Where Do You Start?

The question “where do you start” with regard to training the voice, has to be preceded by another question, “why would you start?”

It’s a simple fact that nobody thinks about voice training unless something occurs to make them suspect their voice is inadequate, or unhealthy.

If there is any pain experienced while speaking, at all, the first step is not training, but some form of medical intervention. Get referred by the GP to a specialist, and make sure there is nothing physically amiss. If there is nothing actually wrong with the larynx (voice box) then therapy is usually advised to address the behaviour that is causing the pain.

Two common problems that bring people to the idea of voice training are quiet voice, and mumbling. While they are caused by specific and different behaviours, they also have much in common.

Someone who speaks so quietly that you have to constantly ask them to repeat what they are saying, is failing to apply adequate muscular effort to aspects of their voice, so that they create insufficient sound waves to be easily audible. It’s like trying to pick up an object with the hand, but leaving the fingers so floppy that the object slips through them. This is not because that person is lazy, or doesn’t care if you can hear them or not. It’s much more likely that they don’t have a strong physical sense of the energy needed to make themselves heard.

Often there’s a background of criticism, (possibly self criticism) in their lives that makes them reluctant to fully voice their thoughts. They may speak “off voice”, a kind of breathy sound such as we hear a lot in film and tv these days. That’s fine when there are powerful microphones and sound systems picking up and transmitting that soft sound – although I admit I find it intensely irritating and monotonous, even if I can make out what they are saying – but that’s another story.

When someone speaks consistently in this breathy, semi-whispered manner, not only do they fail to be heard properly, they are also potentially damaging their vocal apparatus.

Just speaking quietly is not dangerous to the voice, but it’s not good if you need people to hear you for your work. It’s a fairly simple matter to learn how to provide a more consistent supply of air pressure to the vocal folds, and to keep the upper chest, throat and neck muscles relaxed so that they don’t provide a barrier to sound waves leaving the body. Learning to relax the jaw, and open the throat more allows for more sound waves to be created for no more effort, and that means more volume.

Then, of course, the new behaviour patterns associated with making more sound have to be gotten used to. Learning to listen to oneself without judgement, observing the physical sensations of making a full-bodied sound, and being mindful of those sensations as well as the actual sound itself gives the speaker control over their means of vocal expression. When you know how to do it, you can modify your own behaviour, getting louder or softer at will.

Next time, I’ll talk about how to address mumbling.


Clarity of Thought and how to get it

I once wrote a poem about trying to write a poem. It goes like this:

It’s never enough

The words inside my head

Scrambling for freedom

It’s never enough

The space between the words

Inviting interference.

It’s not enough

To know, to have, to feel.

There must be


Outside my head

A clear perceptive silence

Room to manoeuvre.

Tony Brockman (Jerome) and Flloyd Kennedy (June)

Then I decided to include this poem in a play about an actor who was also a poet. It became a shared moment between the actor and her grandson, a way for him to demonstratte to her that he had read her work. But as soon as we (I played the actor) began rehearsing the scene, I realised that it was also highly relevant to acting itself.

The actor who is responsible for expressing a memorised text is especially challenged, dealing with words inside the head, all vying for their turn to come out.
Every moment the actor is not actually speaking, the challenge is to stay attentive and responsive, while yet more words flit in and out of consciousness, demanding attention, adding new challenges and sometimes even trying to change the subject.
A “clear perceptive silence” is something we have to earn, and yet it is also the very thing that makes the difference between a clump of chatter and a dialogue.
The answer, then, is to own that silence, to make the text that is expressed as much about the silence as it is about the semantics of the words and phrases. I’m not suggesting great big unnecessarily long pauses. I’m talking about the space, both aural and physical, that allows language, in the form of speech, to be wholly itself.
Silence, in spoken text, is the equivalent of rests in a musical score. Without the rests, there is no room for the listener. And if we don’t want the listener to be part of what we are doing, why on earth are we doing it?
I look forward to your comments.

Who Benefits from Voice Training?

