This is the former location of the blog of the Andrew Wood Acting Studio in Los Angeles.. The blog is now located at http://www.andrewwoodla.com/blog. This old location has been left in place as an archive.
(This post is from the blog of the Mother of Invention Acting School in San Francisco (www.utteracting.com): an acting class in San Francisco for serious, motivated students.)
In the body work portion of the class, I introduce the jaw as the actor's public enemy number one. Most of us carry tension there habitually, and the jaw is wired to the back and the rest of the body, so tension that originates there can easily spiral downward and create all kinds of physical static for the actor. Further, the jaw is a kind of gateway, so that impulses that originate in the gut or elsewhere are either allowed or disallowed by the jaw. And, for some reason, when we are engrossed in doing something that requires a lot of our concentration, like, say, playing a difficult portion of a scene, the jaw often tenses up to make sure that nothing is released that isn't supposed to be. However, this also (often) has the effect of making sure that nothing comes in, and this means that the actor has effectively isolated him or herself from his or her environment, which is bound to bring about stiffness and lifelessness. So learning to be aware of, and to release, jaw tension is indispensable
You can explore this yourself by choosing an activity that is challenging for you and paying attention to your jaw while you try to do it. I like to go out dancing, and when I start to get going, and feel inspired to show off some fancy footwork, my jaw will invariably tense up in some kind of misguided effort to "help" by stablizing me (a phenomenon sometimes known as "white guy overbite"). I also notice this in my T'ai-Chi practice. This awareness is the first step towards freeedom. The next is cultivating the habit of letting go of this tension when it arises. Do this enough and the letting go will become an unconscious habit This will probably take years, but Rome wasn't built in a day, right?