In by primal instincts, embodying an animal, or

In
relation to solo performance, my initial understanding of the word ’embodiment’
was to present a particular character, way of being, or presence onstage
through the use of the body. It is only until the end
of the module that I have come to realise, as my acting skills and
knowledge of solo performance has developed, that words such as
’embodiment’, can mean so much more. To ultimately reach a point of a
greater understanding, I will be researching a range
of theories, methodologies, and practitioners to
reflect upon, when discovering and evaluating my own
personal experiences, in exploration
of the term ’embodiment’. When
first researching the noun ’embodiment’, I found it was defined as
“the representation or expression of something in a tangible or visible
form”. (Oxford Dictionaries, 2017). Embodiment is relevant in
most performance, yet plays a major role in the
authenticity of the solo actor’s performance,
as the audience relies wholly on their ability alone to convince
them when present onstage.  In agreement with this
definition, I began trying to think of past experiences or exercises, I
have done that had involved in me embodying something. This
led me to a previous performance where I played Shakespeare’s Prospero
from ‘The Tempest’, alongside two other actors (See
Appendix A). We had decided to split the character into three, resulting
in myself acting as Prospero’s ‘id’, which in Freudian terms is the part of the
mind that “operates under the pleasure principle, meaning it has no regard
for reality, constraints, or consequences.” (Vakkur.com, n.d.). During
the preparation of this role, I decided that the best way
to portray the ‘id’ of Prospero was to act as if I
was driven by primal instincts, embodying an animal, or in
my case, a spider (See Appendix B).  

 

 

When
reading ‘The Invisible Actor’, there were many similarities in
advice given about moving with the techniques I had found myself
developing in preparation of the spider. The reading begins
by explaining, “the first thing the actor needs to learn is the geography of
the body” (Oida and Marshall, 1997), which I began to do by
exploring the geography of both my own body, and the spiders. After a
lot of exploration, I compared the differences to see
how I could use my body to imitate such a complex animal. It was extremely
frustrating at first, I didn’t feel confident enough in my
own ability to believe that it could be convincing to an audience.
Nevertheless, to overcome this I tried to gain a “sense of
my basic human connection to the world
around me (Oida and Marshall, 1997)”, slowly altering
this by using my imagination in rehearsals to almost
believe I was spider, visualising those around me as either prey or
predators. After consistently practicing this, I found I
almost couldn’t stop myself from thinking this way, effectively this
technique “turned the play into a theatrical
reality” (Stanislavsky and Reynolds Hapgood, 2012). 

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It
is described in ‘The Invisible Actor’, as
‘essential’ to “engage and exercise your imagination
wherever possible” (Oida and Marshall, 1997) which
throughout this process I have realised to be true. Using my imagination to
help build the mind, and thought
process of the arachnid Prospero, was extremely
effective as it strengthened my intentions and responses when
moving as “the action becomes easier and you have to focus on your inner
concentration” (Oida and Marshall, 1997). In addition, by
imagining the image of the spider’s rigidity, and shape, as well
as its tempo, changing rhythm, or sequence of movements, guided me to
become more fluid, confident, and therefore, more natural (See
Appendix C). This I
feel, “involves active awareness” (Oida and
Marshall, 1997), and an ability to disconnect from the task of
acting but project one’s own visual image, achieving a
more natural embodiment. 

 

 

In
the ‘auto(biography)’ week of the module, we were given a
short ten-minute task called ‘The Museum of Me’. In
the course of this task, we were asked to use any objects, notes, or books we
could find in our bag that said something about us, or related to ourselves to
create a mini performance. Our role choice had many possibilities, for
example, a tour guide, audience member, biggest fan, or even yourself. As we
only had a short amount of time, I quickly thought of a character whom was
the most unhelpful, rude, annoying, museum secretary. Following this, I tried
to write a short script (See Appendix D) as a
guideline for the attitude of my character, with lines such as “if you have any
questions, just umm…/ ask someone who actually cares
will ya babe? (*snorts with laughter*), the rest I had to
improvise.  

 

Due
to the lack of time, it became apparent that, to embody the role of the
character both mentally and physically, didn’t come as naturally as
it would if there was more time to prepare. Quickly, I tried connecting
my ideas of both the personality
traits, and physicality of my character, to help me to
improvise. Which on reflection, was sometimes tricky
in response to an unpredictable audience that I had
to engage with. Vocal coach, Kristin Linklater states in ‘Freeing
the Natural Voice’ that, “the first step toward freeing the
natural voice is to develop an ability to perceive habits and register new
experiences. Such ability must be mental
and physical” (Linklater, & Slob, 2006). As the
audience’s responses were unknown to me at the time, I had to imagine how the
character would react on the spot.  

 

At
one moment, I made the mistake of talking about the museum objects as my
own in first person, rather than in third. As a result, my
character’s persona dropped completely. It is said that,
“the conscious mind has an alarming capacity for subverting new
experiences. Either confusing them with something familiar and safe, or
leaping ahead to the result and by-passing the process” (Linklater, &
Slob, 2006). In my experience, it was unfortunately easy to slip
back into myself, and expose my own relation to the objects, rather than
uphold the character’s persona, as I feel I should have worked more
on discovering the relation to the objects in that role. 

