Tag 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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Feedback from the workshop

A couple of the participants at the workshop have kindly written to me with some feedback on the workshop. What is really lovely about these two letters, is that they come from the least experienced, and the most experienced members of the group:

“All I really want to say is thank you! Your enthusiasm and passion for the area was infectious and inspiring. I had no idea what to expect for the workshop when I walked in. I was so impressed with the amount of info covered – the biology, theory, research, a huge range of vocal exercises, and then to integrate this so well with performance, authenticity, playfulness and mindfulness on stage. So much to cover yet it flowed really well and was interesting and useful throughout. Thank you so much for your time.”

“I would just like to say thank you for your two days work with The Hills Players. I can see that some people are really using the skills that you taught at the Workshops while we are rehearsing. We have been having warm up sessions before rehearsal each night and will try to keep this going. I have previously done various types of workshops, having been involved in theatre for 30 years, but I found it very helpful and informative. Of course it’s very hard to break the habits of a lifetime, but I will endeavour to do so and work on my voice as much as possible. Thank you once again for sharing your skills with us.”

I still can’t get over how generous and brave this group was, to invite me to work with them for two full days on their voices. They have been performing in the One-Act Play Festivals around the State for some years, as well as producing their own local productions in their community.

I am so looking forward to seeing them in action when I get back from the States.

I’ve just remembered!  I recorded the Mini-Mini-vocal warm up on my Blackberry, must see if it worked and post it up here! Don’t go away…

Duh!  I’ve put it up already – see the previous post!  The sooner I get away for a holiday, the better!

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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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Is it ever too late?

I was at the shopping mall today, buying a birthday present for my son, and having my laptop resuscitated. I happened to mention to the young man (they’re all young to me…) who was attending to me that I was working on a thesis, and he asked me what it was about. I said “a theory of the voice in performance”, expecting the customary response of “wow! how interesting”, followed by a glazed expression behind the eyes and a rapid retreat. “Wow!” he said, “how interesting.” But instead of glazing and retreating, he asked: “You mean the tone, the pitch of the voice?” “No,” I replied. “We know about the tone and the pitch, the emphasis, the pace, the speech tune. But when an actor performs a text, there’s something else that the voice can do that isn’t explained by those things.”

He asked me what I meant, so I explained how an actor is required to sound authentic and engaging every time he repeats a text, and although he might be able to repeat the same tone, pitch, emphasis, pace and tune each time, unless the ‘something else’ that I am attempting to theorize is present, he will not sound either authentic or engaging.

The young man was not only interested, but understood what I was talking about, so I asked him if he were an actor. He said no, but gradually admitted that years ago he had thought of applying to NIDA, but it didn’t happen, and now – at the age of thirty – it was too late.

Well!  As you can imagine, I gave him The Talk, insisting that it was never Too Late, that Theatre was too important to be left up to people who just wanted to be famous, and it was the duty of people (such as himself) who were passionate about live performance to get involved.  Acting academies such as NIDA like to take in a couple of ‘mature’ students each year, it enhances the mixture and gives them more options when they are casting the student productions they need to put before the public to help justify their funding.

Acting is about talent, but it is also about training and commitment. A good actor understands that acting is a process, not a goal, and training is an essential, on-going part of the process.

I don’t believe it’s ever too late to start working on something new. Of course, at different stages of our lives we have different challenges. But some things never change. It is always scary to step out into the unknown. Most of us assume that everyone else is ‘better’ or ‘wiser’ or ‘prettier’ or ‘more talented’ than we are. Learning that such assumptions are not just unhelpful, they are actually entirely irrelevant is one of the greatest lessons we can ever learn.

a selection of Quantum Clowns
Image by flloyd2010 via Flickr

Training means changing. Since we are constantly changing, as long as we are alive, why not take advantage of it, and change in a direction that gives us satisfaction?  I am looking forward to undertaking some training myself in January, for three weeks, in Ira Seidenstein’s Quantum Clown Residency.  I know I will have to pace myself, that I can’t expect to keep up physically with what the younger participants will be able to accomplish, but by golly I will be challenging myself to change more than a few electrons and particles of fun!

(photo: A Selection of Quantum Clowns)

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Onwards and Upwards

umair shuaib.
Image via Wikipedia

It’s that time of the year again, the time of reflection and readjustment as we dive into the festivities, and prepare to emerge after the new year with enthusiasm for whatever wonders it may bring.

The Sonneteers
Image by flloyd2010 via Flickr

This year has been a cracker, as most of my family, friends and colleagues have noted. It shot by most of us in a haze of sparkling sulphur, whirling us giddily into a spin of delight, confusion and exhaustion. Was I really there? Did I do that? Were you there when it happened?   I feel I need someone else to validate this past year for me, it was so rich and yet so fleeting.

Being in Voice, The Acting Class had an extraordinary year, with some students continuing on from last year, new students joining the pool, and visits from past students adding to the richness of the mixture.  We finally got to perform, as a student ensemble, when the BitsFestival gave us the opportunity to present our ten minute show The Sonneteers.

