Category Archives: performance skills training

A Conundrum

Now here’s the thing.  I am a freelance voice and acting coach (among other things). That means I work for myself, making up my timetable to fit around my students’ busy timetables, fitting in rehearsals for whatever play I happen to be working on, or film shoot, or meetings with colleagues, and trying to find time to finish writing my thesis.

When I first started teaching privately, I discovered this interesting phenomenon: sometimes, people will contact me to book a lesson, and then fail to turn up, or to let me know that they have changed their minds.  I understand. Especially when it is voice training, people are nervous, not sure that they really need it, afraid of sounding silly, and so they dip out at the last moment. There is absolutely nothing I can do about it. I am not prepared to ask people to pay in advance for something when they don’t know if they really want it, until they have at least tried it once.

Eventually, I took the advice of more experienced colleagues, and began to insist upon payment in advance, after the first session.  This has served me very well ever since.  If there is always at least one session paid for in advance, and the agreement that we give each other a minimum of 24 hours notice of cancellation or postponement, then I am never left sitting, waiting, having prepared the lesson, without any recompense for my time and energy. And believe me, it takes an awful lot of energy to wait. I don’t take easily to doing nothing.  If the student foregoes that session, at least it was paid for.  Likewise, if I have to cancel with less than 24 hours notice, I owe the student that session.

This has the effect of totally eradicating those occasions when a student might wake up in the morning feeling a bit sniffley, and think they can just not bother turning up for a lesson. It also seems to sort out those who are serious about their training, and therefore value it – not just in financial terms, but also in terms of time and energy expended.

Sadly, it still doesn’t solve the problem of the occasional no show for the first session. Any suggestions?

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Noises off – Voices on

I’ve just had the most wonderful two days working with the Hills Players, a group of amateur actors from a community north of Brisbane who applied for, and were awarded a grant from the Regional Arts Fund to engage my services.  They wanted to work on their voices to develop more power and clarity of expression, and to support their voices in a healthy and sustainable way.

I introduced them to my mini mini vocal warmup (based on Eric Armstrong’s morning warm up), then to the Vocal Function exercises (handouts on the Handouts page). We explored the vibrations in our bodies and the fabulous sounds that occur when a group of generous souls commit themselves to a ‘group hum’.  The first day concluded with a series of improvised soundscapes. We experienced a motorcycle race (with crash), a visit to the beach (with near drowning), a hike through the forest (with a storm), a spooky chase through streets and houses (with mayhem on the freeway) – what a dramatic time we had, and all with nothing but the human voice and the occasional tapping fingers.

Today we revised the warm-ups, and I took them through the 15 minute warm-up that I had put together for Ira Seidenstein’s Quantum Mime Intensive (also now up on the Handouts page).  For this one, I gave them two alternatives for working on their resonance: The Hungry Giant and friends, and Cello/Viola/Violin. The former is based on Linklater’s approach, the latter is from the work of Roy Hart.

After lunch, I decided to challenge the group to investigate for themselves what happens when you try to speak as simply as possible, stating the fact, with no agenda, that you are where you say you are. It’s pretty straightforward, you just position yourself somewhere in the room, and say “I am here”. Sounds easy, eh?  Try it!  See if you can catch yourself 1) pretending 2) defending 3) protesting 4) insisting – oh, the possibilities are endless. Then try to say it without any of those added sub- or super-texts, or objectives. Your only objective is to speak the truth of the moment, that you – yes, YOU! really you  – are – that means right now, as you are speaking – here – not there, not sort of here, but actually and only specifically here.  I love this exercise.

Then we leapt into the land of the Laughing/Sobbing game, which I learnt from Marya Lowry at the 2004 VASTA conference in New York. I LOVE this game.  We laugh, and we discover that for some it comes easily, and for some it seems incredibly difficult. Why? Because it is deeply embarrassing to find youself doing fake laughing. It’s embarrassingto listen to, so you don’t want to be the one doing it. Learning how to let go of the fear, and discovering that you are actually in control of your own attitude, so that you can choose to be amused and to REALLY laugh is quite an experience.  Then, to discover that all you have to do is change your own attitude from being happy to being sad, and suddenly you are sobbing, and it is not FAKE, and what’s more, you can switch it off whenever you choose – now that is control. But it is such a light, hands-off control, there is nothing forced or tense about it. Joy.

One of the participants asked me to record the Mini Mini vocal warm-up, so I did, with my Blackberry. Here it is. Apologies for the poor quality of the recording, but I think it’s pretty clear.

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Do Mime Artists have voices?

Boy – do they ever!

I’ve just had a wonderful time creating a voice warmup program especially for a mime class – Ira Seidenstein’s Quantum Mime Intensive class – and of course Mime does not have to be silent.

