And Now For Something Completely Different!

News just in… I am about to head over to the UK for a 10 month stint teaching voice at E15 Acting School.  It’s impossible to tell you just how excited I am.June Meme 01

First, of course, there is my upcoming solo show, “Yes, Because…” which opens at the New Globe Theatre, 220 Brunswick Street, Fortitude Valley, 6th, 7th and 8th September at 7.00 pm.  Tickets are now on sale online at Trybooking or you can contact me directly, with your phone number and I will call you back to take your booking.  This is a show about acting, touring, ageing, parenting, and – of course – Shakespeare!

And I am still working with the delightful film students at FilmTV Studio International for another couple of weeks, and with the first year acting students at QUT until just before I leave.

Private students may continue to work with me via Skype while I am away.  As well as teaching into this amazing course (E15 was  the highest ranked drama school in the UK in a recent National Survey), I’ll be catching up on the latest movement in voice and actor training in the UK and Europe, and soaking up as much theatre as I possibly can. So when I come back next year, there will be much to share.

Great Group Warmups 1 – The Ball Game

2015-03-22 13.54.14Picture the scene: a group of eighteen intelligent, imaginative and hard working actors, or sales people, or executives, or teachers – for example… They are all present and on the floor in good time for the session, standing in a circle and laughing and chatting nervously, excitedly.

Two questions:

  1. What is the fastest way to get their attention, to help them to become focussed and to stay focussed for the rest of the session?
  2. Why would you want to do that?

The quick answer to 2. is easy: because they will learn more if they give the work in hand their full attention. Of course. But more important than that, they will discover that being focussed, and staying focussed takes practice, practice, practice. It is a skill in itself that has to be acquired. And when you have that skill, you can apply it to anything. So learning to be focussed in the class or workshop means you are able to be focussed during the rehearsal, performance, seminar, presentation, or whatever it is that you do for a living.

So back to question 1. You could try shouting at them to be quiet, or ring a bell, or just stand there silently until they realise you are waiting for them. I suggest that it is more fun, and a lot faster, to throw a soft (non bouncy) juggling ball to one of them, and indicate that they should throw it randomly to others in the group. As soon as they get the idea, introduce another ball. Almost inevitably, someone will groan, or swear, or laugh, or all of the above. Now you call the balls back in, and explain what is happening.

2015-03-22 13.48.52There are many versions of this game, with different trainers putting their individual stamp upon their version. I learnt one such way from John Britton, of Duende Ensemble, and now I do it my way. I hope you do it your way.

There are people who are naturally good at ball games, and I am not one of them. When I first found myself in a circle of 12 people with 3 – 5 – 8 balls flying around, I was terrified. I dropped them, threw them wildly, was hit by them and spent a lot of time crawling around the floor picking them up. Great workout!

So what is the point? The point is, the goal is not to be good at catching and throwing balls. The goal is to keep the balls moving within the group. You are a completely autonomous individual within the group, responsible for yourself and your actions, AND responsible for the group. The group is the individuals who make it up. If – as can happen – all the balls are simultaneously on the ground because they were all missed or dropped at once, the group is alive because the appropriate individuals are working to find them, pick them up and keep them moving. Everyone else is actively waiting, in a state of readiness to allow the balls to move. NOT being cross or embarrassed  because the balls were dropped, but alive and interested in this apparent conundrum, this miracle of all the balls falling to the ground at once! How often does that happen? Marvellous!!!

So if you miss one, pick it up and keep it moving. If you miss it, and it lands nearer to someone else, let them pick it up and you give your attention to the balls that you may have the opportunity to catch. You do what you can, for yourself, and for the group. You never abandon your individuality, and you never allow your personal needs or ambitions or insecurities to overwhelm the group. The ball teaches you that.

As John is quick to remind us in his workshops, “the ball is inanimate. It does nothing itself. It can only do what you ask it to do. Notice what it does, and realise that you asked it to do that!” The ball is your teacher, helping you to learn something about your own physical and mental processes.

If you or your cohort have a tendency to be competitive – as often happens in Australian settings – call it an exercise, rather than a game. Or make it very clear that a game is something you play, not something you win or lose.

Whatever variation you choose to play, always remember that no exercise, in and of itself, is any use unless you know why you are doing it. For actors, the ball serves as a metaphor for their connection with each other, and with their audience. Every ball is a gift (as John says), so give it freely, and receive it gracefully. Rather than chucking it wildly, share it generously. Rather than hesitating, waiting for the perfect moment when you have decided who is to receive it, and waited till they are ready, allow your body to know where the ball is going before your mind does.

Of course, your brain is deeply involved in what your body is doing, but your CONSCIOUS mind doesn’t know until it is actually happening. This is fact. Don’t just believe me, check the neuro-science.

So if you realise, as you let go of the ball, that it is heading for someone who is at that moment ducking down to pick up another ball, acknowledge the fact and release your attention to balls that may be already flying your way. Once you let go of the ball, it is no longer your responsibility – just as once you say your text, you cannot un-say it, or take it back. As an actor, or a public speaker, this is important to understand, to accept, and to deal with. Once you have shared your thoughts out loud, what the audience makes of them is actually none of your business.

The ball serves as a metaphor for so many aspects of performance,2015-03-21 10.33.57 of expression, of communication and of collaboration, I could go on and on. The most important element of a warmup, whether it is with a group or on your own, is to connect what you are doing in the warmup exercises to what you are about to do when you finish the warmup.

