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Hidden Factors of Relaxation for the Actor

By: Diane Christiansen

When practicing your Relaxation Exercises, including identifying tension in the muscles and breathing deeply into the lower stomach and exhaling through the mouth very slowly, the actor may find unusually strong feelings welling up within. Tension may re-manifest itself throughout the body even after a deep relaxation is used, and especially in the neck and throat, resulting in a “choked” sensation in the vocal chords. The actor is encouraged at this point to help release the tension by vocalizing a long, sustained “ahhhhh” sound, or a short, staccato “HAH!” to help release both the tension and the emotion.

After practicing this exercise faithfully every day for fifteen minutes to a half hour, the actor develops a “sixth sense” for identifying tension in his body, and this new awareness is especially useful on camera or on stage, where, when the actor feels tension for one reason or another, he simply “identifies where it is, and releases it”.

This relaxation exercise, when mastered, helps the actor identify the tension as it becomes apparent, then release the tension in a manner invisible to the audience. This unwanted tension must be released, or it will block the pure expression of the actor’s instrument.

But learning to properly relax is only a part of the benefit of the Relaxation Exercise. While the actor is learning to relax by identifying tension in individual muscles, he is also learning to develop and strengthen the powers of concentration needed to create the life of the person, animal or “thing” he is representing in the story the author has invented. Remember, to be concentrated, you must be properly relaxed, and to be properly relaxed you must be concentrated.

The extreme degree of concentration the actor applies to identifying tension in the body and mind during the Relaxation Exercise will make the exercise itself very tedious. Human beings don’t seem to enjoy concentrating for extended periods of time unless the object of their attention has some immediate gratification for them.
But the actor, not unlike the painter, the musician or the physician, must find a way to practice the more mundane elements of the art in ways that are stimulating, exciting and fun.

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