Renowned theatre practitioner Konstantin Stanislavski described tension as the actor’s “occupational disease”. New York Method Acting pioneer Lee Strasberg concurred that it was the actor’s greatest enemy, standing in the way of them performing to their full potential.
Strasberg’s exercise for relaxation was designed to assist the actor in identifying unwanted tension in their muscles, particularly the neck (the most obvious site of tension) and the face (where mental tension shows). Here, we summarise his recommendations in a handy guide.
1. Be Sleep Ready
Using a chair with a back but no arm rests assume a position you could fall asleep in.
2. Identify Offending Muscles
Stretch out your arms above you slowly moving each finger, wrist and arm to find any tense muscles. Once you’ve found them move the muscles and manipulate them with other fingers if necessary.
3. Give Good Face
It’s important to pay close attention to your face; release tension from problem areas such as the brows, temple and jaw by changing expression and manipulating muscles with your fingers.
4. Release Emotion
Try not to allow tension to creep back into areas you have stopped focusing on. You may find that it creeps back into the throat at which point you should use your voice with a staccato exclamation or a long “ahhhh”.
5. Practice Makes Perfect
Once you have repeated the relaxation exercise daily for 15 – 30 minutes each time it will become like second nature. You will eventually feel confident enough to identify tension whilst on stage and simply release it using will power.
6. Complimentary Relaxation
There are of course other ways that you can relax in your free time such as yoga or meditation. The reason these can’t be deployed in the same way as the described relaxation exercise is that it wouldn’t be practical to stop mid performance for either activity, however once you are well practiced the exercise allows you to release tension without the audience being aware.
A beneficial side effect of the relaxation exercise is its positive effect on your concentration. Being able to hone in on tension allows you to concentrate better on playing your role as well as the prep and research required.
8. Find Fun
You’ve probably noticed by now that the relaxation exercise isn’t much fun. To ensure that you can continue the routine daily and get the most benefit from it you should adapt it yourself to make it as engaging as possible.