Still Body, Animated Mind

What is it that’s so powerful about the performers who can command the stage in stillness? I’ve felt their confidence and comfort in their bodies. I’ve felt the force of their imagination.

In striving for this stage stillness and power in myself, I’ve watched them. And I’ve watched the video footage of my own concerts (yikes! – there is no more honest teacher). I’ve reined in my movement and gesture a lot to where they’re very minimal now and, I feel, more gratifying to me and compelling for others.

It’s an ongoing thing to bring awareness to my body and how it moves in these intimate cabaret settings of mine where everything is amplified and easily “over the top.” I use to feel I had to “do” something and move somewhere to be expressive and effective. The result was fidgeting. Gratuitous movement rooted in insecurity took away from my artistry rather than enhanced it.

For a dancer, movement is the voice. For an actor, a wide sweep of gesture may support a particular role. For us singers of the small stage whose words and tones are essential, gesture should be more sparing, and naturally conversant in support of the story, character and lyric.

A pantomimist indicates the meaning of words and emotions to his heart’s content – it’s his very art. For singers, it points to amateurism. A cover or compensation for the lack of connection to our inner life. We see it in young performers who as yet have little happening on the inside and make it “happen” on the outside. Lots of coming and going, and broad sweeping gestures and raised eyebrows and moving body parts. It’s not just the “green” ones though, it’s anyone who hasn’t yet connected their inner riches with the meaning of their songs.

In the stillness of the body, there’s no rigidity. Still as I am, I’m not frozen or stiff. The life in me, my passion, courses through my veins. My breathing is relaxed and musical. Like a plant rooted in the earth, I’m rooted on the stage. My energy goes down into the boards and back up through me. Below the stage, I’m anchored in my intention. Above it, I’m alive in my imagination and desire to reveal myself.

I may have one or both hands at my side but they’re not weighted down. I give them a little lift in the elbow. Imagining that I have invisible strings on the tops of my shoulders gives my arms the gentlest lift away from the pull of gravity. What happens? My elbows and fingers open and begin to communicate. It’s a very subtle thing. And mostly, it’s still.

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About Karen Kohler

Born in Frankfurt and raised in New York, Karen began her professional music career in Austin. Since returning to NYC in 2001, she has been a leading exponent of the cabaret arts as performer, director, producer and historian. Her performances blend multiple genres - classical, cabaret, jazz, blues and folk-rock - in six languages. She is founder of the award-winning ensemble, Kabarett Kollektif, and producer of Kabarett Fete, a celebrated international cabaret festival. Karen gives private lessons and conducts master classes in stagecraft, the art of public speaking and creativity coaching. View all posts by Karen Kohler

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