Giving a Voice to Everyone: Where Would You Start?

Here’s something that has been bugging me for many years – in fact, it’s the reason I undertook to do a PhD on the subject of a theory of the voice.

Given that most people have no idea how much their voices contribute to how they feel about themselves, and how they are perceived by others, where do we start to get ‘the word’ out there, and change this situation?

Should we start in kindergarten, getting small children to play with sound creatively, and safely, in much the same way that they are encouraged to explore their developing bodies in the playground, and in sporting activities? That would require teachers who know how to do it.

So do we start by educating teachers – not just kindergarten, or play school attendants, but primary and secondary teachers – to understand how the voice functions, what is good healthy vocal practice and what is to be avoided? Because it is no use just getting small children to think about their voices, it has to be consistently reinforced throughout their school lives. But who would train the trainers? How would we persuade those who set the syllabus for training teachers that this is a necessary thing to do?

Or, to follow another track, should we start with babies, and that means with parents? But how to get the parents to realise that they should be paying attention to their babies’ vocal health, as well as other aspects of their physical lives?

I suspect that parents who were educated from an early age (say, kindergarden) to respect their voices, to own them as the very sound of themselves, to use them creatively and yet healthily, would indeed be inclined to care about what their children were doing with their voices. There would be much more attention paid to kids screaming if their parents and teachers knew how many screamers would develop vocal nodules, and therefore limit their vocal power, range and flexibility before they even hit their teens.

One of my students will be travelling to South America in a few months to spend some time volunteering her services as an extra pair of hands in an orphanage. It fills me with joy, not only to think of the phenomenal experience she will have, but also because we are now exploring how she can pass on what she is learning about her voice to a bunch of kids on the other side of the world. This means giving them a voice, not in a metaphorical sense, but in the very real sense of empowering them to speak for themselves creatively and healthily.

I can’t get into the heads of the politicians and the bureaucrats who think that training teachers to care for their own vocal health is a waste of time (and there have been many instances of programs to do just that being cut back and eliminated). I am hoping that by writing this PhD I will get the word out to one or two academics who might be in a position to spread the word further.

In the meantime, it’s one student at a time.

And it’s one step at a time, as I continue this week with the Walk In Her Shoes Challenge, to raise money for women and young girls in poverty who spend so much time walking just to survive that they cannot enjoy an education, or develop their communities. You can support the cause by donating here, or just cheer me on!

Back in Brisbane, Back in Action

It’s been quite a journey, from Phoenix to New Jersey to Seattle and thence back to Brisbane. I had a wonderful time with my family, getting to know the grandchildren all over again, meeting up with colleagues in New York, Seattle and LA.

Two Naughty Kids

Now, it’s back to the beautiful sunshine of soon to be wintry Brisbane. Private lessons begin again next week, and I’ll be offering some workshops very soon for those of you who appreciate the opportunity to work in a group.

Meantime, I’ve just set a discussion topic on my Facebook page, sparked off by an article by Christopher Hitchens here. Perhaps you’d prefer to add your comments right here, so here’s what I said:

“He speaks openly and very movingly about his experience of losing his speaking voice through throat cancer, and how he discovered its connection to his writing voice.

“When I began writing my thesis on the performing voice several years ago, one of the first observations I made was that we needed to make a distinction between the various ways we use the word “voice”, in order to promote discussion about the speaking voice. Hitchens makes the distinction, but also demonstrates the connection between the ‘actual’ (as in speaking aloud) and the ‘metaphorical’ voice.

“How do you feel about this distinction/connection?”Read More

Voice: body and breath

Yesterday, I went along to ASU with my friend and colleague Associate Professor Micha Espinosa, to attend her advanced voice class at ASU.

What a joy!  With a mat, a small zafu and a small yellow ball, for two hours we rolled, relaxed, observed, breathed, voiced, observed, sighed, trembled, stretched and relaxed some more. This was Fitzmaurice Voicework par excellence, with Micha’s personal injection of joy and intensity.  Like most Fitzmaurice teachers, Micha incorporates and adapts exercises from other methodologies and invents her own as the need arises.  It was wonderful to allow myself to relax into student/performer mode, and indulge myself in the activities.