Teachers – lawyers – writers – broadcasters – actors (film, tv and theatre) – journalists – doctors – preachers – counsellors – lecturers – salespeople – executives – committee members – public servants (including politicians) – entrepreneurs – and that’s just the start…

Writers? Why should they develop their vocal skills and potential? They just sit in a quite room and write, right? Well, sure, until they get published, and have to go on publicity tours, giving readings from their work in front of audiences of potential readers, and being interviewed on radio and tv. How many writers have you heard reading so fast, and in such a monotonous voice that you either fell asleep, or switched off?

Entrepreneurs? They just need to have a an idea, right? Wrong! Startup Pitch Competitions are all the rage these days, and if you want to win you need to be able to express your idea clearly, generously and attractively.

3. Pay attention to voice.
This one is a deal breaker at a tech conference: Don’t be the one with the slick salesman voice. Oversell your nascent product and you lose credibility real fast. “Be real, be conversational,” says Dave McClure, founder of the tech accelerator 500startups.

That is the advice from Lyndsay Blakely, Senior Editor at Inc.com. Being real and conversational in a high stakes, tense situation takes practice, and voice training gives you the tools to do this.

I can’t list all the walks of life that would benefit from a touch of vocal awareness and a program of exercises to strengthen and expand vocal power and quality. Basically, anyone who uses their voice to communicate with more than two or three people at a time would benefit from some voice training.

Fresh Voice! The Acting Class 2012

The next block of voice and acting classes will take place on Sunday mornings, from 9.30 am to 12.30 pm. 

7th October – 25th November

The Voice Class integrates pure voicework with physicality, creative expression and performance technique.

The Voice Class works with the movement of breath in the moving body, to facilitate passionate, nuanced, intelligent self-expression and communication. The overall objective is BEING consistently and totally present IN the act of sounding the VOICE. Join us for seven  three hour sessions, exploring your vocal potential with and without text. Contemporary and classic texts.

“How wonderful is the human voice! It is indeed the organ of the soul!” Longfellow

Pure voice, vocal maintenance, storytelling, public speaking, audition monologues, text analysis

Cost: 7 (3 hour) sessions: $360
(Earlybird – pay before 30 August 2012 – $320)

Contact Flloyd to enquire.

Flloyd’s work has been influenced by some of the world’s foremost voice and theatre practitioners, including Valerii Galendiev of The Maly Drama Theatre of St Petersburg, Anna Petrova of the Moscow Art Theatre SchoolKrszysztov MiklasewskiFrankie Armstrong, Kristin Linklater, Harriet Buchan (Roy Hart work), Marcia McCallum, Catherine Fitzmaurice, Ira Seidenstein (Quantum Clown) and Tim Smith (Vocal Alchemy)

“Flloyd is a committed and passionate advocate for the power of the actor. Her knowledge of the literature, theory, practice, and history of the theatre (and of the use of the voice in particular) is deep and comprehensive. Working with Flloyd is like hanging out with an old and dearly loved friend, a friend who will help you to improve and inspire you to greater creativity with laughter and a fierce love of the art form.” John Graham

“Flloyd is a fantastic actress and director… which naturally lends its way to her being a brilliant teacher. I’ve worked with Flloyd as a director first, then I had the opportunity to share the stage with her! But I mostly loved working with her as a student through her Archetypes and Being in Voice classes. She encourages you to explore your imagination through movement and voice. She actually pulls your voice inside out so that you are not only using your “voice”, but the voice within that wants to rise to the surface! I miss her and her classes, very much and only wish I could steal her away from Brissy, and permanently place her in Houston, Texas!”  Lyndsay Sweeney

“The penny dropped, and I realised that voice work is not a ‘nice to have’, but the foundation on which is built any hope of connecting with an audience”

“What Flloyd teaches has relevance beyond conventional theatre and acting, it can be applied in so many ways and walks of life”

“I was so impressed with the amount of info covered – the biology, theory, research, a huge range of vocal exercises, and then to integrate this so well with performance, authenticity, playfulness and mindfulness on stage.”

“Thank God for Flloyd and her classes! Inspiring, fun and challenging… I would recommend these classes to any actor”

“If you live in Brisbane join up!! It’s the most fun and beneficial thing an actor can do for voice, imagination and body!” 

As well as vocal function, and vocal maintenance, we will explore our full vocal range with techniques of lamentation and many different singing techniques. We will also examine how we use our voices to share our inner lives, and to invite others to see the world the way we see it, in the present moment, through a learned text.

