How Can Actors Make Their Performances Come Alive?
Betsy Polatin is a movement specialist with four decades of experience in body-mind education and performance training. She has worked with many performing artists in theater, film, and music, including such luminaries as Rashida Jones, Ginnifer Goodwin, Andre Gregory, and John Denver. In the following Q & A, Polatin explains what inspired her to become a teacher and writer, why she decided to write The Actor’s Secret, and what she’s working on next.
What made you decide to write The Actor’s Secret?
This work has been evolving for a long time. For the last thirty years, the bulk of my teaching has been working with performers, and I designed a four-year training program for actors at the Boston University College of Fine Arts conservatory, which I have been teaching for fifteen years. The curriculum I designed there combines the Alexander Technique, Breathing Coordination, and somatic trauma work. This unique and revolutionary approach has proven to be very effective, so I decided to write this book as a tool for actors to be able to use on a daily basis, with straightforward explanations and exercises of the work I’ve developed.
What is the greatest influence on your writing?
The desire to provide information to help people change, heal and move forward with their full potential.
Is there a book that changed your life?
The Use of Self by F.M. Alexander
Macrobiotics by George Ohsawa
Where Are You Going by Swami Muktananda
These books led me to understand that we have choices about how we live our lives, and that there may be some choices that we do not even know exist. My book conveys this idea in regards to acting.
What books have made a major impact in your life and writing?
Man’s Supreme Inheritance by F.M. Alexander
Waking the Tiger by Peter Levine
Dr. Breath by Carl Stough
Who are some writers whose work you admire?
F.M. Alexander, Peter Levine, Carl Stough, Frank Pierce Jones, Eckhart Tolle, Bessel van der Kolk, and Candice Pert.
When did you think about becoming a writer?
There wasn’t a particular incident, but I’ve always liked to write down what I learn. Writing helps me assimilate new information. And when I go back and read what I wrote, I often gain new insights each time I read it. I think of myself as a teacher who has access to a valuable body of knowledge and wants to reach a larger audience by writing the information down. I am grateful to the many teachers who have taught me with such generosity of spirit. With more than thirty years experience of studying, researching, and teaching, I am happy to share some of these very helpful techniques.
Is there any particular story to tell concerning the writing of this book?
I have been researching health and well being for many years, as well as working with performers. I became interested in the question, “How can an actor expand his/her range to allow performances to come alive and touch the audience?” The Actor’s Secret answers this question with information drawn from the four-year curriculum I created at Boston University; along with the research I have gathered from working with many actors and performers.
What is the one thing that you want readers to take away from your book?
In each moment in your life, you have a choice. You can change. People tend to get so stuck in habitual patterns. When you can learn how the body is designed to function, especially for breathing and in regards to the stress responses, then you can make other choices. For an actor, these other choices can bring about a transformation that leads to a commanding performance.
How do you write?
I really enjoy writing about techniques to improve performance, including the study of how the body moves and how performers make choices. Often when I am teaching a lesson I have to explain a concept to make it clear for a student to understand. After the lesson I will sometimes write down my explanation because it helped the student change how they think, thus change how they move.
Do you have a daily routine?
I have a busy schedule teaching classes at Boston University, teaching private sessions, and traveling, but I find time whenever I can to put my thoughts down on the page. I love those quiet moments when I have a clear picture of a concept for change and an exercise that explores it, and I am able to translate it into words on the page.
What’s good about it?
Theories about the body and the kinesthetic experiences are sometimes hard to put into words, but I’ve put a lot of time and effort into finding ways to describe them clearly and understandably. Since writing helps me reach a wider audience, it brings me joy to be able to communicate these experiences to actors and others who are looking for self-improvement, because I know how much the information has helped me and those I’ve worked with, and it means that I can help even more people.
What do you hate about it?
Again, because a lot of the elements I work with are more experiential, they are hard to describe, so it can be frustrating to have to keep writing and rewriting to get to the clearest explanations. But it’s worth it when the concept and the explanation on the page all come together.
How did you find the publisher for this book?
I have admired North Atlantic Books for many years. North Atlantic publishes books on some of my favorite topics, including innovative body and healing work, and spirituality. I recommend their books repeatedly, In an Unspoken Voice by Peter Levine, The Body in Motion by Ted Dimon, Jr., and Overcoming Trauma through Yoga by David Emerson and Elizabeth Hopper. A writer friend referred me, and I am thrilled and honored to be working with such a great publishing house.
What has your experience with the process been like?
What are you working on next?
I’m working on a few projects. The first is a book combining the Alexander Technique, breath work and somatic trauma work for musicians. It will be in a similar style as The Actor’s Secret, but with exercises geared specifically toward vocalists and instrumentalists, and lovers of music. A larger project I’m working on is a compilation of healing and body education work.
What have you learned about human nature that isn’t common knowledge?
There is always something positive, even in the most difficult event.
Check out The Actor’s Secret website at TheActorsSecretBook.com for more about Polatin’s book, to read her blog, and to view images of her trainings