As actors, we are told to be organic, to be yourself. “But I thought I already was myself?!” you think. Now you feel weird and can’t relax, and your performance goes out the window. Sound familiar?
No matter the acting method you choose, you’re using the body and voice to tell a story. You’re convincing others that you are a character capable of deep emotion with a complex personality. Easier said than done, especially if you’ve got that weird, can’t relax feeling.
So let’s explore a new way of using the body as your instrument that taps into the body’s meridians and demands an actor be present in their performance, leaving them with organic, rich connected results every time: chakra-based acting.
We have seven chakras (or energy centers) in the body that exist along the spine and connect to different parts of our awareness. Each chakra allows an actor to think from a different perspective, utilizing the body, mind, and energy in a way that feels completely natural.Chakra work is a way to tap into what's inherent in the body; all we have to do is manifest it through our characters in a performance.
Think of the chakras exactly as you would keys on an instrument. When combined with other notes, they form a chord and add layers to your performance. What do we yield from this? Rich, connected results that happen organically.
The root chakra is located at the base of the tailbone and comprises our primal, basic instincts. We use the word “root” to describe the way our feet are connected to the floor: it’s our territory, so anything that threatens our survival releases adrenaline into the body, giving us the fight or flight reflex. Need to raise the stakes in your scene? Make it a life-and-death scenario.
Next is the sacral chakra, located in the pelvis. It’s the home of our sexuality, creativity, vulnerability, and addictions/desires. You know the feeling of butterflies when you’re attracted to someone? What about when you crave that morning coffee? You need it; no one can stop you from getting it. Understanding where certain feelings happen in the body allows the actor to be more specific in their execution in every beat of the scene.
Then comes the solar plexus, the seat of power, in the high abdomen. As actors, our voices are incredibly important instruments, but to harness the full power of our voices, the body needs to be lined up in such a way that the chakras can all work together. As the seat of chakral power, the solar plexus is key here. I always encourage my actors to plant their feet firmly when a scene needs strength and grounding as the voice gets its full capacity and strength from a grounded connection to the floor. Don’t believe me? Try sticking up for yourself when you are swaying back and forth. Would you be taken seriously? Not a chance. When a character is exerting power in pursuit of their objective, he or she must be grounded, using the full capacity of their voice on their intention to be the most effective.
Fourth is our heart chakra, which is where we relate to the things around us. Relationships with people, environments, and material objects must be reflected in the body to invest in a true, well-defined connection, allowing for richer, more compelling performances. Every relationship is a two-way street—we must give and receive—and the heart chakra embodies that principle. Imagine if your character said, “I love you” for the first time and it wasn’t returned. Need to raise the stakes? Set your expectation of the other character really high, setting your character up for disappointment.
The throat chakra, the thing that gives us the ability to communicate, comes next. Ever get a lump in your throat or dry mouth just before you’re set to give a speech? That same lump might occur before your character decides to confess a big secret or asks their spouse an important question. Understanding how the body responds in any given situation can be directly applied to the work.
Moving up the body, we reach the “third eye” chakra, our intuition. This is where the brain makes connections through discovery or just “having a feeling” that allows you to form ideas and opinions. That ah-ha moment where your character figures something out and then has to change course to deal with that knowledge. When a character makes any decision, they must engage this chakra, otherwise, it feels forced. This is where that moment of discovery lives.
The seventh and highest is the crown chakra, our connection to a higher power. It may sound spiritual and new age-y, but we all possess this sacred space within us. Sure, it can be your spirituality but it’s also your outlook on life in general. How has your relationship to your faith changed over the course of the story? If you have no change, why should an audience invest in you and your journey? A journey with faith is what makes us watch season after season of shows like “Mad Men,” “Breaking Bad,” and “Orange is the New Black.” Give the audience something to root for.
When you’re able to weave the chakra approach through your work, you will no longer get stuck in your head because it commands a full-body approach. There’s no more room to overthink because the body takes over in a visceral-yet-concrete way that will lead you down the path to consistent, strong, and compelling work every time.
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