Monday, March 1, 2010

All about the Voice

I remember reading that when sound engineers first digitally created the sound of an orchestra it sounded wrong because it was too clear. So they added in the sounds of fingers / bows on strings: breath flowing over reeds: the rasp and slides. All the messiness of music and life was added back in and then it sounded right.

It is those seeming peripherals, those barely acknowledged touches where rich connotations lay. It is as if the notes without the rest only tell us a part of the story.

So, why go on about this. It is because I believe that the same principles exist in the actor’s voice.

I listen to plays, direct actors, coach auditions and for the vast majority it is clear that from the day that they left theatre school people stopped doing whatever voice exercises that they had learned. I cannot speak to how they are taught but what I hear is vocal disconnection, unsupported imprecise diction and no vocal richness.

I am often heard to say: “stay in the center of your voice”. Sometimes people take that to mean that there is only one note that is perfect. In fact it is not that at all. The center of your voice is the place where there is an unconstrained open passage from crotch to mouth where the full richness of every emotion has free and easy passage. Thus the voice gets to carry all the emotional messiness of the character in each and every word.

Mostly what happens though is a constraint in the throat that strips emotional connotations so that the artist begins to push harder emotionally and vocally which further thins the emotional voice.

Fecund: \FEE-kuhnd; FEK-uhnd\ , adjective;
1. Capable of producing offspring or vegetation; fruitful; prolific.
2. Intellectually productive or inventive.

For me fecundity is rich, ripe, an oak log rotting in a forest that is home to moss and mushrooms. It is amber and alto and soprano ribbons of autumnal honey sunlight. It is a place where life and death are in a slow motion dance. It is the primeval, primordial home (center) of our voice. And so the voice must become the conduit of that emotional fecundity.

Why do we shy away from it? Is it only the lack of vocal exercise? I think not. It takes a profound leap of courage, faith and desire to actually live in that place. It forces us to be open, to reveal ourselves, to know that after the minutiae of work that we do not need to push and strain but know confidently that we can allow that fecundity to flow out of us complete, multi-layered, carefully woven and right for the character.

So the character’s voice can be whatever it needs to be as long as it is part of that open emotional corridor.

In Intimate Apparel I have pushed this kind of work fully into the performances and I am grateful that the cast has followed me to this place. Once you do this kind of work and your director’s ear is tuned to this it becomes both amazing and frustrating.

Amazing for when it soars it is like being wrapped in subliminal textures that have you feeling with your whole body.

Frustrating because even ½ a note too high and seduction becomes lecture and drawing in becomes sitting back.

So finally for me it is all about the voice. The voice and the necessary emotional connotations that must cozen it. The actor’s voice should sit atop of emotional nuances as deep as the Mariana Trench but all too often what we get is just the vocal thinness of a puddle

And that is the great shame of our theatre.

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