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10 January 2022

Beyond Actor Training Practice: A Different Way of Being in the World

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Talia Rodgers

Head of Higher Education, Digital Theatre+

Alison Hodge

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Alison Hodge – ‘Ali’ to everyone who knew her – was a remarkable actor trainer, and a leading specialist in the history of actor training. She was a pioneering director (she co-found the renowned Theatre Alibi in 1982 and another ensemble called The Quick and The Dead in 2006). She was also a highly respected teacher – at Royal Holloway University of London, Exeter University, RADA and at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, and gave workshops around the world.

Ali died at the age of 60 in 2019. Having worked with her on several book and DVD projects over two decades – while I was Publisher of Theatre Studies at Routledge – we’d become friends, and I miss her to this day.

So I was thrilled when her husband Chris contacted me last December to say that Royal Holloway had instituted an annual prize in her honour – to be called The Alison Hodge Directing Prize for Excellence in Theatre Making. That and a 2021 book dedicated to Ali called Act As A Feminist: Towards A Critical Acting Pedagogy by Lisa Peck at the University of Sussex are just some of the ways Ali’s legacy is enacted in the wider world.

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After Chris’s email I went back to watch the brilliant interview Ali gave us, shortly after I left Routledge and joined Digital Theatre+ in 2016. We’re delighted to share that here.

Apart from the wealth of ideas and information it contains about actor training, working with the breath, energy, space and so on, it is also arguably a masterclass in how to be insightful, articulate and wise with humour and humility.

In the interview, Ali shares her ideas on what actor training is and can be, and explains that for her, it’s about a set of guiding principles rather than prescriptive methods or rigid rules.

She talks about how to use energy in performance, the role of the director in training actors, what it means fully to inhabit one’s own body, and the relationship between tension, vulnerability and expressing emotion on stage.

Understanding the history of actor training as she did, Ali was able to speak to the differences between the UK’s excellence in voice training and speech and the physical training more dominant in Europe. She describes the actor as ‘an engineer of time and space’ and describes how to keep the space between two actors on stage alive and vibrant.

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As Libby Worth, Reader in Contemporary Performance Practices at Royal Holloway told me in an email:

“It was both a pleasure and an inspiration to work with Ali and to witness her restless drive to research ways to create convincing performances generated primarily through the performers’ physicality [...] She insisted on trying out new approaches in the studio and embedding this methodology within undergraduate and postgraduate teaching. This enabled her to span university teaching and professional training.”

Libby continues:

“I hope that this prize will prompt current and future directing students to refer to Alison’s publications and online sources, such as her website, Katie Normington’s obituary in the journal Theatre, Dance and Performance Training (TDPT) and the many full reminiscences of her […] in the TDPT Blog.”

And as Lisa Peck said in that same TDPT blog:

“Ali changed the way I thought about and practiced actor training. She taught me that we are fundamentally relational, to be alert to and challenge individualistic perspectives, and to give and receive energy with positivity and love. This went beyond a training practice. It held the promise of a better way of being together in the world.

We shared a commitment to seek out and celebrate a female genealogy of actor training as an alternative to dominant male lineages [...] Whilst she didn’t want her practice to be seen as exclusively female, she recognised that it offered ‘something particular’ for women.”

Do take 30 minutes to watch Ali’s interview if you can and let us know what you think of this remarkable woman.

Contemporary Performance Practice - On Actor Training: An Interview with Alison Hodge

Alison Hodge was a director, actor-trainer, author and lecturer, and the Artistic Director of ’The Quick and the Dead’, an international performance ensemble. In this wide-ranging interview, she describes the fundamental principles of her work in actor training, and the myriad benefits that work on the breath or the spine can bring to the performer.

Talking about energy, timing, space, touch, and her physical training work, Hodge explains how she enables actors to create fully alive performances without overburdening them with studied technique.