I am now planning for next year’s Class, with e-flyers scheduled to go out over the weekend (after I recover from the Christmas Prawns). The Class will begin on Sunday 7th February, and we will be getting very up close and personal with our voices from the word ‘go’. As usual, I am struggling to find ways of explaining what we do in terms that make sense to anyone who hasn’t worked with us before. Why does it seem to hard to communicate how working on the voice is actually working on your whole fabulous self? Why is it so difficult to explain that actor training involves learning a host of techniques and skills, and they all involve the voice? As you can see, I’m still working on my thesis…

So I’ll just say that working on your voice means developing your creative potential, and keeping yourself physically and vocally fit at the same time.  It means honing your craft as an actor, as you acquire new skills and techniques and gain experience in performing with other creative individuals.

I’ve received some wonderful testimonials from the students, and I’m looking forward to working with Mara, Paula and Shikhara again in 2010. All our very best wishes go to those who have moved on, to Jean Marc out there on the Rig, and to Tegan in Melbourne, to Robert who will be working on his amazing new project (congratulations on getting accepted by the Metro Independents Program!).  David will be coming back, but this time officially as my assistant teacher.

Here’s wishing you and yours a wonderful festive season, I hope you find yourself on the other side of Hogmanay rested and relaxed, ready to face another year of fireworks and crackers, all of them exploding creatively with love and peace.

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The HERO challenge

The new sessions of The Acting Class began on Sunday morning, with the first of the six Archetypes we will be exploring – one per class.

What is an Archetype? Well, first let me acknowledge that everyone who works with some principle involving Archetypes will do it differently. I begin with John Wright’s Masks of the Archetypes approach, and then play with it my way.

You will do it differently. That is because Archetypes are just ways of being human, ways of recognizing certain ‘types’ of people, ways of recognizing certain aspects of our own ways of being. There is no such thing, in the world, which can be identified as being an actual Archetype, and there is no such person who can, either. You can be a hero, huntress, child, fool etc, but that just means you are manifesting qualities which are recognizable from our mutual idea of what we understand as Hero, Huntress, Child or Fool. These are ‘types’ which occur in the folk tales and songs of cultures throughout the world.

Batman is a hero, just as Hercules, Sigurd, Beowolf, Calamity Jane, and Cathy Freeman are all heroes, real or imagined. Actors are heroes (NOTE to our American colleagues, here in OZ we are non-gender specific with the word ‘actor’).

A hero is an individual who behaves heroically, or does something heroic, and thus we call him a hero, or her (more usually) a heroine. The Archetype, Hero, has become manifest in them, and we recognize the qualities of Hero, and so we call them heroes. Note where I capitalize, and where I don’t.

So, having spent some time on Sunday exploring the physical experience of embodying Hero-like movement qualities, I have challenged the class to practice the exercise, to spend as much time in the coming week in Hero body as they possibly can.

This morning, I went out for a morning walk, before the heat settled in. As I headed down through the streets of Milton, along Park Road to Coronation Drive and back up Cribb Road, I challenged myself to move into Hero movement qualities, feeling the power in my legs, finding myself looking up and out as I walked (instead of my customary watching the ground). My shoulders dropped back, my chin tucked in and I noticed the impulse for propulsion forward in space now very definitely came from my centre of gravity, which was slightly higher than usual, somewhere round the solar plexus region.

It felt pretty good, I can tell you!  Then it lapsed, and I had to focus to regain the sense of equilibrium, it drifted, I brought it back – and then I realised just how much this way of working is analogous to Fitzmaurice tremoring. Just as the tremor is the body’s response to being placed in an impossible dilemma – the muscles begin to shake, and the breath flows in and out at its own pace – so trying to embody an Archetype is an impossible situation, brain and imagination struggle to make sense of the task of achieving an impossible goal, the body responds as best it can and then the magic happens…

The moment you feel LIKE a hero, it seems as if you’ve lost it. Here you are, all Heroic, and yet you’re being asked to do something absolutely ridiculous like hop on one foot, or remember and speak lines. You feel insecure, the only thing you are sure of is that you are ‘wrong’. In fact, you are absolutely on track, because what you feel is what your particular Hero is feeling, i.e. ridiculous. But you want to be Heroic, and sensible, and so you feel embarrassed, even a sense of failure. WOW!!! How cool is that? A hero who is embarrassed, who feels like a failure?

Your task, now, is to keep working to become more and more familiar with the physical movement qualities, to practise BEING in those qualities (just as you would practise speaking in a new language, or a new accent, if you want to become really skilful with it). I’m sitting here at my desk, realising that I am slouching, so I’ve now drawn up my spine, acknowledged my handsomely ridged brow, strong nose and firm mouth, my furrowed cheeks and my cleft chin, and Boy, am I going to defeat a few evil armies before bedtime?

Of course I shall.

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Open Slather

I’ve just removed the password protection on the handouts, and video demos. Having thought about it long and hard while I was away, I have decided that I would much rather everyone had access to these, and that people actually made use of them.

Of course, you will get much more from the exercises if you do them under supervision, with a teacher or trainer whom you trust.

Please feel free to contact me if you would like to chat about any of the exercises, or to enquire about matters to do with actor training, or voice coaching.

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