Alexander Technique was born of acting. Alexander himself was an actor in Melbourne, Australia in the 1890s when he began losing his voice, an affliction known at the time as Clergyman’s Throat. His regained his voice thanks to the discoveries he made, and he went on to teach his methods to many people, including numerous actors, over the next sixty years.
One of his most famous students was Sir Henry Irving, forgotten to many of us today. In his day he was “one of the most famous of English actors, the first of his profession to be knighted (1895) for services to the stage.” In January 1905 he wrote to Alexander, “I am sorry that for a time I am obliged to suspend my interesting experience. I am sure your method makes only for good, and I look forward to an opportunity of meeting you again. With all good wishes.”
You may not know of Sir Henry Irving, but perhaps you know of some of the following.
Paul Newman: The Alexander Technique helped a long-standing back problem and to get a good night’s sleep after many years of tossing and turning.
Lenny Henry: Alexander technique really helped my posture and focus during my stint as Othello with Northern Broadsides theatre company. Imagine how excited I was when arrived at the National theatre for Comedy of Errors and found I could have Alexander taught to me once a week, I was chuffed to little meatballs.
Lynn Redgrave: I was born with no natural aptitude. I wasn’t pretty. I moved with no grace at all. I auditioned for the London Academy of Musical and Dramatic Arts but was not accepted. When I was finally admitted to Central School of Speech and Drama and showed up at my first movement class with my hump back and wearing a leotard, the movement teacher said, “Oh God.” He sent me to the head of the school who then sent me to study the Alexander Technique with Dr. Wilfred Barlow. That whole semester I took Alexander lessons instead of attending movement classes which helped me enormously in my training and in subsequent years in my acting work. Now I can play people who are graceful and beautiful.
Annette Bening: Good acting is revealing yourself, not covering yourself up. If your body is free, your mind is free. [The Alexander Technique allows] you to feel what it’s like to stay open physically, and also stay fully involved in whatever you’re supposed to be doing.
William Hurt: The Alexander Technique has helped me to undo knots, unblock energy and deal with almost paralysing stage fright.
Hugh Jackman: What I learnt was beautiful, it was an art…. It was about being still and relaxed in order to be able to 100 percent listen to someone, to be in the present.
Jonathan Pryce: from Q&A, The Guardian, May 7 2015
Question: Which book changed your life?
Answer: The one the teacher put under my head during the Alexander Technique sessions at Rada. I grew an inch and a half.
Juliette Binoche: “[The Alexander Technique] is a way to transform stress to joy. It’s my way of keeping on track with work and truth and the world I’m in which is working with people and creating. It’s for anyone who wants to be in contact with their own body and the way we tense ourselves and relax ourselves. It’s another way of moving.
Kevin Kline: The many obvious benefits that the technique afforded us as actors included minimized tension, centeredness, vocal relaxation and responsiveness, mind/body connection, and about an inch and a half of additional height. In addition, I have found in the ensuing years great benefits in my day-to-day living. By balancing and neutralizing tensions, I’ve learned to relieve as well as to avoid the aches and pain caused by the thousand natural shocks the flesh is heir to.
Ralph Fiennes: In the hands of a good teacher The Technique is invaluable to anyone who seeks to maintain health, physical posture and alignment.
So even if you’re not an award-winning actor, I’m sure you could benefit from the technique. Perhaps it could help with a long-standing back problem, or help you transform stress into joy. Perhaps it could help you maintain health, physical posture and alignment. Or perhaps you might just find yourself chuffed to little meatballs.