Guest post from Chris Duval, Assistant Professor in Department of Theatre and director of fight choreography for Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
Movement and breath are inextricably linked.
To be engaged, connected, open to stimulus and emotionally available, the breath must be not only free, but also productively engaged. The balance between an appropriate amount of physical engagement and excess tension can be a challenging mixture to find. The subtleties of where in our bodies we breathe, how much our breath is restrained through tension, and whether we are really breathing much at all significantly affects our availability as actors to both an emotional and physical life on stage.
In the upcoming book, Stage Combat Arts: An Integrated Approach to Acting, Voice, and Text Work – I offer a series of explorations and exercises that guide actors through an experiential process of connecting to the craft of the actor through “combat movement”. It is this deep integration of the actor’s voice, body, and connection to text that forms the foundation of my work – and continually inspires me within my creative process and on-going research.
The craft of stage combat physically integrates and compliments work on voice, speech, and acting methods. And as these disciplines have breath in common as their foundation, so too does stage combat require connecting movement to breath. This allows the actor’s physical and emotional life to become more full, responsive, safe and theatrically effective.
The dichotomy is clear: an Actor / Combatant must remain relaxed within a sword fight to allow the breath and the body to respond viscerally and authentically within the theatrical crafting of creating the illusion of wanting to kill someone or saving oneself from being killed. However, relaxation can also be taken too far. A relaxed body is of no use if, within this state, the actor does not have enough muscular control to maintain the grip on a sword in the midst of the fight.
An energized relaxation is the quality that is needed.
The professional athlete, dancer, or musician are appropriately engaged in specific areas of their bodies and are able to release other areas to enable themselves to be more open to heightened use. The same is true for the actor or martial artist or singer. The energy required is specific and focused.