A conversation with Rosa Julie Schmitthenner
By Danielle Hill
In June of 2014, Rosa Julie Schmitthenner began her study with MBS Academy as part of the Professional Foundation Training XIII. In fact, though, it wasn’t Rosa’s first training, at all. Some twenty years prior, she had first taken part in a training with Mia Segal in the Netherlands. At the time, Rosa was three years old and her mother, a Feldenkrais Practitioner, was assisting on a training course. Rosa can still remember lying on the floor with the class, as a toddler, and listening to Mia’s voice. Now, as a young gallery manager, actress and filmmaker based in Potsdam, Germany, Rosa has decided to attend the Professional Foundation program, for herself. She describes the fertile connections and useful relationships between the lessons, her work in the arts.
“Mind Body Studies is a form of understanding movements and also understanding the process of how you learn, as a little child, to move and to walk and to communicate.”
“It was always natural to me. My mother didn’t say, ‘Okay, now it’s Feldenkrais time.’ It was always a large part of her life, and she gave it to me. I cannot remember when we did Feldenkrais for the first time.” Recalling particular childhood memories, Rosa points out the impossibility of extracting precisely which aspects of her childhood were informed by the Feldenkrais Method, and what was simply her own upbringing and her family.
“How a person develops depends on how parents understand their children,” as Rosa puts it. “Mind Body Studies is a form of understanding movements and also understanding the process of how you learn, as a little child, to move and to walk and to communicate.” (We would circle back to this theme of learning to understand other people and other perspectives throughout our conversation, as the subject shifted to Rosa’s work at her gallery and in filmmaking.)
From her own childhood, Rosa distinctly remembers being eager to walk and skipping past the crawling stage. “I was very unhappy with crawling and was interested in walking, so my mother felt, ‘Okay, you can walk if you want.’ It felt good to stand up and walk. I can remember finding large shoes somewhere, and how I could walk around in those.” Instead of feeling pressured to follow a pre-determined sequence in her development and learning, Rosa identifies exploration and curiosity as prized values in her early life.
“I wanted to see everything. I still want to see everything! It fills me with so much information from the outside. Maybe it’s that there is a kind of curiosity from seeing and from discovering.” In some ways, Rosa describes experiences and qualities that could well evoke childhood for nearly anyone. In other respects, though, she paints the picture of an unusually privileged environment. When anyone in the family had a difficulty or an injury, they would do a session with Rosa’s mother. Beyond that, Rosa describes having a clear sense, from early on, of being able to help herself out with her own problems, and of feeling a confidence in trying out new things. “Only many years later, I understood that this is called Feldenkrais, and it is not normal to everybody. I had to understand, also, ‘This is really an opportunity you have!’ It hadn’t seemed like anything extraordinary.”
Finding Reliability – in the Ability to Change
On meeting Rosa, one notices not only the same wide-eyed curiosity that her childhood stories evoke, but also an unusual degree of poise; there is a quiet yet open self-assuredness that is scarce among the general population and certainly rare among 21-year-olds. She points to the principles of MBS as touchstones toward developing a certain degree of self-reliance. “I think always doing this may have given me some kind of inner confidence,” she suggests. “Not self-confidence, but an inner feeling that ‘It’s okay to be here. It’s okay to be in this world, somehow.’ I think I have this kind of security through knowing that many things can be changed. Even if it’s very difficult, you can very often find a solution to your problems. If something doesn’t work, then okay, I’m going to try something else. It’s okay to do that.”
While this simple sense of “inner confidence” is often eclipsed at some point in childhood or early adolescence, Rosa refers to it as something consistently available. “As you grow up, sometimes you are unsure what to do around others, how to behave, how to move or dress. I had that, too, of course. I think everybody has that. But, I think I also had something I could rely on, which gives some kind of security. You know that you can try everything out, and that’s okay.”
Rosa describes her work in the arts, whether as a gallery manager, a performer or a director, in very similar terms. In the way she speaks about the creative process, flexibility and imagination are intimately linked. She explains, “You think, ‘If this doesn’t work, I can try another thing.’ You need to be able to change your mind thousands of times to do something with art, and to see things from different perspectives. For a film, for example, I see from my own perspective and I also have to ask, “What would my audience think? What would they feel if they saw this?”
