Interview with Frank Ottiwell: Inspiring the Profession
By Pamela Blanc
Published in AmSAT News , Issue No. 68, Fall 2005
Expressing emotion through pressure seems so “real” at that point. It takes time for them to see that the pressure is actually shutting them down and preventing free expression. Without the familiar pressures, they are very often distressed. They feel as though they are boring and not doing anything — so how could anything be happening? One of the major benefits of the class work is that their peers can usually see what they can’t and can reassure and encourage the fact that MORE is actually being expressed.PB: You say they get tutorials. Are those private lessons?
FO: Yes, they are what you and I would call private lessons.PB: And they get them when they are in the play?
FO: They get them repeatedly, play or no play. In the first year they have two classes a week and regular tutorials. This amount of work at the beginning gives them a good foundation for their continuing work in the second and third years. In the third year the students have to apply for tutorials by putting in a written request stating what they want to work on. Those turn out to be some of the most interesting times for me. The actors are highly motivated.PB: When did you decide to start training teachers?
FO: By the early 1970s a number of my private students wanted to train to be teachers. I had been teaching steadily for fifteen years at that point and Judy Liebowitz actively encouraged me to open a training program. Besides Judy, I had made the most significant connection within the Technique at that time with Patrick Macdonald. I wrote to Patrick telling him Judy was encouraging me to start a school and asked what his opinion was and if I did would he make annual visits? Patrick wrote back saying, “Yes, do it. I don’t see why not.” I had met Giora Pinkas, who had trained with Patrick, and Giora and I opened the school in 1974. We started with eight students.
PB: When I think of you living is San Francisco from 1967 to the present, I look at the transformation that San Francisco has been through from the end of the beatniks to the hippies in the 60s, the antiwar in the early 70s, the consciousness raising, human potential, and dot comers of the 80s and 90s. It’s incredible to me that you were there teaching the Alexander Technique throughout.
FO: It was during that period in San Francisco in the late 60s and early 70s I began to see more clearly how profound and specific the Technique was.
PB: You made contact with some interesting people during that time, Moshe Feldenkrais, Charlotte Selver, Fritz Perls, Werner Erhart, Claudio Naranjo. How did they influence you?
FO: Feldenkrais’ work was interesting to me because it was very much concerned with non-trying and with the value of observation and awareness. One of the things he taught was the concept of differentiation; of wholeness with differentiation within the whole. And, of course that’s not so different from Alexander’s “altogether, one after the other.” Another thing Feldenkrais spoke of was the concept of cooperation. That what you were learning to do was to have all of your parts cooperate with each other instead of fighting each other. This fits, too. Though perhaps Alexander never spoke in those particular words, if you’re not lengthening you can’t really widen, if you’re not widening you can’t really lengthen, and so forth. Cooperation. Something has to keep us from falling down, and all the parts working together and pulling apart from each other produce balance —- the best way to prevent falling. It is certainly a big improvement over stabilizing and stiffening to try to achieve the same end.
PB: It’s Alexander’s idea of the primary control providing the cooperation throughout the organism, right?
FO: Right. The primary control was a specific. Feldenkrais didn’t speak of primary control; of course, although he clearly practiced it himself, because I think by then he was so angry at Alexander. He would, however, when he came to the head/neck say, now this was Alexander’s genius: seeing the importance of this head/neck relationship.PB: Angry?
FO: Well, you know Alexander had accused him of plagiarism and more or less thrown him out of Ashley Place. Feldenkrais had been having lessons with Walter Carrington at Ashley Place and had sent Walter proofs of his book, Body and Mature Behavior. Walter thought there were some things in the book that seemed straight out of Alexander. He showed the book to Alexander and Alexander was just so offended and infuriated that the next time Feldenkrais came for a lesson with Walter — he never had lessons with F.M. — F.M., I gather, stormed into the room and said, “Out.”
PB. Oh, my! And Charlotte Selver?
FO. Charlotte’s work was all about awareness. Sensory Awareness was the name of her work and she always said there was no technique. It was all about the awareness of what you were experiencing. It is a very compelling and authentic work, and Charlotte herself was compelling and totally authentic. How easy it is to not know, to not pay any attention – to not lead what Marjory Barlow called “An Examined Life.” Charlotte was much appreciated by the Zen community, as you can imagine, and worked closely with Suzuki Roshi before his death.
PB: What about Fritz Perls? Did you work with him?