The alphabet as a lexicon for training

This comprises, in English at least, the 26 letters that are the basis of how we speak and communicate. But when we consider how many words these 26 shapes or sounds allow us to generate, the potential for creativity they enable, we understand their fuller value and we can appreciate the foundational nature of the alphabet. It is a bedrock for so much more. If you try speaking without it, you are lost. So our A-Z is to be considered a base from which you can jump in any direction to fly with your own creativity.

How do we learn to read the alphabet? We usually begin with A at the very beginning which eventually helps us with words: ‘The cat sat on the mat’. But in a non-linear age we might start our alphabet anywhere just as we dip into a dictionary at any point. B might tempt us or perhaps the exotic Q with its alluring tail. In this online A-Z construction, our letters are not singular but plural, for the alphabet of physical actor training is just a framework and we should not be bound by rules. But we also need to appreciate and use the alphabet as a whole. The pangram ‘The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog’ reminds us of this totality in a simple way and with a colourful picture of animation, movement and stillness. We need to appreciate the discipline of this ensemble of letters and how we use them, for what would words be if letters were missing? Though in daily usage we might elide and conflate, we mustn’t be too precious; but we do need to understand discipline.

To learn the alphabet we also sing our way through it: from the excitement of the beginning, even tempoed until the pause and breath after G, and then the almost stumbling rush through L, M, N, O, P. The measured pace of Q, R, S, T, U, V (although with a hiatus after the ‘S’) is echoed in the W, X, Y and Z with its closing emphatic finality (at least in British English – zed. The American zee remains quite open). On paper the letters may look even but in their sounding and embodiment, rhythm and the breath shape the alphabet as it comes alive, just as rhythm shapes our training and performances.

You will of course use this A-Z as you wish. But when focusing on the singular, the individual letters and their related terms, please remember the whole. Put the letters together as you start to ‘speak’, with the vocal and physical flow that is movement through space and with sound, that is the breath, that is performing.

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