Alexis Milligan

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A Blog Post

“You are tuning your instrument not your soul.”

Discipline is the enabler of technique. Without the desire to practice and bring a sensibility and quality of discipline to your craft, how can you learn to master the art? I mean really, what the heck is it that we do as actors, and why do we do it? For fame? Popularity? Identity? Master story telling?

Over this past week of studying Pure Movement Technique and observing Shona’s students apply and learn from the work, what has struck me most is the absolute necessity of understanding craft and how important it is that connections are made on how to apply the work; how to take the body that is working forward.  This truly is one of the biggest missing elements in a young actor’s training, and therefore perspective of the craft.   Because at the heart of it they are all asking “why do I need to learn all this movement stuff anyway?”.

Theatre students coming into a theatre program often don’t completely understand the world they are stepping into. If you look at musicians, most students entering a post-secondary program would have trained for years, gone through rigorous study, examinations, and technical training. They know their instrument and how to play it. Then they go on to study with master teachers, learn new techniques and mentor with other artists, constantly honing their skills.  And, they don’t go more then a few days without picking up their instrument. The same goes for a dancer. They study rigorously for most of their lives and literally cannot go more then a few days without a class, or it begins to affect their work. So, what do young actors do? If asked to do the equivalent of scales, or pliés, what do we say? And do we practice it, with discipline and focus on a regular basis? What is this craft of acting? And do we actually know how to access all that it can give us as story tellers?

As I watch Shona work within the Pure Movement Technique, adding her beautiful touches of Le Coq and Complicité, the physical body of each student begins to unfold and open.  They are listening to each other, communicating and responding to each other without words.  As the class progresses these young actors are suddenly able to see the practical application of the work. They become aware of the technique through an open and free instrument. They are alive with feeling and as an observer you know when they are working inside the technique because you can feel it too.  They are becoming skilled musicians, adaptable to change, open to play, and most importantly understanding how to come together to create beautiful music.

But when these students leave their training program, with their instruments finely tuned, skills and craft honed, open and ready to head out into the world of professional acting work, there’s a mighty glitch in the system  – who’s conducting these musicians and are they equally skilled at their own craft? Do the directors know how to bring this orchestra of actors, designers, and technicians together so they hear each other and transport the story off the stage?

This is one of the final paragraphs of a wonderful article from The Guardian a number of years ago about the role of the conductor and below is the link to the article.  There is a lot of cross over to the very necessary craft…of directing.

“And while it’s true that every player I spoke to, from London to Lucerne, wants to feel valued as an individual musician as well as part of the collective, they also would not tolerate a lack of inspiration or leadership from the person on the podium. As Kolja Blacher, soloist and ex-leader of the Berlin Philharmonic and now leader of the Lucerne Festival Orchestra, says: “There is a sociological difficulty nowadays, where personal liberty is so important to everybody. So why stick with this very un-free job of being an orchestral musician?” The answer is to be found in those “cosmic” performances, where, in a truly alchemical transformation of elements, something is achieved that goes beyond the egos of the players or the conductors and the only choice is to follow the musical energy that’s being created on stage.”

And also this wonderful blog from my friend, and wonderful conductor and teacher, Dinuk Wijeratne.  There are lots of cross- over applications to theatre both in acting and directing:

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