Billy Siegenfeld is a former jazz and rock drummer; a present-day vocal-rhythmic theatre movement artist; the founder, artistic director, choreographer, and musical arranger of the performance teaching group Jump Rhythm®; 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 guide students to use gravity-directed relaxation as a means of working in mutual-give-and-take relationships with each other. These include Standing Down Straight® for Actors; Gravity-Based Swing-Dancing as Source of Collaborative Decision-Making; Choreographing Energy/Staging Action: Rhythmic and Dynamic Approaches to Creating Movement for the Stage; Jump Rhythm® Technique; and Jump Rhythm® Tap.
His performance work focuses on building a Theatre of Energy out of primal human behavior. This process turns fusions of rhythm-driven motion, song, and speech into stories that joke, cry, and rant about our species’ ongoing condition – i.e., believing that we never have enough; tampering with Nature to get more than enough; and then, when we build patience into life, realizing 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 in NYC as well as in theatres in Berlin, Germany, Toulouse, France, and on tour in the U.S.
The first of his most recent essays is “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.”
The second is “Standing Down Straight® (SDS) and The Anatomy of Letting Go.” It presents SDS as an anatomically fact-based, eco-psychological approach to sustaining postural, motional, vocal, and mental health. Both will appear in a forthcoming book titled Democracy’s Energy: Getting Down to Go Forward.
His previous essays include “Teaching to the Person Inside the Student” (2002); “Standing Down Straight@: Jump Rhythm® Technique’s Rhythm-Driven, Community-Directed Approach to Performing Arts Education (2009); “The Art of Misbehaving: Youth, American Rhythm Dancing, and the Need to Not Be Good” (2012); “Performing Energy: ‘The Great Articulation of the Inarticulate’” (2014).
Billy received an undergraduate degree in literature from Brown University and a graduate degree in jazz studies from New York University’s Gallatin Division. 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 great Don Redlich; directed the dance program of Hunter College; performed as an actor-dancer-singer in off-off-Broadway shows and the Broadway production of Singin’ in the Rain; studied Meisner-based acting with Tim Philips; and studied natural-voiced singing with Joan Kobin. After becoming injured from years of dance training that emphasized pushing the body beyond its natural limits, he discovered an approach to moving that uses gravity-directed relaxation to heal the body: ideokinesis, taught by André Bernard. Bernard – guided by Mabel Ellsworth Todd’s visionary anatomy book The Thinking Body and the ideas of Taoism – taught him to sit, stand, and engage in the tasks of everyday living by aspiring to do what our fellow animals model: grounding the body in the earth so as to launch forward into life with efficiency and vigor. 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® (SDS): using gravity-directed relaxation as its guiding principle, SDS is an anatomically fact-based, injury-preventive, eco-psychological approach to sustaining postural, motional, vocal, and mental heath.
- Jump Rhythm® Technique(JRT): JRT is a vocal-rhythmic, jazz-rhythm-based approach to teaching theatre movement. It is 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 practice of egalitarianism in human relationships, both on the stage and in everyday life.
Billy also works for the environment. As an Openlands® Tree Keeper he helps maintain park trees around Evanston and works with a group of volunteers to ensure the health and preservation of the town’s Clark Street Beach Bird Sanctuary.