The course was interrupted by the Brisbane flood, but Ira found a new venue and the work continues.

In the meantime, I have decided, reluctantly and sadly, to cancel this year’s Acting Class. I am heading overseas in March to visit my family, and also to perform in my show The Fall of June Bloom (more details at www.blog.thundersmouththeatre.com)

I’ve been pretty busy the past few days baking scones and cupcakes for the clean-up workers, and making jewellery to sell to raise funds for the Flood Relief Appeal. If you want to purchase some, in aid of a good cause, check out the website here.

I’ll be back soon with more information about that vocal warmup for mimes.

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Being in Voice: The Acting Class is Back!

OK! Now that the excitement of mounting a full scale production for Thunder’s Mouth Theatre is all over, everybody has been paid their share of the profits – and there was a profit, thanks to our steaming fund-raising campaign and my finely-tuned budgeting, the time has come to prepare for the new year, and the good news is: The Being in Voice Acting Class is Back.

Bookings are now open, and I suggest you don’t mess about because I have decided that I will only work with six (6) people at a time. So, the first season is 6 classes, 3 hours each, for six participants. This means we can train as an ensemble, create scenes as well as work on monologues, and also get individual attention.  It will be challenging for all concerned, myself included, and I CAN”T WAIT!

Did I say I’m excited?  Or did you guess…

Who wants to come and play with me?  Full details at the Being in Voice website.  Pass on the good news.

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Refreshed, regenerated and revived

Just back from a three week trip to Dunedin, NZ, where I got to teach the University of Otago Voice and Movement paper (class), and the Shakespeare Performance paper, run an Archetypes Workshop, and direct one of the three 40 minute productions for the SGCNZ NSSP week. That’s Shakespeare Globe Centre, New Zealand National Shakespeare Schools Production week. What. A. Blast!

Here is my team, The Winter’s Tale company, but where is Mote? (He was busy packing to go home when we took the photo). So, here are some snapshots of the Snapshots exercise the groups undertook as one of the other director’s (Damian Bertanees) workshops, presenting images from the story – including Mote. But where were the others? Never mind, they are all there one way or another!

feedback session sans Mote

There is no truth in the Oracle!

Exit, pursued by a bear

I haven’t had such a good time in a workshop situation for a very long time, and I DO enjoy workshops. This one, however, had that special quality that only comes along once in a blue moon, where the passion and commitment is at such a high level that the work seems to transcend the individual talents, or energies of those involved.  I hope to get a copy of the dvd of the final performances at some stage.

Now I’m back in Brisbane, working with my lovely private students, some heading for NIDA and WAAPA auditions, some working their way back into commercial voice-over work, all exploring new ways of expressing themselves that take them out of their comfort zone into a wider, broader, deeper understanding of who they are, and why they have a passion to share their understanding of the world with others. What a journey!

I also had the honour of providing a voice-over for Dr Glam’s latest epic collaboration with The Magnolia Corporation, “Interstellar Overdrive”. Check it out here.

recording voice-over for Sparkles

I’m now about to begin rehearsals for my play “The Fall of June Bloom (or What You Will)”, to be presented by Thunder’s Mouth Theatre in November. More details here!

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The Nature of Presence

Presence is that wonderful quality we so admire in great performers. It exerts a powerful attraction over us, keeps us attentive and engaged in their company,

Presence is the act of being actively and completely present, mindfully aware of where you are and why you are there, conscious of your surroundings, both real and imagined. That means being present in the body, in the mind, in the heart – and in the voice.

Presence resides in the body, as the first impulse to express yourself necessitates the presence of breath, the activation of the vocal instrument, and access to the conventions of language.

Or maybe not! Perhaps an unregulated, non-conventional, non-linguistic sound is all that is required: a gasp, a groan, a grunt or a giggle.

Whatever the sound you make, when it comes from a relaxed yet alert physicality, informed by a playful creativity and a passionate heart, and with mindful awareness of the situation, there is Presence.

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Words of Wisdom and other insights

I kid you not,  two excellent articles have come my way today, thanks to colleagues on Twitter.

First, read this article from American Theatre January issue, full of rich advice for singers, but boy do these words of wisdom apply to actors also!  It is MORE than essential for actors to develop a solid vocal technique, and to maintain a regular training regime if they want to have a lengthy career.

Next, check out Travis Bedard’s latest blog post, (Cambiare Productions).  He has such perceptive insights into the world of independent theatre, what it is, why it exists, and how it manages to sustain itself in the face of constant predictions of its imminent demise.

Lastly, I have just created a short video, introducing myself and my thoughts on why actors need to work on their voices.

Your comments and ratings would be most welcome.

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