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The Power of Authenticity in Movement

Natalie began the workshop with a simple but astonishing assertion: “You cannot authentically connect with your audience with your mind because they can’t see your mind – all they can see is your body. If you cannot connect with your own body, then then you have no chance of reaching the inner souls in your audience.” She said this with energy and passion and I sucked in a deep breath of astonishment.

I was expecting to begin with typical theater warmup exercises – stretching, bending, walking around – but she asked us to simply stand and create tension in our bodies for a moment, then totally relax. Just start with your fingers and hands, she said, then gradually extend the process to every part of your body. I had barely gotten to my arms when Natalie, with a big grin, shouted to all of us, “You aren’t giving a 100% to the contractions and you are making a show of relaxing rather than truly letting go of all the muscle tension.” It was a shock for me to discover that she was right. I put more energy into it By the time we had worked through each of our body parts, I felt fully warmed up.

It was, in fact, just the beginning. She told us to “shiver” – again just starting with the fingers. And again, early in the exercise, “Your mind doesn’t know how to shiver – give it a break and just shiver.” I felt emotional resistance rising up inside, but as I watched Natalie (who did every exercise along with us) a part of me wondered if she needed a blanket or something – even though it was going to be the hottest day of the year. So more energy, maximum tension in the opposing muscles – hold – fatigue and a bit of pain – and then there was shivering. When I relaxed, there was a genuine feeling of release far more profound than in the first exercise.

Next we started walking while doing the shivering exercise – slowly at first, then faster. How do I walk and have my legs shivering at the same time? My “technique” from the standing still part wasn’t going to work here!

Natalie then asked us to allow all the muscle tension to suddenly and totally release – as if we had had a sudden attack of narcolepsy – and to allow our bodies to freely fall to the floor. She demonstrated it several times, just suddenly turning into a rag doll and collapsing. “If you try and protect yourself when you fall,” she said, “then there is a real danger of injuring yourself.” I tried it a few times but was simply unable to give up my need to protect my body from the fall.

The instruction was to simply relax all tension in your body and fall down without trying to control your fall. As you can see in the picture, controlling my fall was very much a priority!

Other movement exercises followed. One was to walk from one corner of the room to the other “like a boy”. Well, I am a man rather than a boy, but I had no idea what difference that would make. I made up something like how I thought an awkward teenager would walk and, of course, it was totally inauthentic. “Walk like you are elegant” was another exercise and I was clueless – I don’t even remember what I tried for that one. The only consolation was that everyone else seemed to be struggling as much as I was.

When Susan walked across the room in response to the direction, “Walk like a clown”, Natalie suddenly became really excited. She pointed out that there was a sadness masked by Susan’s artificial smile as she was walking in a silly, clownish way. It was that very contradiction that drew attention and made it believable. A little light went on for me – it was like the shivering exercise, only this time the tension was emotional rather than physical.

Natalie then divided us into two groups, asking one group to be the audience and everyone in the other group to “be invisible” in whatever way we thought would work. We were all a bit bewildered by this. What did it really mean to be “visible” or “invisible” to an audience?

I tried all kinds of things, like standing behind the others, staring off into space, sitting down – and feeling self-consciously visible the whole time.

When our group was being the audience, Jörg simply started calmly measuring things on a wall and, from time to time, taping on the wall as though he was putting up a shelf or something. He was very visible at first, then the monotony of his motions and taping became uninteresting and he became “invisible.”

In the “be invisible” exercise, Thomas crawled under a table and laid there. He was very visible as he was doing that, but when there was no movement there was also no tension and he became “uninteresting” and so became invisible.

The next exercise was to be “visible”. Just the opposite of what we had been doing, right? Our group started moving about, Emily started hitting everybody, someone slapped a couple of magazines in my hands and I started thumbing through them. Then something happened – I have no idea what – and I stopped trying to figure out what to do. I thumbed through the magazines, saw something shocking on one page and began to read with astonishment, then with fear, then with enormous sadness.  The lady pictured on the page became my sister who had died many years ago.

