A Collection of Tics

From the beginning of my training in the Feldenkrais Method, I began to be curious about how to apply it to acting. I was struck by how much Awareness Through Movement altered my sense of myself – sometimes making me feel more like myself and sometimes making me feel like a brand new person. I understood that if I felt like different versions of myself, I might also be able to feel like someone else using similar ideas. In other words, I might be able to more fully enter into a character I wanted to play.


For the most part in Actor Training, the Feldenkrais Method has been used as a way to bring an actor to neutral, to create space in the body, to create a more available flexible performer. All of those things have been incredibly useful for me in my own performance work. But I wondered, could this go further? If my sense of myself lives in how I contract my shoulder, might I take on the shape of someone else by the way I grip my knees? In working as a practitioner, I have often tried to imitate what my client does so as to be able to help them. But what if I wanted to pretend to be them? Wouldn’t the same ideas apply?


We are all of us doing any number of things with our bodies at every instant. Identifying what you’re doing is the first step to making a free choice about your particular collection of habits.


I thought about this when I heard Marc Maron’s interview with Alan Alda. They were talking about mannerisms and how they applied to performance. One of them said, “We’re just a collection of tics…”


Generally, in the Method, we try to avoid replacing one habit with another or one set of habits….but if we want to act, if we want to appear to be someone else, then replacing one habit with another (or a collection of habits) starts to become useful. If we explore another person’s tic collection, we can come closer to embodying them.


Often in acting classes and workshops, we walk around in a state of neutral. In Viewpoints, for example, we’re after the simplest expression – a simple body in space – moving from one place to another. A group of people walking around in this manner has the look of an abstraction – a dance piece made of daily movement.

After an ATM lesson people walk with a lightness and a quietness. They look like people in a dream usually. But ask them to walk while enacting the patterns they just let go and they suddenly look like a crowd of people walking through a train station – the patterns make us look like people. If I had to film a crowd scene, I’d want each member of the crowd to have some pattern to focus on, a collection of tics to make it feel real.

The gift of acting is that we don’t have to re-enact our own patterns to achieve that same effect. Simply by focusing on a different collection of tics and quirks, we can give the appearance of humanity. And of course, the more able we are to let our own patterns go, the more believable we are when inhabiting someone else’s. That is why we train.


In my explorations of these ideas, I have discovered that there is a tremendous amount of variety within enacting a pattern. For example, let’s say you observe that someone is habitually contracting the left side of the rib cage. You can attempt to mirror that impulse – do it exactly. You will be likely to slightly exaggerate it at first in trying to see it. The exaggeration is useful. And even playable. It can be a question of playing styles. You can use it to play the clown version or the cartoon style but pull it back until it’s almost invisible, you can suddenly play a very naturalistic scene with a whole new perspective.


Most of my theatre training encouraged us to let go of our personal habits, to identify and eliminate our tics. The downside of this kind of neutrality is that it ends up creating a kind of dull sameness. When every body in space is perfectly aligned with “perfect” posture, it looks less human, less full. It’s like watching an automaton show instead of a show about human beings. To create humanity on stage, I think embracing our tics is where the gold is. To fully understand another human, it helps to see and embrace their tics. As individuals, we are a collection of tics but we are also a collection of tics as a group. Humanity is a collection of tics.


by Emily Davis, GCFP