Billy Siegenfeld is a former jazz and rock drummer and a high school actor; a present-day jazz- rhythm-based actor-dancer-singer/vocal-rhythmic theatre-movement artist; the director, playwright, musical arranger, choreographer, and ensemble member of the performing and teaching group Jump Rhythm® (www.jumprhythm.org); an author of essays and plays; and a Charles Deering McCormick Professor of Teaching Excellence in the Department of Theatre at Northwestern University. He has created courses at NU that explore using gravity-directed relaxation as the foundation of working in equal- and-opposite relationships with others: “Standing Down Straight® and The Anatomy of Letting Go”; “Gravity-Directed Swing Dancing as Source of Collaborative Decision-Making”; “Rhythmic and Dynamic Approaches to Creating Emotion-Driven Movement for the Stage”; “Jump Rhythm®: Vocalized Full-Bodied Rhythm-Making”; and “American Rhythm Dancing and the African-American Performance Aesthetic.”
His performance work focuses on building what he calls a “theatre of energy” out of primal human behavior. This process turns fusions of rhythm-driven movement, singing, and speech into stories that laugh, cry, rant, and sing about our species’ ongoing condition: feeling that we never have enough; tampering with Nature to get more than enough; and then, if we’re lucky, accepting that what Nature has already given us is enough.
Springing from this idea is his most recent play, What Do You Want to Be When You Give Up? In 2019 it premiered at the Mark O’Donnell Theater in New York City and the Bathway Theatre in London. In the 2021-22 season, an expanded version is scheduled to be performed in a return engagement at the O’Donnell Theatre as well as in theatres in Berlin, Germany and Toulouse, France.
Also working from the idea that yielding invites acceptance is his most recent essay, “Democracy’s Energy.” The subtitle suggests its multi-thread narrative: “How the African-American gift to the world called swinging a beat beats back despair; says letting go is better than holding on; says no pedestal works better than the ground we stand on; teaches democracy works best when we practice it on ourselves; and, along the way, relieves lower-back pain.”
Another recent piece of writing on a similar theme is “Standing Down Straight® and The Anatomy of Letting Go.” It presents SDS as an eco-psychological approach to human anatomy that uses gravity- directed relaxation as a source of postural, motional, vocal, and spiritual health.
Both of these essays will appear in a forthcoming book titled Democracy’s Energy: Getting Down to Go Forward.
He received an undergraduate degree in literature from Brown University and a graduate degree in non-fiction writing from New York University. His thesis title was “Hunting the Rhythmic Snark: The Search for Swing in Jazz Performance.” When living in New York City, he performed with modern dance choreographer, Don Redlich; directed the dance program of Hunter College; performed as an actor- dancer-singer in off-off-Broadway shows as well as in the Broadway production of Singin’ in the Rain; studied Meisner-based acting with Tim Philips and natural-voiced singing with Joan Kobin. After becoming injured from years of physical training that emphasized standing up straight, he discovered an approach to movement re-education that heals the body using gravity-directed relaxation: ideokinesis, as taught by André Bernard. Bernard – guided by Mabel Ellsworth Todd’s anatomy book The Thinking Body and the principles of Taoism – helped him learn to sit, stand, engage in the tasks of everyday living and performance with a calmer mind, without incurring strain or injury, and by aspiring to do what our fellow animals are exemplars of: actively relaxing into the earth and then, from that grounded base, launching forward into life with efficiency, vigor, and acceptance. This nature-directed process led to his creating and developing Standing Down Straight® and Jump Rhythm®, both of which serve as the foundations of his teaching and performing. The two concepts can be described as follows:
- Standing Down Straight®: An injury-preventive, eco-psychological approach to mind-body integration using gravity-directed relaxation as the source of postural, motional, vocal, and spiritual heath.
- Jump Rhythm® Technique: A rhythmically vocalized, jazz-rhythm-based approach to performing arts training, guided by a combination of 3 ideas: the African-originated concept of full-bodied rhythm-making called ngoma (“drumming and rhythmic song-dancing”); the gravity-directed laws of nature; and the aspiration to practice egalitarianism in human relationships both on the stage and in everyday life.
Billy also works for the environment. As an Openlands® TreeKeeper he helps maintain trees around Evanston. He also joins a team of volunteers to ensure the preservation and growth of the town’s Clark Street Beach Bird Sanctuary.