This is the second in my series of interviews with Alexander Technique students – different people who’ve taken lessons/classes for a variety of different reasons. This week I’m interviewing Hallie Cooper, an actor in LA with whom I struck up a correspondence online through our mutual interest in the Alexander Technique. She’s very passionate about the Technique, and I’m delighted she agreed to be interviewed for my blog. Here’s the interview – enjoy!
Me: Thanks so much for doing this interview, Hallie. To start off, I’d love you to tell me and my readers a bit about you and what you do – your background in general.
Hallie: Well, I am an actor first and foremost. I trained at the University of the North Carolina School of the Arts and graduated in 2011. Since graduating, I’ve performed in plays (Miss Julie, Three Sisters, The Seagull), done a few commercials (promo for Conan O’Brien, for example), and also taught Movement for Theatre, including red-nose clowning and movement improvisation.
I grew up in Los Angeles and my mother was an actor and is now getting her Masters in Shakespeare and Performance. My father is a pianist and jazz teacher.
I meditate and am very passionate about health and health food. I’ve been studying and practicing alternative medicine for almost four years now!
Me: How did you first hear about the Alexander Technique?
Hallie: In my first year at UNCSA, the Alexander Technique was built into our curriculum. Our entire class of 28 students had it twice a week for 1.5 hours. My teacher was Geordie Macminn.
Me: How wonderful to have it part of the curriculum! Can you describe your first encounter or experience with the Alexander Technique? When was that?
Hallie: It was in September of 2007. I remember Geordie was combining some Alexander Technique and Linklater technique in the course. I don’t remember the specifics of my very first encounter, other than being completely amazed that there was a technique to help you breathe. It astounded me. And I think it astounded me so because I learned I had been holding my breath (and tension) so strongly.
Me: What was your particular motivation for having lessons, and why did you continue?
Hallie: Well, I really enjoyed what Geordie was teaching in the class environment, but I wanted more hands-on learning so during my 2nd year, I decided to take private lessons from him every week on the weekends.
I had a few breakthroughs in the class: one, my jaw and two, my stomach. I’ll explain.
We were working specifically with the jaw one day in class (again, Geordie combined Linklater work with Alexander Technique so we were doing an exercise on releasing tension in specific areas of the body and using Alexander to help breathe with/through the experience) and suddenly I began to have a tingling sensation all throughout my body, I felt extremely hot, and I burst into tears uncontrollably. I was shaking. I ran out of the room and into the bathroom and cried and cried. I returned to class ten minutes later and finished the work we were doing. I was shocked at how such subtle work could dig up a big emotional response. I was as equally frightened as I was excited to see just how deep this work could go.
I realized that no matter how much Geordie invited us to release our bellies, mine always felt like I was holding. But I wasn’t holding. I talked to Geordie about this and explained that I had major digestion problems growing up. We realized that the tension I was holding was not in my diaphragm or my muscles around my diaphragm, but it was tension/bloating/distention in my digestive organs. This seemingly had nothing to do with the Alexander Technique but by realizing this, he and I were able to work quite specifically with my body, learning what every subtlety meant and how best to address it. I was already healing my digestive problems when I started taking private Alexander classes, but through my work with Geordie, we were able to guide my body into itself in a way I hadn’t experienced before. I was breathing – truly breathing – and beginning to feel safe in my body, despite having dealt with an illness all my life. I hadn’t ever felt so safe in my own body. As a 19 year old girl, this was huge. Literally life changing. I could breath and stand my ground knowing that it was safe to be in my body.
So of course, I continued private lessons every week until I graduated.
And – I had chronic neck pain as a young adult. When I studied regularly, that pain was gone. Completely gone. Incredible, right?
Me: Yes, incredible! Though I know about that benefit very well, as chronic neck pain was what brought me to the Technique.
Do you still have Alexander lessons regularly, and has Geordie been your only teacher?
Hallie: I started having private lessons September of 2008 and continued regularly until June of 2011. I’ve had four Alexander teachers now: Geordie Macminn for four years, Julia Caulder for one summer, Frances Marsden (one of the teachers and Directors at the Alexander Technique Institute of Los Angeles) for one summer, and Lyn Charlsen Klein (another teacher/Director at ATI LA). I graduated from UNCSA in June, 2011 and have had lessons here and there since then. I wish I had the money to have a lesson every week because that is what made the most difference in my life.
Me: It’s always interesting to hear what different people do in their AT lessons, so I’d love hear about yours. Has there been a typical formula to your lessons, or do you do something different each time?
Hallie: With Julia, Frances and Lyn, it was pretty straight forward. I told Julia that I had a fear of reading out loud (also linked with a fear of public speaking) so we addressed that. We did table work [table work describes a common part of many Alexander Technique lessons in which the student lies on a body work table in the Constructive Rest position, and the teacher works with them to help them unravel tension patterns] and once she stood me up, she had me read out loud from a book as she had her hands on me, helping me breathe truly as I read. I no longer have the fear of reading out loud! Astonishing, right?
