Overused acting notes #2: Centre Yourself!

4 December, 2007 by No Comments

In this jargon-ridden acting business, the notion of ‘centre-ing’ is one that gets a daily work over in most classes and on the rehearsal room floor. I wonder what most actors make of this instruction by well-meaning directors, teachers, coaches? I’ve found it means different things to different people, so it’s worth checking through the list to ensure I’m on the same page as my actors when they or I use the term. This is how I understand it.

Centre yourself … get balanced, on alignment … probably the most basic of all. As a voice teacher I harp on the alignment, balance thing. It’s also the easiest to check and adjust. And speaking of voice, ‘breathe from your centre’ is another direction, again not too hard to check and correct. It’s about ensuring full rib-swing, and intercostal diaphragmatic breathing … in this use of the term, the centre is the solar-plexus.

‘Find your character’s centre.’ Now we are getting into esoteric territory. First up, ‘centre’ here means something like ‘where your character finds his or her energy’ and ‘where his or her centre of gravity is’ … the latter referring to work on alignment and general body-masking. The former reference ‘where your character finds his or her energy’ is the use of the term that eludes many. It is probably the least accessible or understood in practical terms, but does have some currency in talking about character; it’s a metaphor, not unlike the ancient theory of humours, in which people’s temperament was supposed to be determined by a part of their physical makeup. In that sense, it is somewhat useful but it’s not the be-all. It doesn’t necessarily translate in practical, physical terms; as with most metaphors, it works to inspire the imagination.

And then, there is the notion of the actor’s centre, another metaphor. Here, the term relates to finding the inner calm to perform in public (Stanislavski’s ‘public solitude’) whilst under stress in performance. ‘Finding’ this centre is not a grail quest, but part of the process of acting, and related to relaxation.

Centre yourself is not a bad instruction or self-check, but be clear about what it is you’re doing.