Travel Plans 2014

I am so excited I am almost beside myself.  If there were two of me, we would be jumping up and down and hugging each other. But since it’s just me, myself and I, we will all three of us settle down and share the news.

The actual travel dates are not yet finalised, but this is roughly my itinerary:

Brisbane to Seattle – mid-June

Downtown Seattle

Downtown Seattle

Seattle to New York – late-June-July

New York to Liverpool, UK – mid-August

Liverpool to Au Brana, France – mid-September

then back to Brisbane.

In New York, I’ll be undertaking the Knight-Thompson Teacher Certification course.  In Au Brana I’ll be training with John Britton (Duende-Ensemble) on creating solo performance.

I am also planning to get together with some amazing voice specialists for some one-on-one mentoring in a whole range of vocal techniques – spoken and sung.

2014-05-17 12.25.16

Thunder’s Mouth Theatre’s practically instant “All’s Well That End’s Well”

While I’m in the various locales, I would love to play with some local artists, and I’m cooking up a few different projects to keep me well into the mischief as I go. Check out my Workshops to get an idea of what may be possible. I’m particularly keen to do more !Extreme Shakespeare, similar to the recent “All’s Well That Ends Well” project here in Brisbane.

Click here to let me know if you’d like more details as they come in. 

Enter the Nurse

I am in the delightful position right now of playing one of Shakespeare’s great roles, the nurse in Romeo & Juliet.  Strictly speaking, I’m probably too old for her. After all, she had a baby the same age as Juliet, just under fourteen years ago, and my child-bearing years ended quite some time before that.

street brawl

David Scaroni (Tybalt), Eamonn Clohesy (Mercutio), Sam Valentine (Romeo) and Nicholas Sinclair (Benvolio)

Romeo & Juliet

Georgia Spark (Juliet) and Sam Valentine (Romeo)

Vanja Matula (Lord Capulet) and Flloyd Kennedy (nurse)

Vanja Matula (Lord Capulet) and Flloyd Kennedy (nurse)

But that’s the beauty of theatre, it’s all about illusion, perception, and expectation. I make no effort to create the illusion that I am younger than I am (apart from using a very expensive foundation that was a birthday gift!): I aim to create the illusion that I work for the Capulet family as Juliet’s chief care-giver, and trust that the audience will perceive me as such.   Then it becomes imperative to exceed their expectations.

The great joy of being able to speak Shakespeare’s language is complemented by the adventure of working with a very exciting young company.  Timothy Wynn and Cassandra Ramsey have created a genuinely local, community-based theatre which is deeply professional at its heart. For three years they have engaged a mixture of old and young, experienced and untrained theatre artists to present a range of classic and contemporary texts to the Ipswich community. THAT Production Company is a brave adventure, a generous extension to the local cultural scene, driven by its directors’ passion to provide powerfully entertaining theatre that is relevant and inspiring to its participants as well as to its audiences.

For Romeo + Juliet we have a cast of fourteen performers, aged 16 to I’m Not Telling You, but I can assure you I am the oldest.  Some have a lot of onstage experience, some have very little. Some bring a wealth of experience with Shakespeare, others are from the musical theatre scene. Some are still at school, others are relatively recent graduates from school or college. Our director Tim and producer Cassie have worked tirelessly to treat us all AS professional artists – in other words, as artists who profess THEATRE. (I know there is a separate debate currently in the Queensland theatre community about what constitutes ‘professional’ theatre, and I’m not going to elaborate on that here).

the ball

The Ball

We had a shaky start to our season at Studio 188.  It was a shock to my aged system to discover that this newly renovated church building, custom designed as a studio theatre, owned and managed by the Ipswich Civic Centre, has no bathroom facilities for the artists who work there. The cost of hiring the venue – even for THAT Production Company, which has been named “Company in residence at the Studio 188″-  is so prohibitive that our time preparing in the space was necessarily limited. We also had more than our fair share of illness and unrelated crises among the company members during the rehearsal period, but hey – that’s how it goes.

We are now confidently entering our second, and final week of performances. From tonight (6th May) until Saturday 10th May, at 7.30pm we will share our version, and Tim’s vision, of this well-loved play.  The venue only seats 48, so it’s advisable to book your tickets in advance.

in the tomb

You may have seen it before. You may have studied it at school. You may even have performed in it.  Whatever your experience of the story of these “star-crossed lovers”, I can assure you there is always something new to discover. That’s the magic of Shakespeare’s rich text, and the beauty of live performance.

Play=Peace + Voice!

Mary Alice Long, of Play=Peace (based in Seattle) has just interviewed me via Skype for her series Playmatters! We had a great chat about warming up the voice, gurning, learning to know your voice from the inside, and sharing it with the world.

Also available here on Vimeo.

Preparing for a Vocal Marathon – Part I

Today I was working on Skype with a new client, who asked me for exercises to help her cope with the challenge of a 28 minute narration (voice over). This is a long time for an untrained voice to sustain colour, flexibility and ease. Small wonder she finds herself stumbling over long words and complex phrases. It is not normal to speak to 28 minutes without rest. This is a vocal marathon.

The voice, like any other part of the human anatomy, requires muscles to move it, shape it, colour it, empower it. The voice might take the form of sound waves, invisible to the eye. It might seem to be as easy as breathing – and that’s how we’d like it to sound, no matter how much actual effort it might take to develop the ability to create a particular stream of sound. it’s good old muscle power that makes it all happen.

So what do we do when we want to be stronger, faster, more flexible, more powerful – fitter – than “normal”? Yep, we go to the gym. That’s exactly what we need to do with out voices if we want them to be able to do feats of extraordinary power, passion, or just length!