The capacity to change and respond spontaneously is not only a mental faculty; Rosa also emphasizes the physical need for flexibility in her work as an actress. “You have to be flexible in your mind – and your body too. For example, when you’re acting, you have to give such a lot of energy at one moment, and to do something which has the aim of being interesting to somebody else. You have to do this thing from inside, but also to know what you’re doing, how you’re moving, and what you’re doing with your arms and with your feet. To know how you’re standing, and what it says about your character. Is this what you want to convey? Or are you showing something you didn’t mean to?”
As Rosa describes artistic work, certain qualities reappear, as most treasured or most fundamental resources: flexibility in perspective, a clear and penetrating awareness, and the resilient capacity for change. “I think,” she reflects, “that I’ve been using Mind Body Studies a lot for this. I have a lot of cassettes from Mia that I listen to. I naturally use this, whenever I ask myself, ‘How am I doing this? How else could I do it?’ So, there’s a deep connection between Mind Body Studies and art and acting and filmmaking.”
“As a director, it’s important that you can clearly say what you want and what you want everyone to do. I think Mind Body Studies is very helpful for that. I learn to tell someone what I want them to do, but without restricting them. Guiding, but not destroying what they have in their own minds.”
Guiding without Destroying
Although Rosa’s interests span the visual and performing arts, both as artist and gallery manager, both in front of the camera and behind it, she doesn’t especially distinguish between her different roles and activities. “All of these things I’m doing have something to do with each other,” she stresses. “It’s not that I’m doing something totally different when I go to the gallery. It’s also visual and has to do with understanding other people.” In the gallery, she describes her primary aim as creating a particular environment or space for exhibiting artists:
“I’m trying to make the situation comfortable for someone, listening and finding out what is interesting to them. Some want you to do what they want and others are happy for you to help them in choosing or bringing an order to the artworks, adding another outer perspective. It has a connection to MBS. The way I try to do it – I’m not sure if I always succeed, but I try – is to leave it very open. When you work with Mind Body Studies, you also think about what might suit someone, what might be encouraging, what might facilitate their movements, and how you can perhaps assist them. If I have this openness, I can just look and see what is happening. I can let other people be the way they are, without wanting to change them all the time. And – doing it that way, it’s always more interesting!”
When Rosa describes her ideals and aspirations, as a filmmaker, a similar role emerges. “As the director, working with actors, I want to bring this kind of openness to looking at what each person can do, but also guiding them from that place. Assisting them, somehow, by making the environment so comfortable and secure, that they feel their best. You have many more possibilities when you’re feeling well and secure.” For Rosa, though, a true spirit of openness does not mean the director’s vision becomes more vague or dull. When she recalls some of her experiences, as an actress, she points to directors who simply instructed her to “be herself”, without the support of their own clarity or intention. “As a director, it’s also important that you can clearly say what you want and what you want everyone to do. I think Mind Body Studies is very helpful for that. I learn to tell someone what I want them to do, but without restricting them. Guiding, but not destroying what they have in their own minds. And not letting them fall into ‘nothing’, either.”
“I think,” Rosa considers, “this is also why I’m starting to do this training. I think I can use it as a director. When you guide an actor, you can clearly see how they are standing, how they are walking. You can use MBS and work with them for 20 minutes or so, and then you say ‘Okay, we’ll go on tomorrow. You can go home and then tomorrow we’ll do the next scene.’ When you have to deal with all these stressful situations – everybody has all these ideas and they want to bring them in – as director, you should try to let everyone have the space, but to be able to combine it somehow. So, I hope to use the method for that.”
Of course, Rosa’s approach also upends some of our most deeply rooted assumptions about effort and reward, about strenuous exertion and creativity. It can be extremely tempting to believe that the take or the photograph or the painting that completely drained you will also prove to be the best. Whether editing a film or arranging an exhibition, though, it becomes abundantly clear that this truism simply doesn’t hold. The “no pain, no gain” myth holds for the arts no more than it does for athletics. As Rosa points out, often discovering a lighter way or a simpler way not only saves considerable effort and stress – but also produces the better result.
“The whole process can be worthless,” she says, “when you are working and working and trying hard, really wanting to do this film, but you don’t know what you could do differently to make it easier. But actually, you can help yourself so much. That’s what fascinates me. In these lessons, you get to know such a lot of ideas: how to make a movement easier or lighter or heavier or whatever. You have possibilities.”