The history of the alba method

“The origin of the method can be traced to experiments conducted by psychologists Susana Bloch and Guy Santibáñez at the University of Chile in Santiago in the early 1970s.” (Bloch & Lemeignan, 1992).  Santibáñez had recorded changes in the respiratory movements of patients with anxiety neuroses while they spoke about conflictive events; when he then instructed them to recite the events again while maintaining even, relaxed breathing, the patients reported less stress and anxiety. Expanding data collection to include other physiological parameters such as heart rate, arterial pressure, and muscle tonus, Bloch and Santibáñez confirmed the initial results with both normal subjects under hypnosis, and with trained actors using emotion memory; more significant, “across conditions and subjects, each emotion was characterized by the same specific pattern of physiological responses”.

They identified six emotions--joy, sadness, anger, fear, erotic love, and tenderness--as "basic" "because they correspond to universal invariants of behavior--in a Darwinian sense--and are present in the animals and in the human infant," (Bloch & Lemeignan, 1992) and proposed that all other emotions (e.g., jealousy, pride, etc.) derive from these. Wondering if the physiological experience of emotion could be aroused physically, without a real or imagined stimulus, they focused on the aspects of emotional behavior that could be reproduced at will, and created prototypes of changes in respiration, posture, and facial expression, which they called "emotional effector patterns." The pair also created a seventh pattern, based on Santibáñez first observations, to return the body to emotional neutrality through relaxed alignment, slow, deep breathing, and release of facial tension.  Naive subjects taught to reproduce emotional effector patterns were, in fact, found to experience the corresponding emotions; they were also able to neutralize both the subjective and physiological arousal using the neutral, non-emotional pattern.

Bloch and Santibáñez then teamed with theatre director Pedro Orthous to apply these discoveries to train actors to better express emotions onstage. They began the development of ways to teach the respiratory-postural-facial patterns. During this process, they discovered that when actors worked on the patterns, the emotions induced tended to linger after the exercise was over. They then developed a specific technique to break the emotional bodily patterns through specific behaviors. This technique, called step-out, allows persons to end an emotional state at will and enter a non-emotional state. Bloch, Orthous, and Santibáñez named the whole procedure for working with emotions the BOS Method (Bloch, Orthous & Santibáñez, 1987).

Further development of the system was temporarily halted by the coup in Chile. Bloch and Santibáñez went to different countries, and Orthous died in 1974. Years later, from her post at the University Pierre and Marie Curie in Paris, Bloch, resumed experiments ''as an avocation" with actors from the Teater Klanen of Denmark, headed by Chilean director Horacio Muñoz. It was during this period that the method was renamed Alba Emoting, after a production of Federico García Lorca's House of Bernarda Alba (Bloch, 1994). Muñoz eventually returned to Chile, where he continued training actors in the method.

Aside from a few articles available in scientific journals, the still-experimental method was largely unknown to actors and educators outside Chile and Denmark until Bloch's 1991 presentation at the annual conference of the Association for Theatre in Higher Education (ATHE). She offered workshops at ATHE conferences over the next several years, finally making plans to begin formal training sessions, satisfied that the method was "now refined and ready for a wider diffusion as an alternative technique for the work of actors." (Bloch 1993)

In Cachagua, Chile, in October of 1993, Bloch offered the first training seminar in Alba Emoting open to actors and teachers worldwide. Bloch was assisted by associate trainer Joan Polvsen, one of the original actors who worked with Bloch at Denmark’s Teater Klanen. Limited to ten people, the two-week session attracted a polyglot group of participants from Europe and South America, and the United States. Nancy Loitz was a participant at this first training. 

 

ALBA METHOD ASSOCIATION

As demand for training in the Alba Method grows geographically and across disciplines, the need for a common organization has emerged. The Alba Method Association, an organization devoted to fostering the development and certification of trainers, is currently in development.  Early actions of the temporary board have included a review of certification processes, training protocols and vocabulary. Members of the temporary board of directors of the Alba Method Association are Patricia Angelin, Hyrum Conrad, Rocco Dal Vera, Juan Pablo Kalawski, Nancy Loitz, Roxane Rix, Elizabeth Townsend and Brant Wadsworth.

 

SOURCES CITED

Bloch, S. (1993) Alba Emoting: A Psychophysiological Technique to Help Actors Create and Control Real Emotions. Theatre Topics. XXI:3, 131-138

Bloch, S. (1994) Personal interview with Roxane Rix

Bloch, S. & Lemeignan, M. (1992) Precise respiratory-posturo-facial patterns are related to specific basic emotions. Bewegen & Hulpverlening. 1, 31-38

Bloch, S. , Orthous, P. & Santibanez-H, G. (1987) Effector patterns of basic emotions: a psychophysiological method for training actors. Journal of Biological Structures. 10, 1-19