Tag Archives: voice training

A Tale of Two Blogs

I’ve tried to re-direct visitors to this blog over to my current blog, at www.being-in-voice.com/flloyds-blog, but this one still attracts a following and I don’t want to abandon you!

So I will now update this one with links to the posts from the other one, and hopefully that will enable you to switch over easily. Here is the latest post over there – Adventures in Voice. I hope you enjoy it!

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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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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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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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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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