The Oak and Willow

An exercise for actors developed by Jonathan Paul Cook.


The Oak - Resistance:

The actors are divided into pairs. One actor in each pair is the Trainer and the other is the Trainee. The Trainee finds a relaxed but available standing position. (Feet slightly apart and slightly turned out as the legs would hang naturally down from a suspended hip, knees soft, hips loose and oily, coccyx tucked to reduce lumbar curvature, sternum lifted, shoulders released, head floating easily with jaw released and eyes focussed on the horizon.)

The Trainer gives a discrete push with one hand, of about one second's duration, to any part of the Trainee's body. In response to the onset of the push, the Trainee immediately tightens the minimum number of muscle groups required to resist the push. At the end of the push the Trainee releases all tension associated with the push.

The Trainer continues pushing in many different ways while maintaining a steady rhythm: pushing down on the top of the head, hooking onto a little finger, trying to lift a knee from behind, occasionally using two hands to try to rotate the hips or shoulders, sometimes pushing hard enough so that the Trainee might have to take a step or two to maintain balance.

Always, the Trainee returns to the beginning relaxed standing position in an efficient way, without fuss or comment of any kind. If it feels irritating to be pushed about, the idea is to breathe easily and take it like "water off a duck's back."


The Willow - Acceptance:

The Trainer's function is the same, although the push can be more sustained as it may follow the point of contact with the Trainee's body in the same direction as the initial push. The Trainee accepts the push, provides no resistance, and allows it to pass through him or her. A push down on the top of the head, and the Trainee melts down to the floor. A push behind the knee and the leg floats up. A push on the back and the Trainee bends forward at the waist. A push at the hips and the Trainee takes a couple of steps to allow the push to pass through. The Trainee should resist the temptation to exaggerate the response and should return immediately to the original position in the most economical way.

The teacher can circulate around the class, at times intervening as Trainer, observing whether individual students find it easier to resist or accept the pushes.


The Oak and the Willow - Availability:

This usually proves to be much more challenging than one would expect. The Trainee alternates between resisting and accepting the Trainer's pushes. Resist, then accept, then resist, then accept etc. If the Trainee gets lost by accidentally repeating the same response, then he or she should continue working without comment on the next push, starting with either resisting or accepting. The following push then always requires the opposite response. The Trainer starts with a slow tempo, gradually increasing as the Trainee gains in confidence and accuracy, and slowing down if the Trainee makes too many mistakes. In observing and learning to control his or her responses, the Trainee understands how very basic "mind-sets" are closely tied to the body. A flexible, unprejudiced and appropriate response to a stimulus requires clarity of mind and body.

Eventually, the Trainee learns not so much from the pushes themselves, but from the state of readiness between the pushes.

Glossary
Jonathan Paul Cook 2010