Tag Archives: theatre

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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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 Sound of Quality

How do you describe a performance that absolutely rocks?  The kind that picks you up by the scruff of the neck from the moment the performers appear before you, and keeps you engaged till the bows at the end?  They don’t come around all that often, so you won’t find any University courses that only ask you to deal with performances of this calibre.  Whether you are studying Theatre Studies, or Performance Studies,  when they send you out to attend theatre performances so that you can analyse them, you won’t be asked to write assignments accounting for the over-arching strategies that resulted in such fine work.  You’ll be asked to comment on different elements – for example, the lighting, the use of the space, the director’s vision – and you’ll be asked to explain what was done, and how.

The result of this kind of education in theatre arts has the effect of denying that there are qualitative differences between productions, and between methods of using the various elements.  I’m not saying that these courses should only be training theatre critics, I am proposing that critical rigour should be an element of the training.

Imagine a literature course that expected its students to read any three books published in a given period, with no idea as to whether the books concerned were well written or not.  Even limiting it to books by certain authors, or from certain publishing houses is no guarantee of quality.

But as I said, there just isn’t a lot of really finely made theatre around, so you couldn’t expect the theatre/performance/drama 101 courses to wait until there were enough excellent productions available to study.

And perhaps this accounts for the fact that theatre text books, and journal articles about theatre productions can talk about shows that were, frankly, pretty poor, analysing their socks off without a hint that there was just nothing better to talk about.

And perhaps this is why we don’t seem to have a formal terminology to discuss different qualities of work. Or to be able to say when, and how a performance DID hit the mark, and what bits of it did not.

And there’s no use arguing that such things are ‘subjective’, because all observations are necessarily subjective. I might argue that the lighting effects at one moment created an atmosphere of fear, and you might argue that it created a calming effect. The marker would credit us both, because we noticed the lighting effect.

How do we describe the lighting effect that was so effective that we didn’t notice it?

Or how do we describe the acting that was so sublime that we didn’t notice the voices providing us with the language of the text?

Just asking…

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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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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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