 

When
reading further I found that “few people have immediate capacity
for fine psychophysical awareness; carefully graded steps must be taken to
arrive at a state which can be trusted to feedback reliable
information” (Linklater, & Slob, 2006). In light of
this, I feel this experience shows that it takes a lot of time,
exploration, and understanding of a role, to fully engage
with the character, both physically, and mentally, thus a
more complete embodiment. As a result, I feel I would become
“an active participant in this imaginary life … no longer see
yourself, but only what surrounds you, and to this you will respond inwardly,
because you are a real part of it” (Stanislavsky and Reynolds
Hapgood, 2012). When reflecting upon my own technique, I feel
that I should have also focused less on writing a script,
but instead, should have concentrated on
exploring the characters mental perception,
their environment, questioning the character’s intention for being at the
museum. Additionally, I would focus on how I would go
about portraying the character’s outlook, but physically
too, as “it is not what you are doing that is
important, but how you are doing it” (Linklater, &
Slob, 2006). This would then ensure that my actions,
thoughts, and responses would become second nature
to myself, making them more natural.   

 

In
an aim execute a deeper understanding of the concept and
the process of embodiment, I found
researching into ‘psychophysical’ training helped me
to consider the importance of making a physical and mental connection as
a solo performer. Psychophysics is defined as “the scientific
study of the relationship between stimuli (specified in physical terms) and the
sensations and perceptions evoked by these stimuli (Cis.rit.edu, n.d.)”.  

 

In the
‘psychophysical’ week of the module, the task in hand was called ‘Walk/Study/Walk’ that
involved using your ‘mind’s eye’, “searching and listening” (Saner,
2017), to scan the geography of your body, and aim to imagine the
different parts I was using to walk in order to feel the subtle sensations
involved. After “finding a balanced purposeful use of your body, and intention
in space, in executing this action without adding anything to it” (Saner,
2017), the exercise led to imagining the walk of someone you knew, “looking
for their body, and their walk, in your body” (Saner, 2017).  At
first, I imagined one of my friends, I tried to remember how she walks, but
found when practicing that it looked superficial and more comical than anything
else.

 

In an aim to achieve a more natural walk, I started
to look for guidance and took some advice given by a
director to Konstantin Stanislavski in ‘An Actor Prepares’.
 I then experimented with the exercise a second time. I
began by imagining my grandfather, analysing key elements of
him, concentrating on certain details of his walk (See
Appendix E). Keeping the research in mind, I tried to go
“about it in the same way as an actor does who sees in real life some
typical characteristic that he wishes to embody in a role. If he merely copies
it he will fall into the error of superficial and routine
acting” (Stanislavsky and Reynolds Hapgood, 2012). Following
this, I focused on his steadiness
of tempo rhythm, his slight lean forward in posture, questioning where
his hands would be, the level, and direction of
his gaze, embodying the subtleties,
and incorporating all of the tiny details, in order to walk as
him but within myself.  

 

Overall, I found the use
of imagination, and methodology of the psychophysical exercise to be
useful. Visualising stimuli allowed me to engage with the image of the walk,
feeling the different, and subtle changes in sensations, rather than
thinking about the walk, and then try to imitate it. Furthermore, I feel
that after realising “the point of the exercise is to remember, within yours,
what theirs is like” (Saner, 2017), that my understanding of
’embodiment’ changed slightly. Beforehand, I imagined ’embodiment’ was to
mould one’s self into the body or shape of another, however, I am now
of the opinion that it is subtly incorporating aspects of
them into you.  

 

Considering the recent developments made through
experimenting with different exercises as solo performer, I feel that I have
become more perceptive to the extent of practice it must take to
master the techniques required,
in embodying different roles. When researching, I found a
variety of different intellectual material, methods, ideas
and advice given in which practitioner’s,
actor’s, and director’s, have refined over the
years to create specific formulas for performers. Notably, a key
factor which was most important and frequently mentioned was the use of
imagination as “physical features illuminate, illustrate and so put across the
invisible, inner shape of a character’s mind to the audience” (Stanislavsky,
and Benedetti, 2009). In order to make the audience see what you intend for
them to see, the actor must see it in their mind, making you fully
“‘present’ inside your flesh, at all times” (Oida and Marshall,
1997). Once considered, I began to integrate these ideas into my own
experimentation, closely analysing the different changes,
consequently noticing the different effects. The part I found most
difficult was finding the initial focus and concentration
in pursuit of finding those subtle sensations. I feel
I achieved embodiment through revisiting the exercises
regularly, making them more lucid as I
became more conscious and intuitive. This I feel,
progressively allowed me to focus more on the external world
of the different roles being played as the mental and physical
connection had become closer. In conclusion of this, I would now define
embodiment as an act of using one’s imagination to experience through a mental
and physical connection, a present manner of being, a visible form of an idea, that
lives in the theatrical reality which is of your own making.