Inrelation to solo performance, my initial understanding of the word ’embodiment’was to present a particular character, way of being, or presence onstagethrough the use of the body.
It is only until the endof the module that I have come to realise, as my acting skills andknowledge of solo performance has developed, that words such as’embodiment’, can mean so much more. To ultimately reach a point of agreater understanding, I will be researching a rangeof theories, methodologies, and practitioners toreflect upon, when discovering and evaluating my ownpersonal experiences, in explorationof the term ’embodiment’. Whenfirst researching the noun ’embodiment’, I found it was defined as”the representation or expression of something in a tangible or visibleform”. (Oxford Dictionaries, 2017). Embodiment is relevant inmost performance, yet plays a major role in theauthenticity of the solo actor’s performance,as the audience relies wholly on their ability alone to convincethem when present onstage. In agreement with thisdefinition, I began trying to think of past experiences or exercises, Ihave done that had involved in me embodying something. Thisled me to a previous performance where I played Shakespeare’s Prosperofrom ‘The Tempest’, alongside two other actors (SeeAppendix A). We had decided to split the character into three, resultingin myself acting as Prospero’s ‘id’, which in Freudian terms is the part of themind that “operates under the pleasure principle, meaning it has no regardfor reality, constraints, or consequences.
” (Vakkur.com, n.d.
). Duringthe preparation of this role, I decided that the best wayto portray the ‘id’ of Prospero was to act as if Iwas driven by primal instincts, embodying an animal, or inmy case, a spider (See Appendix B). Whenreading ‘The Invisible Actor’, there were many similarities inadvice given about moving with the techniques I had found myselfdeveloping in preparation of the spider. The reading beginsby explaining, “the first thing the actor needs to learn is the geography ofthe body” (Oida and Marshall, 1997), which I began to do byexploring the geography of both my own body, and the spiders. After alot of exploration, I compared the differences to seehow I could use my body to imitate such a complex animal.
It was extremelyfrustrating at first, I didn’t feel confident enough in myown ability to believe that it could be convincing to an audience.Nevertheless, to overcome this I tried to gain a “sense ofmy basic human connection to the worldaround me (Oida and Marshall, 1997)”, slowly alteringthis by using my imagination in rehearsals to almostbelieve I was spider, visualising those around me as either prey orpredators. After consistently practicing this, I found Ialmost couldn’t stop myself from thinking this way, effectively thistechnique “turned the play into a theatricalreality” (Stanislavsky and Reynolds Hapgood, 2012). Itis described in ‘The Invisible Actor’, as’essential’ to “engage and exercise your imaginationwherever possible” (Oida and Marshall, 1997) whichthroughout this process I have realised to be true.
Using my imagination tohelp build the mind, and thoughtprocess of the arachnid Prospero, was extremelyeffective as it strengthened my intentions and responses whenmoving as “the action becomes easier and you have to focus on your innerconcentration” (Oida and Marshall, 1997). In addition, byimagining the image of the spider’s rigidity, and shape, as wellas its tempo, changing rhythm, or sequence of movements, guided me tobecome more fluid, confident, and therefore, more natural (SeeAppendix C). This Ifeel, “involves active awareness” (Oida andMarshall, 1997), and an ability to disconnect from the task ofacting but project one’s own visual image, achieving amore natural embodiment. Inthe ‘auto(biography)’ week of the module, we were given ashort ten-minute task called ‘The Museum of Me’. Inthe course of this task, we were asked to use any objects, notes, or books wecould find in our bag that said something about us, or related to ourselves tocreate a mini performance. Our role choice had many possibilities, forexample, a tour guide, audience member, biggest fan, or even yourself.
As weonly had a short amount of time, I quickly thought of a character whom wasthe most unhelpful, rude, annoying, museum secretary. Following this, I triedto write a short script (See Appendix D) as aguideline for the attitude of my character, with lines such as “if you have anyquestions, just umm…/ ask someone who actually careswill ya babe? (*snorts with laughter*), the rest I had toimprovise.
Dueto the lack of time, it became apparent that, to embody the role of thecharacter both mentally and physically, didn’t come as naturally asit would if there was more time to prepare. Quickly, I tried connectingmy ideas of both the personalitytraits, and physicality of my character, to help me toimprovise. Which on reflection, was sometimes trickyin response to an unpredictable audience that I hadto engage with. Vocal coach, Kristin Linklater states in ‘Freeingthe Natural Voice’ that, “the first step toward freeing thenatural voice is to develop an ability to perceive habits and register newexperiences.
Such ability must be mentaland physical” (Linklater, & Slob, 2006). As theaudience’s responses were unknown to me at the time, I had to imagine how thecharacter would react on the spot. Atone moment, I made the mistake of talking about the museum objects as myown in first person, rather than in third. As a result, mycharacter’s persona dropped completely. It is said that,”the conscious mind has an alarming capacity for subverting newexperiences.
