Alyssa Franks will be teaching a 6-class workshop on the Alexander Technique in November. Here she gives a little insight on the class, and on her personal journey as an actor.
Q: Can you describe the Alexander Technique?
A: The Alexander Technique is a psycho-physical technique–or mind-body technique–for improving your physical coordination through all of your movements; for thinking more constructively; and for unblocking the channels of creativity. I came to the work as part of my graduate degree program. I discovered, when I started to use the Alexander Technique for my work, that for the first time my acting felt really alive and spontaneous. I noticed when I made changes in my body, my imagination really sparked to life. I was making discoveries really spontaneously in the moment, which is not something I’d ever really truly experienced before.
So, for actors, I think it has a lot of utility: 1) You end up communicating more clearly. When you are in your optimal communication with your body, you can communicate your creative ideas about your character more clearly with the audience. And the audience can see more of the character’s inner life, through the movements of your body. 2) It just keeps you healthy and well, so that you have more sustainability over an artistic career, and more flexibility in the range of characters you can play. 3) I think it unleashes our natural creativity that we’re born with. Along the way in our lives, different things we’ve learned or different obstacles we’ve encountered resulted in physical tension that the Alexander Technique can help to release, and along with that release comes all the natural creative impulse as well.
Q: Can you give a concrete example of this?
A: One awareness we start with is the relationship between your head and spine. F. M. Alexander, the founder of this technique, called that the primary control. And what’s interesting about that particular joint and that particular relationship is that it tends to have a global effect on the rest of your body. So when you tighten the joint between head and spine, that tightening ends up in pressure somewhere down your spine and distributed somewhere out through your limbs depending on how you use yourself. So if you imagine a cushion, if you squish the top of the cushion, that squish goes out to the sides of the cushion somewhere. Until you take the pressure off the top of the system, it’s going to be there. So we start the class really with investigating that joint, and the relationship that that joint has with the rest of the spine and therefore the rest of the body. My first question for students is: where is the joint between your head and spine? Many people are surprised to find the joint is actually in the center of your head–right under and behind your earlobe. Another landmark for that is the very back of your mouth behind that soft tissue. It’s so interesting because we do move according to our ideas about ourselves. We move according to ideas about how we’re structured. So even just updating that information a little bit unlocks incredible new pathways for people.
Q: Who is this class for?
A: I think of Alexander Technique as taking a vitamin; it’s a supplement to anything else that you’re doing in life. I run my classes as more of a laboratory style, so I ask people to bring in the activities that they’re interested in, and we can apply the technique directly to it. That way it’s really practical and it’s more likely that you’ll then use the technique in your daily life if you’re already in the practice of applying it to daily activities. People have brought monologues, for instance, other people have brought walking, standing, line dancing, singing, voice over, combat moves. So those things that you care about most you would bring into the class, so we can then find the freedom, find the ease, find the greatest availability of choices to make within that activity.
Q: What led you here?
A: I was pretty determined to be an actor since I was 4 years old. I stayed the course, I went to a performing arts high school, and I graduated early because I was so eager to get to college. I went to Liverpool, England to study for my bachelor’s degree. I worked closely with Lodestar Shakespeare Company when I was out there. I came back to the States and started my master’s degree at UW, in their professional actor training program, which is where I found Alexander Technique. And that was just one of those moments where it really changed the trajectory of my life, when I realized that this was a technique that not only changed my acting but also carried over into my daily life in such a deep and meaningful way. As an actor, I’ve worked with a bunch of theater companies here in Seattle. I’ve done a lot of voice over work. I’ve created several devised pieces–that’s one of my big passions!
Q: You’ve also created a one-woman show?
A: My one-woman show will be Saturday July 30th, at 4:30 Pacific Time on livestream. It’s about an underground abortion network, celebrating–or inspired by–the story of the Jane Collective, who did the same in Chicago in the 70s before Roe v Wade. They ran this collective of women who were helping other women have safe and affordable access to care.
Q: Anything else you’d like to share?
A: This work can seem sort of enigmatic, so if people have questions or want a more bare-bones intro, please reach out to me! I’m so happy to meet people for coffee, or 1-on-1, or to give them some more hands-on, kinesthetic introductions. My email is: firstname.lastname@example.org
Try Alexander Technique yourself with our 6-class, two week workshop starting November 3. Sign up here!