I began to cry and the others milling about me couldn’t take my attention away. I sat down. Dustin came to me with empathy and asked what was wrong, then protected me from the intrusion of the others. Everyone was hugging me and saying they were sorry.

“I” just was not there. Susan asked me later how I had connected that way, and I could not tell her. It just happened.

Of course, after a few minutes, the “my goodness, now what do I do?” popped into my head and I was back to trying to figure it out again.

Dustin’s empathetic engagement with my anguish drew everyone into the scene and made us all very visible.

It was uncanny how Natalie, in the critique afterwards, could precisely describe the exact point of my transition from being alive and fully in the moment to a dull actor trying to construct what he thought should happen in the scene.

In the afternoon Natalie had us again work individually, starting in one corner with our next exercise. She gave each of us a small chip and told us it was something really, really heavy. Our task was to carry it across the room to her as if it weighed dozens of Kilos.

I had just recently been lifting some heavy frames in my back yard. I imagined the chip to be one of those frames and tried to recall the muscle memory of the task. It felt more like I was letting my body do the lifting rather than my figuring out how to do it, but I’m not sure. Natalie said little to me after I finished.

The final exercise was to repeat the “heavy chip” task, but this time to assume we were in public and others were watching.

Many of us were a bit astonished with this change and initially said we wouldn’t do anything different because we wouldn’t care if anybody was watching.

Natalie just smiled and said she was quite sure we would not want other people to see us struggling and would try and make it look like we could handle it with ease and aplomb.

Of course we proceeded to prove her completely right. I decided I wouldn’t try to carry it at all but rather would find a cart to use – smiling at the “audience” members as I searched for a cart. Natalie just looked at me for a moment after I had delivered the chip to her, then said, “I really don’t think you were being honest at all. Would you even look at the strangers while you were searching for the cart?”

The “figurer-outer” was caught again!

At the end of the day, Natalie had us sit in a circle and offered each of us her assessment of the biggest impediment each of us had demonstrated that day to honestly expressing our emotions through our bodies.

You could almost hear Jai’s thoughts about how that little chip could weigh so much he could hardly lift it.
Are you sure you wouldn’t do this task if you knew strangers were watching?

If you have read this far, you can probably guess what she said to me: “You spend too much time in your head trying to figure things out. If I were to draw you as a stick figure, your body would be thin little lines and your head would be as big as a basketball!” I could only nod my head in agreement.

What was so amazing was that she had met most of us for the first time that day, yet as she went around the circle every one of us would nod in full agreement as she seemed to look into our souls and describe the thing that was, perhaps, keeping us from being as fully alive and present as we could be. Is was all done with such loving kindness that, I think, we all felt truly seen and appreciated.

Many thanks to Susan for the pictures

7 thoughts on “The Power of Authenticity in Movement”

  1. Thank you so much to all of you!
    I really enjoyed the workshop and it makes me very happy that each of you could find a tiny bit more to the power of authenticity!:-)
    Looking forward to see you all again!

    1. I think it was more than “a tiny bit”, Natalie. Thank you for your enthusiasm and wonderful skill as a workshop leader.

  2. Sounds wonderful and insightful. What a gift you give us, Roger, by describing the workshops so well that those who couldn’t come can get a real hint of what it might have like. Thank you so much.

  3. Definitely one of the best workshops I’ve ever done. A truly great teacher. A new mentor for me in acting. Looking forward to the next one, hope it comes soon.

  4. Thank you for your very authentic description of this wonderful workshop, which was equally exhausting and exhilarating. It taught me a lot about truthful expression and movement and I hope to put these teachings to good use, both on-stage and off.

  5. The power of the body to communicate was brought home by Natalie’s insights at the end of the day. We had hardly spoken at all throughout the day, except to ask questions, yet her insights into our personalities and what might be limiting our authenticity was spot on. An amazing, insightful, and exhausting day.

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