“You can be five-foot-four or six-foot-four, Corey. It’s up to you.”
Since apparently I was “vertically challenged” for the stage at 5’10”, internationally acclaimed director Alan Schneider gave me the note after rehearsal. Though taller actors immediately had some advantage in their physical presence on stage, Alan wasn’t suggesting I be costumed with height-enhancing apparatus, but rather that I think differently about myself. And my energy.
My speech teacher shared a related view, saying, “Being shorter than some of the other actors, when we first see you on stage you appear to be at a disadvantage especially in the lead role. But as soon as you open your mouth we know we’re in good hands.” Ah, some relief.
What the hell was going on here? What’s the real guidance this Iowa boy was being given?
This week I did a commercial shoot and the actor playing my wife was taller than me. That created some interesting staging opportunities especially when the producer wanted me to put my arm around her! I did my best to stand up straight in every shot.
If we need to appear taller, what are we to do?
A clue might come from the principles of Moshe Feldenkrais, an Israeli physicist who founded the Feldenkrais Method of somatic education. I was first exposed to his principles in a grad school movement class where a Feldenkrais practitioner would suggest adjustments to our shoulder and neck areas with her hands and then, when “ready” send us walking across the stage. She may even appear backstage during a production to “remind” us actors of the freedom we can achieve with subtle physical reminders, in thought and body. Non-intrusively, her hands did the reminding.
It wasn’t massage as she would touch so lightly, almost smoothing and softening our energy with her hands. Occasionally she would make a slightly firmer suggestion to align our necks, shoulders and head position. It was odd, and tough to find the sweet spot, but when happening upon it there was an amazing result.
In light of this “sensibility”, I’m thinking the taller energy formula is something like:
Actor appears 5’4” = Not Free
Same actor appears 6’4” = Free
Highly scientific, I know and for us it may be more like trying to get to how we feel after a massage, a yoga session, sauna or great walk/run where everything fell into place.
One helpful thing I remember the practitioner suggesting. Rather than trying to stand up straight:
- Imagine a tiny, air-filled pillow between your top vertebra and your skull
- Pivot your head slowly and gently around to feel the pillow
- Imagine your breath inflating the pillow as needed to experience freedom
Interesting how the body aligns itself nicely when we work the pillow!
It’s a feeling, so it’s physical. It’s a thought, therefore mental. However we get there, we can experience a renewed sense of freedom that allows us the opportunity to command more space, release our natural energy, stand confident, and tall.
Lacking the helpful hands of a practitioner, it’s up to us as Actors to smooth and soften our own energy flow so we can be free to take on the roles of our lives. With freedom comes ease, flexibility and a powerful presence.
Your stage. Your performance. And tall as you like, you’re on!