LIBRARY - Reference(s)

Touching Lives: Review by Phyllis G. Richmond.

AT Focus: 
Alexander Technique
Article, essay
Article, citation and copright
Article Text: 
Sue Laurie was a pioneer Alexander Technique teacher with two renowned theater companies in London: She taught the Alexander Technique at the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) for 27 years starting in 1983, and she has taught at the National Theatre (NT) since 1989. For several years she was teaching at both companies! This fascinating and delightful memoir offers a unique window into her remarkable experiences and is an excellent resource about teaching Alexander Technique in the professional theatre. Laurie came to the Alexander Technique for help with her back pain. Her early lessons were with Anne Battye and her training with the Barlows. After graduating from training in 1980, she stayed on teaching private students sent to her by the Barlows, until an actor who was a neighbor facilitated her introduction to teaching at the RSC in 1983. She writes about her training with the Barlows and her early teaching, but most of the book describes her experiences working with actors, directors, writers, and puppeteers (the puppeteers played the horses in the National Theatre's acclaimed production of War Horse). She relates brief anecdotes about teaching such eminent actors as Dame Judi Dench, Sir Ian McKellen, Alan Rickman, Antony Sher, Lindsay Duncan, Fiona Shaw, Benedict Cumberbatch, and many others. There are lovely before-and-after photos of Alan Rickman, Fiona Shaw, and others. The last section of the book contains a series of short statements from the actors addressing how the Alexander Technique lessons helped them.

Most interesting, she describes how she came to teach at the RSC and NT, and how, where, and what she taught in her private and group lessons at both theatres. She is honest about the working conditions: the sometimes small and noisy rooms - wherever space could be found - in a dressing room, a hallway, or a dedicated teaching room; the lack of time for full lessons because the actors were always so busy; fitting into rehearsal and production schedules; the dedication of the actors to working with her; and her devotion to them. She found the most useful situation was to be on site and on call for when she was needed, and eventually she became a regular and respected participant in the rehearsal and performance process.

She discusses what she chose to teach in the short series of six lessons that she was allotted with each actor at the NT: saying NO, lying down work, whispered 'ah,' the wall exercise, monkey. Many of the actors and, of course, the puppeteers were tense and in pain from what they had to do in rehearsal and performance, and she writes about what she did in her lessons with them. The section about the puppeteers is very interesting, especially if you've seen War Horse and wondered how the horses get through the show without hurting themselves.

I found her stories fascinating. I lived in England from 1988 to 1991 and saw some of the productions she describes, so her work with those admirable actors was particularly engaging for me. I would recommend this book to those of us who work with actors, as well as to actors interested in how their colleagues have benefited from the Alexander Technique. There are lessons to be learned here. Touching Lives is a fun and fast read; I could hardly put it down. It is also a valuable resource on the challenges and rewards of working in the theatre.

Copyright © 2017 Phyllis G. Richmond.

Reproduced with permission.

This edition © Mouritz 2017. All rights reserved.