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There is very good reason as to why, after hundreds of years actors and audiences alike remain drawn to the work of “The Bard”.

Contemporary text draws parallels to our modern day frames of reference of behavior, thoughts and actions. We recognize characters from how they interact with each other through a modern paradigm. Why then do acting schools all over the English speaking world still use the works of Shakespeare as part of their stable of training the contemporary actor?

The short answer is the way the text interacts with the voice, body and heart. The rhythms and cadence of heightened language provides an holistic mechanism for the actor to truly connect to text in an embodied way.  Naturalistic frames of reference don’t cut it with the muscularity of Shakespeare’s verse and prose. These instead demand the actor’s complete instrument to realise the depth of this language – to bring to performance the imagery, colour and emotion, which sits purely within the text.

Actors in training spend hours working their voices to develop a clear and tension free conduit between actor, text and audience. Bringing life to the theatre through heightened text is one of the most effective ways to develop a robust and vital connection between actor and their body and voice. Every word and every thought is borne from the body. There is no allowance in the work of Shakespeare for the language to sit as a benign thought in sub-text, but rather it must, thought by thought – sound by sound – be originated and energized through the actor’s active body.

Regardless of your desire to perform the works of Shakespeare, every actor should embrace the lessons this text has to offer. A truly crafted and energised theatrical performance will always have its mettle tested in the heightened text.

Sometimes the old ways are still the best ways. When the actor IS a body, a voice and a heart – “such as we are made of, such we be”

public speaking

An AK47 against the temple is a pretty frightening possibility.. almost as much as standing at a lectern, palms sweating and a mind bereft of the first word of a presentation. An expectant audience waits in deafening silence.

 

I would probably collapse in a blubbering heap in the first scenario, but when it comes to public speaking there are two key truths that apply. Firstly, standing in front of a group of people and delivering a speech is something we are not wired to do as adults. The second involves the notion of confidence. Confidence is a skill, not a gift. Each of us, regardless of temperament or personality can LEARN confidence. An acknowledgement of these two elements allows us to safely and boldly lean into the discomfort of speaking in public. 

 

Stage fright and nerves might seem to be something that resides in the mind. Thoughts of doubt, your inner critic and audience expectation can fill our awareness, stripping us of the ability to just release and trust our capacity to communicate with others. The mind may be the source of this restriction, but the body provides the solution. In years of working with actors, this concept forms the base of the development of process and the craft of performing. The body holds the key to learning confidence.

 

We all grew up around story telling. As three year olds we were infinitely able to embody a story without fear or doubt. In the big bad adult world it is easy to escape this skill that each of us were born with, but knowing that this ability was intrinsic to who we were, means it is simply a case of re-learning an old skill. When we accept this approach is when the bubbling energy of fear becomes a source of inspiration and engagement.

 

The adult then returns to where it all began - and sees the place for the first time with grown up eyes.

sparkler

There is a myth surrounding our idea of confidence that implies it is something one is born with – some sort of gift from God bestowed on the extraverted.  As if you are either lucky enough to feel naturally comfortable in social situations or public speaking, or you are an introverted collapsed body of fear and doubt, sentenced to a life of quiet introspection.

Introversion and extraversion are merely personality traits in the way we interact with the world.  An introvert may enjoy more quiet time and inner reflection, where the extravert may gain energy from others.  It is this convention that often strips the introvert of their natural ability to communicate and share parts of themselves with others. We are all social animals – our lives are given purpose through our interaction with others, be it through our partners, work colleagues, children, friends or community. All of us have a place for “our story” – the ability to claim this space relies on us disenthralling ourselves from the limited notion of confidence being merely the reserve of the loud.

In today’s world you would be forgiven for assuming that the body works solely as a very efficient transportation system for the head. It gets us to and from meetings, it sits us upright at our computer screens and it allows us to arrive at work more or less on time. The body, of course is much more than this and importantly it is inextricably linked to our ability to overcome imposed fear and find ways for all of us to learn to express – to LEARN confidence. Actors do it every day – and they – just like the rest of us are an eclectic mix of personalities – favouring both introversion and extraversion.

In a world moving faster, a society getting louder and a workplace demanding more and more of us, there are many who run the risk of missing their voice – robbing those around them of their unique story.  All of us can be heard. The subtle exile of the introvert is a dangerous prospect.

As three year olds we all enjoyed a fluid relationship between body and mind. The adult world of conventions, expectations and judgments slowly began to smother the freely expressive child and mould them piece by piece to take their place in the linear adult world around them. For all of us then, confidence is not new, but merely a re-learning of a forgotten skill.

This is not about stepping into unchartered waters, but merely sailing through old familiar ones, but seeing them for the first time with grown-up eyes.