HISTORY OF THE ALEXANDER TECHNIQUE
Frederick Matthias Alexander (1869-1955)
Frederick Matthias (F.M.) Alexander, was born in Tasmania, Australia in 1869. As a young man, F.M. studied acting and reciting and taught himself to play the violin. It was common during that time to have “parlor performances,” where amateur and professional performers would sing or recite selections from Shakespeare and poetry in homes and small theaters. He was known locally for his high quality recitals.
In his early 20’s, F.M. moved to Melbourne, Australia where he devoted himself to a career in acting and reciting. F. M. soon established an excellent reputation, giving recitals, concerts and producing plays. His specialty was a one-man show of dramatic and humorous pieces heavily laced in Shakespeare.
F.M. started his own acting company and founded one of the first modern acting drama schools and companies offering voice, speech, drama, dance, fencing, movement, and stage combat. His company toured throughout Australia. F.M. was extremely Innovative for his time. After moving his personal performance to a much LARGER performance hall, F.M. developed hoarseness and respiratory trouble that affected the quality of his voice during performances. F.M. lost his voice during a performance. This frustrated him because he was a hard worker and wanted to “do it right.”
Voice teachers and medical doctors recommend that F.M. rest of his voice. After a three month break, his voice seemed fine, but when he returned to the stage, half way through a show, his voice failed and the curtain had to be brought down. F.M. discovered the the more he tried to correct his habits, the worse they got. Since F.M. had no difficulty with his daily speech, he asked a doctor if his voice problems could be a result of what he was doing with his body during a performance. The doctor agreed it could be. F.M. placed mirrors on a stage and observed himself as he recited. The ahahah moment appeared! The stimulus of being in a larger theater had caused him to react in the flight or fight pattern. He stiffened his neck and pulled his head back and down. The pulling of his head back and down put pressure on his larynx and caused his voice to go hoarse. The compression of his head onto his neck also created a downward pressure throughout his whole body, causing a chain reaction of tension down through his spine and torso. F.M. also observed that he was lifting his shoulders, arching his lower back and that his leg was shaking. Later he found that these problems were indirectly related to his head pulling back and down over his spine. F.M. realized that as he was about to do something, if he just let go of the thought of doing it, (Non Doing) and nothing tensed. He called this letting go of the thought, Inhibition.
In time, F.M. found that by using “Conscious Control,” of actions, by stoping wrong movements rather than trying to “do” correct ones, and by focusing on the how he was using himself rather than “end gaining,” he could move with ease.
He also found that a person’s Primary Control is the relationship between the head and neck. This relationship between the head, neck and back affect the whole body. As he put all of his discoveries together F.M.’s voice came back, he was more relaxed and his overall health improved. His performances were better than ever. People from around the globe would come to seek help from F.M.
F.M. taught many famous figures of his day including the author Aldous Huxley, the educational reformer John Dewey, the playwright Bernard Shaw and several famous actors. F.M. brought the technique to England and America. He worked full time until his death at age 86 in 1955.
Today the Alexander Technique is a core component of most performing art schools, including The Juilliard School in New York, The Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in England and California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, California. You’ll also find AT being taught in medical institutions including The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota and UCLA, Westwood, California just to name a few.
My technique is based on inhibition, the inhibition of undesirable, unwanted responses to stimuli, and hence it is primarily a technique for the development of the control of the human reaction.
— F. M. Alexander.