Every human being has a line. A vertical structure that begins at the top of the head and ends at the bottom of the feet. Various movement disciplines encourage the actor to imagine the line from the top of the head extending into the heavens and from the feet to deep withing the earth. This can lead to a sense of length / balance as well as groundedness / stabilty.
For many, the accumulation of life experiences, trauma, emotional memory and /or a lack of physical discipline leads to a "broken line." Slouching, the unconscious settling of the body to one side or the other, disruption of connection between the feet, knees, pelvis, chest, back, neck and head all contribute to broken or displaced lines.
The actor in training learns techniques for structural integration, leading to a more connected and consistent line. Alexander Technique, various dance and movement training methods, voice and speech training all address posture, coordination and physical integration. A structurally sound and integrated actor can train with more ease and fluidity and less tension.
But how does the actor at a higher level use the concept of The Line to create authentic characters that possess a complete physical presence that is different from the actor? Often actors study characters and attempt to physicalize them through external mimicry: examining the image of a person, such as a bent over old man or woman, and then contorting their bodies to fit the image. However, body that is being lived in by these different characters is not simply the result of external factors. Time, experiences both traumatic and ennobling, psychology and emotional memories all contribute to the physiological truth of a given character.
Therefore, the actor must seek to discover the essence of the line inside the character they intend to create, and understand the various influences that have contributed to the given line. Characters under extreme duress usually possess broken and disjointed lines. They enter the story of the play or film with a history that has informed their physical presence, all of which is built around the potentially broken line. For the actor, owning the line of a character far from their own distinct strutural habits is quite difficult. Forcing the body into contortions in order to present a character with a very different line can lead to tension, which in turn leads to vocal problems, restricted presence and even injury. This is an external attempt, which is essentially mimicry, not true embodiment.
Working with the principles of The Line, the actor first traces the physical dimensions of an imagined character through biographic truths. How did this person grow up? Where? How did this upbringing inform the character's line? What key events changed this line? What current traumas and factors inform the line of the character at the beginning of the drama? How does it change through the course of the piece? Does it?
The Line does not exist without the body. Skeletal structural givens inform tissue (fascia), muscle and the nervous system in total. The line informs the whole. The eyes, the face, the skin, the walk, the aspect and silouette are all informed by The Line. This becomes especially challenging for the actor when the character is engaged in robust physical actions. The tendency is to default to the actor's own line, therefore leading to inconsistency and disjointed performance of a character.
The Line also suggests that the body is always engaged in a dialectic of opposites, each informing the other: back informs front, side informs side, top informs bottom, etc. Ida Rolf showed that often a visible tendency in the body in one particular area is the result of some subtle action on the opposite side. A sunken chest (front) is often the result of a poor line in the back. Foot position in a gait often affects the position of the head.
Thus, the actor must first spend the necessary amount of time learning about their own line before hoping to effectively creating a character with a different line. The actor should seek out training such as Rolfing or other physical therapies that can identify one's own issues regarding The Line. After working on their own line, the actor then has a better understanding of posture, alignment and structural integration. Tools are learnt to help the actor continue to maintain their own integrated line. Only after this process is complete can the actor begin to explore creative possibilities in developing characters with very different lines.
The beauty of The Line is that no matter the physical circumstance or situation the character may find themselves in, the actor has only one element to concentrate themselves on to maintain a consistent physiological portrait. The Line, when properly understood, informs everything a character does and how a character moves and reacts.