If we want stronger muscles, we do weight training. The trainer introduces us to the different machines, explaining how they work, what muscle sets they apply to, what weight level to start with, and how many repetitions.

If you want a stronger voice, one that will sustain you through the challenges of a day at the chalk face (old fashioned way of talking about school teaching), or a full day rehearsal, a 3 hour performance of a play or an opera, or several hours in court, then you must get along to the vocal gym, learn the exercises (and why they are what they are), start with the minimum repetitions, and then over time build them up to more, and more challenging lengths.

The Mini Vocal Warmup, available on the app, or downloadable at Download the Exercises is the minimum you need to do each day to begin the process. As you become accustomed to it, and remember the sequence, you need to extend the length of time you spend on each element, and increase the number of repetitions. Think of the length of time you take to trill up your range as equivalent to the number of weights you lift in the gym. The longer you take, the harder your support muscles need to work, and that builds their strength. Always remember, the support muscles do the “heavy lifting”, the actual vocal mechanism does the subtle adjustments, and the better your support system, the stronger the tiny vocal muscles can grow. Everything works together.

Without a good strong (and that doesn’t mean loud, so don’t push!) vocal sound, you don’t have the necessary material to create clear, expressive speech. So don’t skip your warmup. Ever. Work the power machines first, then move into the next room of the gym and work on the specifics of speech, the Articulators (lips, tongue , jaw, palates).

Above and beyond all of this. Your voice preparation and training should never, ever be painful. Do not strain. Stretch, yes! Challenge yourself to move out of your comfort zone, make weird unaccustomed noises, but nothing should hurt. If it feels painful, you are doing too much. In spite of everything I said above about power, strength and working hard, your voice needs to flow, and never be forced, so all your exercises should feel free, gentle, generous and FUN.

The Voice, the Whole Voice, and Nothing But the Voice

These days I seem to hear just about everybody in film or TV dramas performing at least 80% of the time “off voice”, speaking in a semi-whisper, or creaking or croaking. I can’t bear it. It’s the fashion, I’m an old fogey, my hearing is Good For My Age, which means not as good as the average 25 year old, so this means most of the time the dialogue is just at the edge of my comprehension. No point turning up the volume. Because the so-called “background” music will just get louder too.. My guess is that the directors think it denotes intensity. They don’t do it in the comedies. Or at least not as much. For me, it denotes meanness, perhaps unintentionally, but a fully voiced sound carries the whole person, generously gifted to the moment, to the scene partners, and to the audience.

Flloyd as June Bloom (Brisbane production)

Flloyd as June Bloom (Brisbane production)

I’m ranting, I know. Lost my patience button. some years ago. But I do think those who make performance, i.e directors, producers as well as all the technicians and performers need to be thoroughly educated in what the voice IS, the huge scope of its potential to create any illusion they want, as long as it is healthy, trained, infused with intelligence and imagination, and respected.

Over many years, I have noticed that a lot of actors go “off voice” as the passions heat up, as if they are afraid to let out the strength of their emotions. It seems to me that often it comes from a subconscious attempt to hold back, a protective device to shield oneself from anticipated criticism. It’s very prevalent here in Australia, understandably so considering the effect of the so-called Tall Poppy Syndrome. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, it is the requirement, here in Australia, to cut down to size (i.e. lowest common denominator) anyone who aspires to be better, more skillful, more successful, more creative than average. Tall Poppies are people who are assumed to be “up themselves”, to enjoy looking down on lesser mortals. In order to avoid being considered a Tall Poppy, one has to constantly apologise, denigrate oneself and one’s achievements, in a jokey way, of course. Just as the cutting down is always done in a jokey way. But do not be misled. It is not a joke.

Some of my US based colleagues have expressed, in a recent discussion about “off-voice” acting, the view that it results from a lack of focus, or lack of specificity or commitment to the text being expressed. I think this view demonstrates one example of the difference, culturally, between the US and Australia. Of course, it will sometimes be the case that Australian actors will lose focus of the vocal folds as they lose mental focus, but the US has a culture of speaking up for oneself, expressing confidence in one’s abilities and actions without fear of criticism. On the contrary, one is more likely to be criticized, or thought less of, if one fails to communicate the strength of one’s capacity. It’s not about boasting, it’s about honesty.

The fact remains that here in Australia, declaring or revealing awareness of one’s strengths and abilities is, more often than not, assumed to be boasting, derived from arrogance, and arrogance is not to be tolerated.

Tall Poppies only get one chance. Once cut down, they do not get the opportunity to rise again. Failure is celebrated here in the land of Oz. Look at Anzac Day. But I digress…

My new favourite word is respect. Self respect is an honourable state. Knowing who you are means, for me, having a realistic sense of where I’ve come from, how I got here, and what possibilities lie before me for growth and exploration. My voice is the audible reflection of that state. My responsibility as an actor is to gift that state to whatever I am playing. Even if I am playing someone so insecure, so defensive, so shy that in the “real” world she would be inarticulate and barely audible, my job as an actor is to create the illusion that I am those things, but sharing them audible, clearly with my fully-embodied and empowered voice. Long Live The Voice!

On another note, January Special. Being in Voice Warmup App is available at reduced price of AU$2.99 from now until the end of the month. Here’s the latest review: “My partner and I went through the mini vocal warm up together while making breakfast. It certainly relaxed us both, noticeably improved our voices and made us laugh.”

Voice, Speech and Singing Teachers and Choral Directors, contact me for a promo code to try it out for free.