Note that I am not using the word “creative”. That is because it is currently being used throughout the performing arts in a manner that has effectively changed the meaning of the word. I’m actively looking for a new one., and that’s a topic for another blog some time.

I’d love to hear your ideas about what this particular exercise could be used for. How do you think it could help to bring a group together, to work industriously and effectively.

4 Elements of a Great Group Warm up

nigel-et-alYes, I know I’ve written on this topic before, and I promise you I certainly will again, because there is always more to be discovered about the benefits of a warmup up.

Specifically, today I want to discuss the reasons why a performance group should always warm up together. The Group Warmup.

Anyone who has ever experienced a bad group warmup will want to escape now. Please don’t. Please stick around. Warm ups are like meals. A tough, over-cooked (or soggy under-cooked) one can put you off forever, because it leaves you with nothing but a bad taste and spoils your appetite for the rest of the day. A delicious, tasty, nutritious one leaves you satisfied and enthusiastic to face whatever the day may bring.

Bad warm ups can be boring, repetitive or disorganised with no sense of WHY. Running a sequence of stretches and vocal exercises just for the sake of doing them is NOT a group warmup. It’s a sequence of stretches and vocal exercises. It might get you, the individual, warmed up, but it does nothing for group cohesion, for establishing a collaborative framework that sets up the group for a successful collaborative, creative project – rehearsal or performance.

Effective group warm ups include exercises that are specific for the task about to be undertaken, and it is imperative that everyone in the group knows exactly what each exercise is for and why it has been included in the sequence. Everyone in the group must take responsibility for their own, and for the group’s engagement. No leaders, and no followers. The warmup is something you do together, simultaneously, so you can’t hang back and always rely on someone else to remind you what comes next.

Treat the warmup as an acting exercise, because that is what it is. You and your colleagues are practising making something together, something you value, something you want to share with each other, and with an audience. Every instant within the warmup is to be lived, inhabited, to the full, and then allowed to pass because the next instant is upon you, and it has to be experienced to the full. This is marvellous training for being on stage, or in front of the camera. ‘Being in the moment’ is not something you just switch on as you walk on stage. It requires skill, and you only get to be skilled at something by practising it regularly. If you are performing on stage with other performers, supported by a stage management and technical team, you have to practise being in the moment together, all of you (YES, that includes the SM and tech people too! Any theatre company that aspires to work as an ensemble should be warming up ensemble – i.e. together.)

Here is my list of all the elements that you are warming up:

  1. your whole body – including muscles, joints, organs, blood vessels, breath flow and vocal apparatus
  2. your intellect – powers of concentration, specificity of thought processes
  3. your imagination – creating powerful reasons for each action and interaction, integrating the work you are doing on your character/s and relationships with other actors/characters
  4. your community – which includes your colleagues, the characters in the play you are rehearsing, and your audience (real and imagined}

When all of these elements  are developed together playfully and skilfully, you will complete the group warmup in a state of readiness, of active and creative anticipation for the work you are about to embark upon. When you go onstage after a really well-designed, integrated, thoroughly engaged warmup, your audience receives the gift of your actual total presence – they sense it before they see or hear you. What A Joy!

Next time, I’ll set out some of my favourite warm ups for group work. You will also find exercises and sequences that work for personal and for group work in the Being in Voice app, available in the iTunes App Store.

 

Endless Possibilities

20141018_123249Yesterday I spent the day playing with a new (to me) group of acting students: What A Blast! We began by discovering the FACT that voice is sound, sound is vibration, vibration can be felt in the body and in the air outside of the body. Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it’s not actually there!  And of course, once you feel it and experience it as a physical occurrence, you can own it, grow it, play with it.

We travelled to the land of Omnia, learnt the local language (Omnish, of course, which includes all the sounds of all the languages of the world that are known), held elections and honoured the poet laureate of Omnia.

With our newfound linguistic skills and appreciation of the complexity and the endless possibilities of speech sounds, we then addressed our English texts and blew ourselves away. In the best possible way.

My thanks to the 2014 Film & Television Studio International Foundation Class for a stupendous day of growth and fun.

 

 

Intro to Voice and Speech Workshop

Please wear comfortable, loose or stretch pants and t-shirts. Be prepared for floor and physical work. Bring a notebook and pencil. Memorise your chosen text, either from those below, or something you already know.

11-1pm

Total Voice: what it is, how to look after it – and why.

Warming up the whole body, toning up the voice, building on your voice as the means of expressing yourself – and your text.

2-4pm

Total Speech: what it is, what it involves, how to use language effectively

Discovering the points of articulation, different categories of speech sounds, how these affect your text

4-5pm

Total Text: what it is, how to make it your own – Every Time

Acting with text, integrating your knowledge, your skills and somebody else’s words to create a character that is rich and alive.

From Clear Speech to General American

Sounds easy, but of course there is skill involved, and that takes practice.  Join us for 2 half day workshops on 9th November, and learn the most direct, holistic (in terms of the anatomy of articulation, pronunciation, rhythm and melody) process for speaking skilfully, in any accent. But this time, we’ll be focussing on so-called General American, the accent you will need if you aim to work in  Hollywood movies.IMG_5727

Limited places, and these are filling up fast. Contact me to reserve your place with a small deposit.