Interview with Frank Ottiwell: the Early Years
By Pamela Blanc
Published in AmSAT News , Issue No. 67, Spring 2005
FO: It was an elegant room. There was nothing peculiar or startling about it. The big painting of voluptuous ladies was gone, and I suppose the room itself had been painted a more neutral color. It was just a nicely proportioned Edwardian room. Of course there was also the famous waiting room. And there was Peter Scott’s room, which I guess used to be AR’s room. I’m not sure about that, but probably. There were two biggish rooms and Peter Scott, at that time, was in the other one.
PB: How long was that trip? Did you have very many lessons with Patrick?
FO: I’m trying to remember. I think it was a month. On that occasion I’m sure I had a lesson every day for as long as I was there. What I do remember is how different Patrick’s teaching style was from Judy’s. The only other person I had ever had lessons with was Judy. Patrick just sort of swept you off your feet, so to speak. He could just put his hands on you and take you up and down and turn you side ways and turn you around non-stop. After that first lesson, I went to a little tearoom in the Army Navy Stores and I wrote in my notebook, which I still have … “I’ve just used myself well for half an hour.” There was no room for mistakes or anything because he had you, you know? So I experienced 30 minutes of good use — whether I liked it or not!
PB: That’s fabulous. When did you move to San Francisco?
FO: That was in 1967 — the “summer of love.” Judith Stransky came along after a few years and established herself in Southern California. She was very much a part of Patrick’s visits to California. He came and taught in Los Angeles and then he’d come up to San Francisco and teach. That became an annual visit for many years.
PB: Yes, I wondered when the first year was that he came out to California? Did he come out before you had the school?
FO: Yes, but after Giora Pinkas and I opened the training course in San Francisco in 1974 Patrick came very regularly every year to teach on the course. The thing is that we had several students, who wanted to train, and Judy encouraged me to open a course, but at that time I had worked quite a lot with Patrick and I really wanted his approval, too. I suppose the approval of two senior training teachers was the equivalent in those days to the Training Course Approval process we have now. I asked Patrick what he thought, and said I wanted to continue the association with him. He said he thought we should go ahead and promised to visit.
PB: When did you first meet Walter and Dilys Carrington?
FO: Well, they came to New York on a teaching visit in the 60’s just after ACAT was formed and gave us all lessons. Walter’s lessons were always a revelation to me. He made me feel so substantial — a very valuable addition to my sense of self. And then, of course, Walter’s astonishing writings over the years have been like having a teacher in my back pocket. Without those writings I know my whole experience as pupil and teacher would have been very different and, I think, much diminished. Later when I visited them at Lansdowne Road I had some astonishing work with Dilys. She had such an ability to guide hands on work.
PB: Can you say something about your impression of their different styles: Judy, Patrick, and Walter? Not so much about their styles but about how they influenced what and how you taught in those early days.
FO: Looking back, what it taught me is that the Technique, the principle, is always the same — as it really was with the three of them. It wasn’t a mystery to go to one or another of them, because basically it was not different — at its heart. But, the approaches, and the personalities, were very different.
When I was in London in the sixties Patrick encouraged me to have some lessons with Peter Scott. I had been astonished at how light and subtle Patrick’s touch was, but Scott’s…! The astonishing thing to me about Scott was that his hands seemed twice or three times as light as Patrick’s. It was as though, he was touching you, and you knew he was touching you and the direction was crystal clear, but his hands were weightless.
So, in meeting and working with all of these people, the work seemed the same but each person was different. And I think that was a relief to me because I began gradually to stop trying to be Judy and then eventually, I stopped trying to be Patrick.
Of course, I hadn’t met Marjorie Barstow yet.
End of part one.
Pamela trained with Frank Ottiwell and Giora Pinkas at ACAT San Francisco, graduating in 1979. She was an assistant at ATI-San Francisco 1983-1986 and is one of the founding members of ATI-Los Angeles, where she was a Director from 1987-1998. Pamela has a private practice in West Los Angeles and teaches in music and theater departments at local universities.
Frank Ottiwell had his first Alexander lessons in 1954, trained to teach between 1956 and 1959 and was a Director of Training between 1974 and 2003. He maintains a small private practice in San Francisco where he continues the work he began in 1967 as the American Conservatory Theater’s Alexander Teacher in Residence.
2005 Pamela Blanc. All rights reserved.