Amoeba Party – a.k.a. Actor Grad School
Lie on the floor and pretend you are a single cell. Roll, flow, seek and react with your entire cell membrane. Remember you have no bones, no eyes, no brain and no parts. You are one.
We usually introduce the amoeba exercise* to our acting M.F.A. students in their second semester. They’ve had five months of Alexander Technique. They understand the central concepts of inhibition, direction, primary control, the force of habit and faulty sensory perception. They can locate their atlanto-occipital joint and they know the fundamentals of skeletal anatomy. They are aware of when they are using themselves with habitual tension and they know how to redirect their energy to find more ease. But all of this knowledge can make students a little stilted, and a little too intellectual.
In contrast, wholeness within a fluid morphology is our reality. Fluidity is easier to grasp when we remember that muscle tension is maintained by habit, not by a property of the muscles. Our bones float suspended in a web of connective tissues, and the connective tissues themselves change from a solid state to a gel, depending on force and heat. Like taffy, if you pull sharply on connective tissue it will harden and snap, but if you warm it and work it with smooth broad pressure it will stretch. Your nose is connective tissue. So is your Achilles tendon. So is much of the rest of you.
Although we have heads and tails, eyes and brains, bones and nerves, mouths and anuses, we are still much more liquid and continuous than we might imagine. What happens in your big toe just might affect your shoulder.
The amoeba, as it turns out, is a good metaphor for embodying fluidity and wholeness. And it doesn’t hurt that amoebas have no brains.
*I learned the Amoeba exercise from my teacher Frank Ottiwell.
Body Project Blog: Where Thought is the Active Ingredient.