At the end of the seven sessions, you will be ready to audition – if that is what you wish to do.

You don’t need to be an experienced actor, or a singer, to benefit from and enjoy this work. On the other hand, professional actors, singers and voice users will find the work refreshing and invigorating.

I have just had the weirdest experience, where two worlds appear to have collided, and changed places in the universe.

The two worlds are those of theatre practice and theory of theatre.  They are mythical worlds, because only those individuals who try to maintain that they are, indeed, pure or separate or totally independent of each other actually believe that they exist. I was one of them once, as a practitioner, before I embarked upon my own academic research project and began to understand something of the value of theoretical scholarship. But it is fair to say that there are still many academic theorists who have little understanding of the nature of actual, on the shop floor, theatre practice, and many theatre practitioners cling to a deep skepticism of the work of academics.

This past week, Brisbane was home to the annual conference of the Australasian Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies Association (ADSA), the organization that supports those in tertiary education who teach and research and write in scholarly journals about such matters. This was my third ADSA conference in six years. I attended two sessions, and ran a workshop, and I was astonished at the vibrancy of the presentations, the depth of the insights into specific examples of current theatre practice, the rigour of the self reflections by practitioner/researchers of their own practice, and the entertaining style of the presentations.  It was revelatory, not just in the sense that new ideas were offered, and old ones busted, but that a new wave of academics has burst upon the scene who know what they are talking about when it comes to theatre practice.

Imagine my surprise, therefore, when I went to the theatre tonight, and saw on stage a new play that is not so much a play, as an exposition of a theory of performance, a methodological exegesis of an idea of theatre. I apologise for the gratuitous big words, there is no excuse for using big words just to demonstrate that I have a university degree. In the above context, they mean absolutely nothing, so you are not missing anything. In the same way, presenting meta-theatre as theatre means absolutely nothing, so the play I saw tonight was largely, in effect if not in fact, nothing.

Now, you might be forgiven for thinking I am just a wee bit grumpy about this.  And you’d be right. I happen to think theatre has a very important role to play in sustaining, if not enhancing a cohesive society. It does this by offering a community of individuals the opportunity to experience, together, ways of reflecting upon their own lives, of examining and challenging their assumptions and prejudices, of imagining fantastical extensions of their lives and experiences, by exposing them to unfamiliar ways of being human, and doing all this in enjoyable and stimulating ways.  This requires skillful practitioners, capable of working collaboratively, imaginatively and usually with very limited resources.

I’m not grumpy with the people involved. The writer Anna McGahan (who is also the actor Anna McGahan) and director Melanie Wild have attempted something very ambitious, a play about an impending revolution with multiple characters and several underlying themes, all deserving of our attention. The actors Norman Doyle and Katy Curtain create those characters with skill and varying degrees of complexity. The design team provide exciting visual elements to stimulate the senses. The problem, for an audience member, is that there is no clarity of purpose, no sense of direction within the play itself, on its own terms, which could give me access to whatever was driving it – apart from the apparent aim of demonstrating how clever its makers could be. I really don’t think that is what they set out to do, but that is how it comes over.  The title is no help at all.  The writer’s “playwright’s note” in the program talks about “why people touch” and “what we gain, and what we lose, when we let somebody touch us”. But apart from the fact that the two actors never (or hardly ever, I can’t swear that they never) touch, this is not a play about touch, or lack of touch. There are no insights or revelations or even explorations about the nature of touch, or how people are affected by the lack of human contact.  There is nothing in this production that actually touches the audience either, in a physical or metaphorical sense, apart from the courage of the performers in being there at all, and the clever visual elements.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t go to the theatre with the primary aim of being impressed by clever writing, or clever directing, or clever visuals or even clever acting.  I go to experience life as I understand it to exist, through somebody else’s eyes and experience. I go to be moved, touched, inspired, appalled, shocked, entertained, amused, aroused, and lots of other words starting with a.  I don’t go to be insulted, humiliated, degraded or derided or patronised.  When even one of those things happens, I get grumpy.

You can read my review of He’s Seeing Other People Now (Metro Arts until July 21) over at www.criticalmassblog.net.