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The Tense Actor vs The Released Actor

julia crockett - movement teacherWhen I begin working with actors, the first step is to get them to identify their own unique patterns and habits of tension, because an actor must be physically released. A released actor is one who walks into an audition room, and the people on the other side think “yeah, I wanna work with that guy!” Just think of the person you’d want to hang out with at a party: the guy sitting with his legs and arms crossed, jaw clenched, brow furrowed, hands shaking or uncomfortably stuck in his pockets? Or the one standing at ease, arms open, a released smile, comfortable in his body?

This notion extends beyond the casting room. We go to the theater to live through what an actor is experiencing, right? If we witness a tense performance, all we will receive is tension. When a released actor performs, she welcomes us to experience with her as she lives through the circumstances of the play or film. We can then have an empathetic experience. I would even argue that release is what gives an actor presence (yes, it can be cultivated. Its not just something a lucky few are born with!). We want to watch people who can process rich experiences, without the clutter created by habits of tension, we will be able to see the subtleties and nuances of a performance. And ultimately, our eye is naturally drawn to the actor without tension.

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Letting go of these habits is a tall order. All of us have patterns of tension that we have learned over the course of our lives (because we aren’t born like that, right? Just look at how released toddlers are! Their long graceful spines! Their nice open hips!). Tension comes from a need to protect ourselves–whether from physical or psychological harm, from trauma or ridicule. But it is the job of the actor to live through the unimaginable–the depths and heights of human experience–in front of people. A circumstance that in life would be bound to provoke tension. So, a smart actor must train their physical instrument. He has to first call attention to his own patterns and then in every possible moment give himself permission to let go, which is a scary thought. It is not uncommon for an actor to feel a sense of panic or to feel overwhelmed when they let go of a habit for the first time. And then, to come into contact with another person or an imaginary circumstance—therein lies an even greater challenge. But when the hard work pays off, and an actor finally finds comfort in sustained release—their work will have dimension.

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