Physicality and Movement – The Power of the Body to Change the Mind

NASA - importance of Physicality and Movement

26 Oct Physicality and Movement – The Power of the Body to Change the Mind

Exploring physicality and movement in acting training can take on some pretty extreme and abstract forms!

Many highly regarded names in acting training place physicality and movement at the heart of the craft – Stella Adler, Rudolf Laban, Michael Chekov, Alexander technique to name a few.

From animal work to traffic lights exercises, from mirroring and mime to visualizing objects within or around the body, from physical stance and interpretation of music to physical constraints in silence, movement work is both challenging and illuminating.

Interestingly, some of the most useful exercises can seem the most random and odd when we first encounter them!

A fellow actor reminded me the other day of an exercise that, at the time, both turned us on our heads (figuratively, not literally!) as well as taught us a great deal about the power of visualization and physicality.

We were training under NASA Director Fern Nicholson and had been instructed to visualize a personal item. We had been working on sensory awareness in the previous weeks and were accordingly guided through the visualization.

I remember,when discussing it later, many of us had felt accomplished at that point in the exercise. We could see, smell, feel, and in some instances taste the item we had chosen as if it was physically in the room.

Then the flip came! Our teacher instructed us that the item was now inside our bodies, either our leg chest or arm.  We had recreated the personal item in front of us with its angles and sides, it’s sharpness, bulk, weight and shape and suddenly it was inside us!

We all had our eyes closed but I am sure some fascinating shifts were observed! Particularly given a couple of the actors had chosen quite large or bulky items!

The next instruction was to adjust our position as needed to accommodate the item and take notice of how it affected us physically and emotionally. On discussion afterwards actors offered their insights and experiences. The need to accommodate the item within us brought about not only physical adjustment and feelings but also emotional responses to these.

This exercise and the outcomes take us to the heart of why physical and movement work in training is so powerful. We experienced the effect of the physical on our thoughts and feelings.

Film is a visual medium. As such non-verbal information communicates and connects the audience as much as, and often more so than, dialogue.

What we often forget as actors is that the people watching the screen are not the only audience. Non-verbal information communicates also to us, ourselves, as an audience. We physiologically respond to our own physical shifts.

It is well acknowledge that certain emotions elicit specific types of physical response. In their classrooms, trainers such as Adler argued that specific physical stimuli could equally elicit emotion.

This argument continues to be explored and expanded in acting classrooms across the world. And recently the science explaining this relationship was given a voice through Harvard Associate Professor Amy Cuddy whose team examined and confirmed the connection.

Amy Cuddy’s talk on the power of body language is the second highest viewed TED talk of all time. Her work offers science behind why exploring and experimenting with physicality has so much to offer. Physical change can affect physiological change, which in turn can impact emotions.

While Amy Cuddy’s work focuses primarily on power and powerlessness it offers a wonderful insight for actors on why movement and physicality is so important to the craft.

Next class, rehearsal or audition, use the classroom or rehearsal space as your own laboratory.How can some of the insight offered by body language science be applied to the craft in a particular scene or exercise? What else can be discovered about the scene or character by playing with physicality and movement?

Acting for screen is about creating moments of emotional truth to connect to the audience.Exploring and expanding our awareness and skill with physicality offers another pathway to elicit emotional truth.

“Amy Cuddy – Your body language shapes who you are”


By Shanta-Maree Surendran

NASA Teacher

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