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Alexander Technique and Acting: the Ground Floor

How Did The Alexander Technique Start? (The Backstory is Your Story)

Young Australian actor F.M. Alexander faced a serious, concrete problem that had to be solved to save his career: While performing, he kept losing his voice. A big deal in 1892 when you have no mic, a passion for Shakespeare, and aren’t flush with cash. Strangely, voice-loss doesn’t seem to have been an issue for him in any other area of his life. Talking to friends? No problem. Acting? Problem.

When Alexander followed medical advice (vocal rest for two weeks and prescribed medicines), his voice would return, only to disappear again during the next performance. Although doctors could find no medical explanation for his difficulties, they continued as long as he continued trying to work on stage. So Alexander hypothesized that his voice issues might stem from what he was doing while acting. He began observing himself in a series of mirrors in rehearsal and noticed a complex pattern of unnecessary tension from head to toe (the pattern included: pulling his head back and down, lifting his chest, depressing his larynx, audibly sucking in air, and contracting his legs) which was triggered the moment he simply had the idea to speak a line.

This observation told him two things:

  1. His “vocal” problem on stage was merely a SYMPTOM of a visible, whole-body pattern of chronic, habitual tension that he’d never noticed because it gradually had come to feel entirely “normal” to him. Yet when he looked in the mirror, he could see his sense of normalcy didn’t match reality. His awareness of his body was inaccurate and unreliable.

  2. Because this pattern started when he got the idea to speak in performance, it was just as much a “mental” issue as a “physical” one.

What Is The Alexander Technique?

The Alexander Technique is an educational method. It is as much an awareness approach as it is about your body.

It is not:

-physical therapy

-a treatment (like massage or chiropractics)

-a cure

-a form of exercise (like yoga, Pilates, etc.)

-meditation/ relaxation


How Do I Learn The Alexander Technique?

Because each person’s brain, life-experiences, learning style, and body is so unique, group Alexander Technique classes cannot compare to a course of private Alexander training. Good Conservatories offer individual Alexander classes to supplement small group work. Mediocre ones do not.

As The New York Times details, the average number of private lessons most people need to be able to use the Alexander Technique well for themselves is about 20-30 (each lasting 1/2 hour to 45 minutes). Depending on their goals, some people need fewer lessons; some more.

Some actors choose to continue taking Alexander class throughout their lifetime because of the joy self-discovery and development brings them, their understanding of craft, or the demands of a role.

Should you wish to study privately (and I encourage you to do so), give your prospective teacher 3 lessons – you’ll know by then if you want to continue with Alexander classes and/or if you want to find another teacher.


Quality Content about The Alexander Technique:

There are plenty of articles and books out there about Alexander Technique, but you cannot learn it by reading alone. Like you can’t learn to act simply by reading about acting…or learn to play piano or to paint or to play football (etc.) from books alone. However, if you do wish to supplement your Alexander classes with reading, I recommend starting with these books:

Anatomy of the Voice, by Theodore Dimon (An incredibly clear, illustrated guide for actors, singers, vocal coaches, and speech therapists)

Body Learning, by Michael Gelb (A comprehensive, contemporary summary of Alexander’s ideas).

Just Play Naturally, by Vivien Mackie (In interview format, Ms. Mackie discusses her prodigious start as a child cellist on BBC radio, her awareness of the decline of her playing around age 16, and her regained confidence/ artistry while studying with Pablo Casals as a young woman. She compares her work with Casals to the Alexander Technique training she later received).

The Alexander Technique: Freedom in Thought and Action, by Tasha Miller and David Langstroth (more recent and more comprehensive than Gelb’s book).

The Use of the Self, by F.M. Alexander (In this 3rd of his 4 books, Alexander chronicles his own discovery – he describes his problem and how he came to his ideas. His journey will be your journey. Heads up: Alexander was an Edwardian, so his sentences can be a paragraph long. But the ideas are well worth taking apart – if you can read Shakespeare or philosophy, Alexander’s writing is no problem).


As actors, we are called upon to be masters of our selves (emotionally, physically, mentally... actually, pretty much all the Lee’s😀). Mr. Alexander’s technique is an invaluable tool we can use toward attaining that mastery: It can help us prevent vocal and other physical injury and increase our career longevity. It can help us begin to notice and address emotional blocks. It can help us gently peel away the layers of the onion to find a truer “neutral.” From there, we can make more informed choices about the tension we choose to use for the characters we play, thereby granting us a greater emotional range, casting potential, and physical ease.

Don't know about you, but experiencing that kind of empowered freedom every day brings me incredible joy.

What's your experience been with Alexander? Drop me a note in the response below or email me: I'd love to hear from you!

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