Voice and Character

One of the most common questions I am asked is “how do I find my Character’s voice”, to which I usually reply, find the physicality of the character, and the voice happens.

One thing is for sure, if you try to invent a voice, all you will end up with is an invented voice.  Your audience will probably think you are very clever at ‘doing voices’, but if so, it means they have been distracted from the content of your performance by the ‘voice’.

Recently, I saw a production which I found interesting, engaging and intriguing, for many reasons. It was a well-crafted script, by a new young writer. The subject matter was meant to be ‘provocative’ – the publicity implied that it was intended to be immediately understood by YOUNG people, and hence challenging to older people.  As one of those older people, the only challenge I felt was to recall my own youth, because it was very similar to the experience being enacted on stage. Yes, folks, when I was 25 I was confused, I was lost, I went through identity crises, I couldn’t connect with other people, or life in general. So what’s new? hmmm let me think. Maybe iPhones are new. But as for people, life, love, bad decisions and loss of dignity, no, nothing new there.

The performances were, on the whole, excellent. There was that rare occurrence at the very beginning, when the lights went up and the characters on stage began to interact, of a frisson of excitement as I realised that they were already characters, rather than actors on stage. I like that.

However, there was something strange going on with two of the performances. They were both very clear, intelligent, and emotionally honest, but I still couldn’t forget, even for a second, that they were acting. I’ve given it a lot of thought, and I’ve decided that the problem lay in the voices, that is, the voices of the characters. They didn’t reflect the physicality of the characters, they didn’t RESONATE with the actual physicality of the actors/characters. The body said one thing, the voice said another. What I saw were actors committing to the physical status, health and well-being of the characters, while still sounding with ‘acting’ voices. Go figure.

Voice is Physical

I’ve been having a lot of really challenging, and incredibly productive discussions lately with friends and colleagues, about what the voice is, how it is, why it is, and how I work with it, both as a teacher and as a performer.

In this little clip of students playing with ‘material essences’ they are exploring different movement qualities, the experience of moving in unaccustomed ways, and the effect that the physical movement qualities have on the voice itself, as it speaks.

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Preparing a Monologue

Now that you’ve chosen a monologue to work with, here are some thoughts and ideas about how to begin to approach the text.

Start by thinking about, and acknowledging where you want to end up – sounding as if you know what you are talking about – sounding as if you are the character who actually speaks those specific words because they express what the character needs to say at that moment.

Rather than trying to ‘do acting’ at the beginning, begin by getting familiar with the actual words, by taking the time to say those words clearly, honestly and specifically.

I’ve chosen a short passage from Romeo and Juliet, but the same principle applies to contemporary text, to ALL text.

Choosing a Monologue – the Podcast

At last, I think I have figured out the system!  If you’d like to hear, rather than read, the blog on Choosing a Monologue, here it is:

Now, if you want to hear The Master talking about film acting, and giving some absolutely fantastic tips, here is Michael Caine being interviewed for The Film Programme, BBC Radio 4.