The next class was a group of 20 undergraduate students, a beginners’ class, and unfortunately for her, but luckily for me, the scheduled teacher had a bad bout of laryngitis, so I was invited to run the class.  I introduced them to Ira Seidenstein’s Core Mechanics,  and my version of the Vocal Function exercises.

Time and time again I found myself quoting Dame June Bloom, rephrasing my own character creation, as I explained the function and purpose of the various exercises, the relevance to performance itself – as against just being an exercise.  Hopefully some of the students will be encouraged to come and enjoy the Thunder’s Mouth Theatre show at the Phoenix Fringe.

I now realise all the links to my handouts were broken when I transferred this blog over from WordPress.com to my own hosted site with WordPress.org.  It will take me a while to get them all back up, but in the meantime, here are the Core Mechanics.

 

Exploring Archetypes = Exploring Your Self

Yesterday’s workshop at ASU was intense, and fun

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Ten participants, 6 hours of intensive work. We managed to explore 5 archetypes – Hero, Huntress, Child, Fool and Maiden.

I work with the Archetypes as devised by John Wright for mask training. John uses masks to engender movement qualities, extending the performer’s physical vocabulary. As one of the participants pointed out yesterday, you find yourself moving in ways you would never normally think you could.

Frankie Armstrong has also worked with John, developing the Voices of the Archetypes (There is an audio cassette available, with Frankie and John working together, but I can’t find it online. Worth hunting for). Frankie utilises story-telling and especially motifs from mythology to create imagined worlds for the students to inhabit, and she leads the students into vocal experimentation that is deeply liberating.  Frankie has also worked with Janet B. Rodgers to produce a book, Acting and Singing with Archetypes, rich with exercises for  applying the concept of Archetypes to text work.

My own work has evolved since I trained with John and Frankie, in a slightly different direction to that taken by Frankie Armstrong and Janet Rodgers.  I like to encourage students to transform between the Archetypes, and to discover that place of ‘unknowingness’ that occurs somewhere in between. It’s hard to describe, but once you’ve experienced it, you recognise it as an instant of complete openness and vulnerability. It’s pretty scary!

I introduce each Archetype by describing the mask, using Frankie Armstrong’s description of John Wright’s actual masks (on the audio cassette). The students are invited to imagine these features as their own, and then to explore how their bodies respond to the facial features they now support. We then explore movement, sound, and text from the physicality and perspective of those bodies.

Archetypes are ways of being human. They don’t actually exist, they are ideas that seem to be hard-wired into our brains, or woven into the fibre of our being. We recognise the idea of an archetype when it manifests in a particular person, or story. For example, after introducing Hero to the workshop yesterday, but before identifying the mask, one student commented that he thought he was Hugh Jackman.  Of course, Hugh Jackman is a real person, and an actor, but he is known to play heroic characters, and we recognise the qualities of the Archetype of Hero that those characters have in common.

So, lots of fun to be had, along with some extremely challenging and intense practice.  There are no quick fixes here, until the training is well embedded into the body. I wish my Phoenix students much joy and many exciting challenges as they continue their explorations into the Archetypes.

There is a handout available here with an essay on the nature of Archetypes, and some descriptions of the masks.

Acting Workshop in Phoenix – Voice and the Archetypes

I arrived in Phoenix, Arizona on Saturday, after a 12 hour flight with Qantas and a one hour flight with South West Airlines.  Essentially, I am here with my theatre company, Thunder’s Mouth Theatre, to perform my show The Fall of June Bloom (or What You Will) for the Phoenix Fringe Festival, however there are some other fringe benefits to this trip as well. (This Fringe has a Fringe!)

For one thing, we are performing first at Estrella Mountain Community College, as part of the Arizona Women’s History Month celebrations.  We haven’t been mentioned on the website, I’ll get that attended to asap!  Our show takes place at 10.00 am on Thursday 24th March, in the Plaza Gallery, just before the EMCC Women’s Leadership Luncheon, which I am also attending.

Before that, though, I will be providing a workshop for graduate MFA students at Arizona State University, Tempe Campus, on Voice and the Archetypes, a full day of intensive training from 10 am to 5 pm (lunch included).  It’s pretty well booked up, but we might be able to squeeze a couple more enthusiastic actors in, if you speak very nicely to Associate Professor Espinosa!

David, Fiona and Melissa exploring Archetypes in The Acting Class