With Geordie – we did tremendous things. The first year or so were standard lessons. Usually starting with 15 minutes of table work, then chair work, going from sitting/standing, “monkey” [“monkey” is an Alexander Technique jargon term used to describe a very natural way of bending at the hips, knees and ankles which leaves the spine lengthened and strong], walking around the room, re-aligning after walking. But then I started bringing in specific things like “I have this character I’m playing in a play and I just am not connecting to her at all. What do you think I can do, Geordie?” So we would play around with some lines of text that my character had in the play. While doing table work, I would eventually exhale a line. Instead of exhaling with a soft “f,” I would just use the line of dialogue. Once I was standing, I would say the line again, or parts of the line. The first few times I would say the line, I would just use the words as consonants and vowels that were just coming out of me as I exhaled. Once I had gotten further into the lesson and had lengthened/widened and created more space for true breath, I started to connect to the character and imagine I was saying the line to a specific person in the play. This sounds so simple, but it had tremendous effects. Connecting the text with true breath finally gave me an “in” into the character’s breath and being.
In my last year at UNCSA, I was playing Mary Brown in “Harpers Ferry: A Play About John Brown.” As Mary, I had to wear a corset. I was having major problems and felt I wasn’t really breathing. My breathing felt shallow and short. So I came to one of my lessons with Geordie with the corset! (Totally his suggestion, I can’t take credit for such a brilliant suggestion.) He said “Well, let’s just get you in it and figure it out!” So I’m on the table, breathing, adjusting, creating more space and realizing that because of the corset, Geordie had to help my body guide the breath into and out of slightly different cavities of my body than it was used to. Once I was standing, we worked with my body in this upright position, finding new space, and then I walked around the room, using text from the play and spoke as my character in this newly-aligned body that Geordie, my breath, and the corset had created. I found the character that day.
Me: That’s fascinating. You’ve already described many benefits you’ve gained from studying the Alexander Technique, but are there any further benefits you’d like to share?
Hallie: I’ve gained so much. As I mentioned before, it clearly helped define characters for me. I am a character actor, in that I use myself very fully in each role I play but I tend to transform out of my body and into the characters. My walk is different. My rhythm of speech is different. I’m never the same from one character to the next. I wouldn’t be able to do that as fully as I do if it weren’t for the Alexander Technique.
In a day-to-day, I find it helps me tremendously. I used to be the sarcastic, bad-posture, ‘ya whatever’ girl from California. I talked SUPER fast and most of my sentences were spoken on spent breath. I am now told how eloquent and professional I can sound, especially when I teach. I owe that solely to the Alexander Technique. And in moments when I’m nervous to talk to my boss, per say, or someone who I feel inferior to for whatever reason – I just remember to breathe and it’s all ok from there.
Me: Wonderful! Now, I know you plan on doing the three-year training to enable you to teach the Alexander Technique. What prompted that decision?
Hallie: Honestly, it was a decision I made quite suddenly. I had been feeling stuck in my life. I’m a 24 year old actress living in Los Angeles working two jobs that really have no real importance for my future. I’m a personal assistant and a host in a restaurant. Granted, these jobs are good for me and I love the people I work with, but they aren’t going to help further my career as an artist, and they do not feed my soul. I was feeling fed up and just blurted out loud to a friend of mine, “I mean, what if I just got Alexander certified?” And she said, “I think that’s a fantastic idea for you.” That was a Thursday. On Monday morning, I called ATI LA and agreed to audit a class that Friday. I filled out the application, gave it to them on Friday after class, and the rest is history.
Me: You’ve come up with a very unique way to help fund the training. Can you tell us about it, and how you came up with the idea?
Hallie: Well, as a young artist in LA, I obviously do not have the kind of money that the AT training costs. I have a photographer friend, Amanda Mustard, who did a Kickstarter campaign to help her raise money to document the remaining survivors from the “Nanking Massacre” that took place during 1937 in Nanking, China. She wanted to spread awareness of this horrific event and tell the survivor’s stories. Quite a remarkable cause. She reached her funding goal and was able to travel there and spend a month documenting tons of information. Take a look at her work here: www.amandamustardphoto.com
Take a look at my campaign here: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/help-me-get-alexander-technique-certified
I’ve raised $2,205 of $8,000 that I hope to raise to help me pay for one year of the training. I have 20 days left so anything can happen!
Me: Is there anything else you would like to share with us?
Hallie: The reason I want to become certified is so I can help people. I feel like this is my way to give back to the world. I want to help actors, singers, dancers – all kinds of artists, yes, but I don’t want to stop there. I want to help children and people who have had traumatic physical injuries.
I want to help people breathe and be happy and safe again in their own body. Because that’s how we all enjoy life.
Thank you so much for interviewing me. It’s been a pleasure.
Me: You are very welcome! It’s been fascinating finding out how Alexander Technique classes and lessons have helped you. I wish you the best of luck with your campaign and your training. The three years I spent doing Alexander Technique teacher training were in many ways the most rewarding years of my life. You’ll love it!
You can see Hallie’s video which accompanies her campaign, in which she talks about the Alexander Technique here:
If you have any questions or comments for either me or Hallie, we’d love to hear from you.
And if you are an Alexander Technique student or pupil and would like to be interviewed for my blog, please let me know! You never know, maybe you will be next!