Being in the Presence of Silence

Silence is not the absence of sound, it is presence.Gordon Hempton

As any of my students will tell you, I’m almost fanatical about silence. I get them to do weird things, like paying attention to the quality of the silence in the room after they have finished vocalising a sound. I even insist that they leave their mouths open, jaws relaxed, for a few seconds, maintaining the sense that they are still in the act of communicating, or expressing themselves – only now it is not via vocalised sound, it is via the quality of the silence they have created, which exists in the room. In fact, the sound waves they have just created have changed the sound of the room, and that change needs to be respected.

Because the room already has a sound quality, before we speak in it. Any room, any theatre, any space, as Gordon Hempton demonstrates in the interview above.

Listen to the podcast, recorded by Krista Tippett

As communicators, whether we are actors, public speakers, educators, lawyers, or any kind of professional speaker, we need silence in our vocalised speech just as much as musicians need pauses in music. Language is a form of music, whether improvised or memorised, and how we honour the silences within it are hugely influential on how effective we are.

Listening is a skill, and we need to practise it. Gordon Hemphill remembers the day he realised his listening had been so focussed upon filtering out everything but what he thought was the most important thing being SAID that he failed to hear what was happening, what was present in his life at any given moment.

True silence does not exist, not on planet earth with an atmosphere and oceans.Gordon Hemphill

Practise listening. Go for a walk around your neighbourhood, collecting all the different sounds you can detect – big cars, little cars, footsteps, conversations (don’t eavesdrop, just observe the qualities of the voices), animals, birds, wind in the trees – anything at all. Sit in the park, and see if you can filter out the man-made sounds and find some wildlife to listen to. (By the way, leave your phone at home).

Take the time, during your warmup, to stay with the sound in the room at the end, and at the beginning of each exercise. Notice is there is a difference between the two states. Enjoy them. You are part of them. That presence that exists in ‘silence’ is available for you to be part of. Your presence depends upon your acknowledging it, and owning it.

New Theme for the New Year

Yes, it’s a brand new look for 2017, long overdue. It will take me a while to get it all in order, but the links still work – and so do I!

Spring flowers in Wales, always something to look forward to

Wishing you a peaceful, healthy new year, and I look forward to hearing your joyful expressive voices spreading ideas and sharing your creative passions.

Who’s Up For a Workshop?

IMG_0743The flights are booked, and I’ll be in Brisbane from 7th July to 11th August.

This is an early call-out to anyone interested in exploring the technique of Archetypes and Text, i.e. using the concept of Archetypes to create fully embodied, vocally expressive characters.  Great for devising a show from scratch, and also for livening up fully scripted performances – from audition monologues to ensemble productions. I can offer anything from 3 hours (taster) to 2 days (in depth).

Let me know if you are interested, for yourself or your group.  Price will depend upon numbers. More participants = lower fee.

Brief Encounter with an Archetype

Archetypes 01‘I enjoyed your workshop yesterday very much. It felt a bit like Commedia del Arte without masks and without having to keep to your character’s stereotype. Using text with these archetypes was a great exercise towards “truthfulness” of the lines. As an actor I want to be flexible and open for new things when I work on a character and going through the different archetypes with the text allows me to train that flexibility and openness I want to achieve.’

Yesterday afternoon I had the great pleasure of introducing a small group of 3rd year students to the process and concept of working with Archetypes.  I volunteered to give a free workshop, and they chose to show up of their own free will. What. A. Blast.

Why do I like this process so much?  Because it is a fantastic way to experience failure, over and over again, until you learn to love it – failing. ‘Love me, or leave me’ goes the song, and each Archetype seems to promise love and security right up to the moment when you think you have captured its essence, and then you realise you have slipped into Stereotype and have to start again.

Because there is no such thing as an Archetype. It’s an idea, a way of being human, and humans are made in such a way that we are all complex combinations of lots of Archetypal qualities. When the actor tries to embody a specific  Archetype, she brings all her cultural and social and behavioural experience to the task, and is obliged to recognise, and then to begin stripping away all judgement, bias and prejudice – or as much as possible. And it is impossible to strip it all away, so again, she experiences failure.

So rather than engage with the Archetypes as intellectual or cultural Archetypes 02concepts, we engage with them physically. We explore the physical sensations of imagining the features of the mask of the Archetype as our own features. We experience how the body shifts, how its alignment, its centre shifts as it responds to the act of imagination by becoming the body that accommodates the mask/features. We adopt the belief system of the particular Archetype, its own sense of self and then we discover how the voice also responds physically (and therefore aurally) to the imaginative act.

This work is deep, intellectually and physically challenging.  You don’t ‘get it’ in a 3 hour workshop. You get a taste, a tantalising glimpse of its possibilities. I hope you also become infected with the desire to explore it further, and all the amazing and impossibly possible of ways of being human.

The Magic of Omnish

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Warming up for Omnish

We are halfway through my final term of teaching voice in my current position, and this morning I had one of those magical moments that make teaching acting students so special.

Our first years are all taking turns at leading a short warm-up in class, and I’ve been at great pains to encourage them to be inventive, to mix and match exercises they may have learnt elsewhere, to make connections between their voice training and all their other classes and training. And boy, have they responded, with humming while doing squats and star jumps, different emotional sighs, singing rounds (including something from The Hunger Games), and an amazing range of tongue twisters – including “Benedict Cumberbatch”.

This morning, a student concluded his program by inviting everyone to speak in Omnish*, fully physicalising/embodying various emotional states as he called them out. Next, the instructions were to find your partner on the opposite side of the room and tell them how you felt in Omnish after the warm up leader called out various scenarios. The first was “pissed off”, the next was “you really love them, but you can’t actually touch them”. Then he selected one pair, who expressed their annoyance with each other (most vigorously!) until he sent in another actor to try and calm them down; then another walked past and attracted their attention, changing the dynamics of the scene until yet another entered and the mood and tone shifted again.

At this stage I suggested to the leader that he invite others to join in, one at a time, as if it were the situation of the monologue they are working on. They would begin speaking in Omnish and then slip into English whenever they felt like it.

So. Much. Fun.  I would pay money to see that play.

*Omnish is the language, invented by Dudley Knight for Knight-Thompson Speechworks, which includes every sound that occurs in every language that is known to exist in the world at the present time.