Very occasionally throughout my career I have taken small roles to attempt to stay in touch with the task of acting, and found it utterly confounding and deeply, deeply difficult to relax into.
As a man with scoliosis, I know body tension. If I even mention a certain stressful teacher I had in high school and then reach for a high shelf, blam, there’s an icepick in my back. When I teach or direct actors, I can often see with the naked eye that there are imbalances in tension all over their bodies. It’s as if the transverse muscle, in the pit of the gut, is where all the emotion comes from and it’s got to get past three check points on its way out: the stomach, the shoulders and the jaw. And if an actor is clenching one of those (like I do) for reasons beyond his control or awareness, perhaps in a very understandable attempt to remain civilized and control the emotions trying to blast their way out of him, you can bet he’s got an energy leak somewhere else, like blinking too much, or shifting his weight, or over-endowing props. Which then leads to unwanted, undirected energy belying his performance.
On the witnessing side, as human beings, and as audience members, there are a million languages of the face we don’t realize we already speak. When an actor blinks too much, or blinks not in a way that the character would blink given his dialogue, something bugs us, and we decide we don’t believe them. When an actor acts like he’s listening, rather than truly picturing the imagery of what is being said to him, we see his face tense into handsome listening face, and we stop rooting for him. And finally, given that (I believe) we think in images, not words, if an actor has not connected deeply with the images within his own dialogue, and is not using his tongue as a paintbrush to paint these images onto the mind-canvas of the listener, we hydroplane along with him, over his moments, unaffected.
To combat this, I have devised, over the years, the above handy-dandy diagram of the human body while acting. A treacherous landscape of tension-moguls forming and releasing. Blocking the path of the emotional truth as it emerges from its home in the pit of the gut, where our weakest muscles are, that are only deployed when we cry. Beginning with the imagination, and working counter-clockwise, I will attempt to double-click on the human body, that it might be deployed in its entirety to our artistic ends.