Don’t mistake Tension for Intention

I’ve been reading a fantastic book called Physical Expression and the Performing Artist. It explores peoples’ misconceptions about how their bodies work, and how many of us subconsciously add tension in order to make our bodies move the way we think they should. All this tension makes for less expressive work because the performer is trying to make their body do something, rather than movement being an expression of intent. In addition, they’re always a little bit outside their performance because they’re thinking about making things happen, rather than simply doing them.

Think about how this applies to fight scenes. Some people never achieve comfort and trust with choreography because they’re only focussing on the intricacy of the moves or on performing the actions fast enough and in the right order, with little to no thought about the character’s experience of the scene. Also, some people like to “feel the violence” or “feel badass” which they achieve by adding tension. Others believe that speed is the only route to a better performance*, so they tense up to feel like they’re moving faster. But don’t mistake tension for intention. Physical Expression and the Performing Artist reminds us that if you’ve already locked in an expression you think is perfect, the scene can’t grow and deepen, because you can’t be responsive to the subtle changes that develop when one gets comfortable with action. Plus, when you try to do something, rather than simply doing it, you’re slow and less able to respond in the moment. By trying rather than doing, we hamper our artistic expression.

It reminds me of the process I’m currently experiencing in singing. It seems like every week I gain another layer of understanding of my instrument. I’ve always been a bit of a control freak, so learning to “let go” in any context is a hurdle for me. My brilliant and amazing teacher, André Clouthier, talks about the bravery and fearlessness required singing. At first I didn’t get it. I thought he was referring to allowing the emotional truth out. Well, that’s certainly part of it: it can be terrifying to just let out what’s deep inside you. Come to think of it, that’s what a lot of artist have trouble with early on before they can really access their artistry. But André’s also referring to the bravery it takes to simply open your mouth, breathe and let the music out. It feels like I’m not Doing anything. It feels like I’m just standing there and I’m kinda not doing the singing at all. And the brave part for me is being okay with not being the one Doing. Being okay with being present and feeling like I’m being sung.

When we first learn a skill, the focus is so often on what to Do that we feel like that’s goal: Doing. However, when we’re really performing, when we’re really making art, we forget about the Doing and we just Be. We just express what this character is going through and their reactions to it. We have to trust that we’ve done our homework on the piece and on the character. We have to trust that we ourselves are interesting enough to let our innermost truth out. And we have to be okay with letting go of the technique so that we can just “live truthfully under imaginary given circumstances,” if I may borrow from Meisner.

For some ideas on how to do this in a fight scene, check out the posts Bring It! and the follow-up Bring it! part 2: how to practice in class. Keep an eye on the upcoming blog posts, too, as I’ll be frequently posting rehearsal techniques to help you to get familiar with your choreography and then to let it go so you can focus on the scene. It’s really not that much different than rehearsing your spoken scenes, but I find that we sometimes need a nudge towards drawing those connections.

See you next week!

*I mean ONLY speed, rather than focussing on communication, accuracy, precision…