dowling. Personal interview. 17 May 1994.
[^] 32. Alexander Clements. Personal interview. 17 May 1994.
[^] 33. Patricia Roy. Personal interview. 17 May 1994.
[^] 34. Clements.
[^] 35. Simon Callow. qtd. in Brian Bates, The Way of the Actor: A Path to Knowledge and Power. (Boston: Shambala, 1987) 202.
[^] 36. Stanislavski, An Actor's Handbook 91.