Either confusing them with something familiar and safe, orleaping ahead to the result and by-passing the process” (Linklater, &Slob, 2006). In my experience, it was unfortunately easy to slipback into myself, and expose my own relation to the objects, rather thanuphold the character’s persona, as I feel I should have worked moreon discovering the relation to the objects in that role. Whenreading further I found that “few people have immediate capacityfor fine psychophysical awareness; carefully graded steps must be taken toarrive at a state which can be trusted to feedback reliableinformation” (Linklater, & Slob, 2006). In light ofthis, I feel this experience shows that it takes a lot of time,exploration, and understanding of a role, to fully engagewith the character, both physically, and mentally, thus amore complete embodiment. As a result, I feel I would become”an active participant in this imaginary life … no longer seeyourself, but only what surrounds you, and to this you will respond inwardly,because you are a real part of it” (Stanislavsky and ReynoldsHapgood, 2012). When reflecting upon my own technique, I feelthat I should have also focused less on writing a script,but instead, should have concentrated onexploring the characters mental perception,their environment, questioning the character’s intention for being at themuseum. Additionally, I would focus on how I would goabout portraying the character’s outlook, but physicallytoo, as “it is not what you are doing that isimportant, but how you are doing it” (Linklater, &Slob, 2006).
This would then ensure that my actions,thoughts, and responses would become second natureto myself, making them more natural. Inan aim execute a deeper understanding of the concept andthe process of embodiment, I foundresearching into ‘psychophysical’ training helped meto consider the importance of making a physical and mental connection asa solo performer. Psychophysics is defined as “the scientificstudy of the relationship between stimuli (specified in physical terms) and thesensations and perceptions evoked by these stimuli (Cis.rit.edu, n.d.)”. In the’psychophysical’ week of the module, the task in hand was called ‘Walk/Study/Walk’ thatinvolved using your ‘mind’s eye’, “searching and listening” (Saner,2017), to scan the geography of your body, and aim to imagine thedifferent parts I was using to walk in order to feel the subtle sensationsinvolved.
After “finding a balanced purposeful use of your body, and intentionin space, in executing this action without adding anything to it” (Saner,2017), the exercise led to imagining the walk of someone you knew, “lookingfor their body, and their walk, in your body” (Saner, 2017). Atfirst, I imagined one of my friends, I tried to remember how she walks, butfound when practicing that it looked superficial and more comical than anythingelse. In an aim to achieve a more natural walk, I startedto look for guidance and took some advice given by adirector to Konstantin Stanislavski in ‘An Actor Prepares’. I then experimented with the exercise a second time. Ibegan by imagining my grandfather, analysing key elements ofhim, concentrating on certain details of his walk (SeeAppendix E).
Keeping the research in mind, I tried to go”about it in the same way as an actor does who sees in real life sometypical characteristic that he wishes to embody in a role. If he merely copiesit he will fall into the error of superficial and routineacting” (Stanislavsky and Reynolds Hapgood, 2012). Followingthis, I focused on his steadinessof tempo rhythm, his slight lean forward in posture, questioning wherehis hands would be, the level, and direction ofhis gaze, embodying the subtleties,and incorporating all of the tiny details, in order to walk ashim but within myself. Overall, I found the useof imagination, and methodology of the psychophysical exercise to beuseful. Visualising stimuli allowed me to engage with the image of the walk,feeling the different, and subtle changes in sensations, rather thanthinking about the walk, and then try to imitate it. Furthermore, I feelthat after realising “the point of the exercise is to remember, within yours,what theirs is like” (Saner, 2017), that my understanding of’embodiment’ changed slightly.
Beforehand, I imagined ’embodiment’ was tomould one’s self into the body or shape of another, however, I am nowof the opinion that it is subtly incorporating aspects ofthem into you. Considering the recent developments made throughexperimenting with different exercises as solo performer, I feel that I havebecome more perceptive to the extent of practice it must take tomaster the techniques required,in embodying different roles. When researching, I found avariety of different intellectual material, methods, ideasand advice given in which practitioner’s,actor’s, and director’s, have refined over theyears to create specific formulas for performers. Notably, a keyfactor which was most important and frequently mentioned was the use ofimagination as “physical features illuminate, illustrate and so put across theinvisible, inner shape of a character’s mind to the audience” (Stanislavsky,and Benedetti, 2009). In order to make the audience see what you intend forthem to see, the actor must see it in their mind, making you fully”‘present’ inside your flesh, at all times” (Oida and Marshall,1997).
Once considered, I began to integrate these ideas into my ownexperimentation, closely analysing the different changes,consequently noticing the different effects. The part I found mostdifficult was finding the initial focus and concentrationin pursuit of finding those subtle sensations. I feelI achieved embodiment through revisiting the exercisesregularly, making them more lucid as Ibecame more conscious and intuitive. This I feel,progressively allowed me to focus more on the external worldof the different roles being played as the mental and physicalconnection had become closer.
In conclusion of this, I would now defineembodiment as an act of using one’s imagination to experience through a mentaland physical connection, a present manner of being, a visible form of an idea, thatlives in the theatrical reality which is of your own making.