Catherine Fitzmaurice's work works on the the supposition that most of us have already had some voice training, and she's one of the few that says, "Bring what you have, and add mine to it." I thought in my class with my teacher Kristin Loree the other day, that it's been awhile since I've delved into those books (and what I've learned before), and maybe it would be a nice time to revisit...so...I'm re-reading all of them...even the Edith Skinner book. I thought I should probably be a good girl and write some of this down instead of just sitting in my own little world with my thoughts. I guess that's another step into the world of academics...being willing to publish and not just practice. A blog isn't a permanent thing, so it doesn't feel so against my nature: which is that I love process and it feels like that process is always ephemeral and to write it down is only opening it up for censure in the next minute or day because it is to easy to discover something new that will change what you just wrote down. But...I'm going to try...
I have also embarked on the process of receiving my license to be a public school teacher in the state of New Mexico, and I have two required readings for my first two classes. I am reading these along with the other books because they are about teaching, and maybe the two subjects will help each other in this journey to becoming a certified public school teacher and theatrical voice teacher.
So, for any blog entitled "Voice Blog" I will have a chapter read from everyone of the books. I am reading a chapter at a time. There might be some correlations with the fact that I'm a kinesthetic learener (which means I don't typically like reading something from beginning to end, I like memorizing things, I like moving around when learning, and I like to write things down over and over again) and because I can't just sit and read one enjoyably, I'll read all of them from beginning to end, which allows me enough movement to keep me interested. I also think it will be a fun experiment to read so many books at once that are basically working toward my goal of certifying in two things, both of which involve teaching.
The first book I was assigned to read by Kristin Loree because Fitzmaurice doesn't have any books, yet, just essays (which I have read most of), is the psychology that inspired her work: Wilhelm Reich's psychology. Now, I will mention that I've been directing a youth musical and Kristin gave me the book and I was reading it, during a break, with the title sticking out before I realized just what the title was. The largest print on the book is Wilhelm Reich's name, not the title. I superficially know his work from the two psychology classes I took in undergrad, but I had forgotten the title: THE FUNCTION OF THE ORGASM. Oooops...I decided I probably shouldn't take that to rehearsal anymore if I want to save myself from parent phone calls. That aside...
Preface: Well, in the preface it seems as though Wilhelm is aware that some people already have preconceptions about his work and himself, and he painstakingly goes through an explanation of how he got to his discoveries and that he went very scientifically about it, and he was one of the few students who survived the painstaking work.
Chapter 1: Biology and Sexology Before Freud. In this chapter Wilhelm goes about connecting his work to the supposed most trusted dude in the psychology world, his teacher, Freud. I did like the points Wilhelm made about repressed instinctual impulses affecting our psyche. This goes back to what I was talking about in my last blog...which is that usually our more interesting areas of study are the ones that scare us the most, and we will learn more in those areas than any of the others.
The second book is one of the assigned books for one of the on-line classes I'm taking for my New Mexico Teaching License. It is THE PASSIONATE TEACHER by Robert L. Fried.
"The Forward" by Deborah Meier: I liked the quote "Passionate teaching is not a luxury, a frill we can do without. We can't afford to keep sending kids to schools that disrespect the qualities of heart and mind we claim to be promoting." (x)
"Prelude: 'The Art of Engaging Young Minds'". I guess every book has to have a persuasive statement in the beginning, and this one is no exception. It lets the reader know that reading this book is important for the many audiences it's trying to reach. I liked the opening paragraph, though: "To be a passionate teacher is to be someone in love with a field of knowledge, deeply stirred by issues and ideas that challenge our world drawn to the dilemmas and potentials of the young people who come into class each day -- or captivated by all these." I also liked his statement that practicality and organization still exist in passionate people.
The next required reading is TEACHING PASSIONATELY: WHAT'S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT? by Joan Wink.
"The Preface". Again, it lets the reader know the purpose of this book, who it is written for, and the general organization of the book. "Chapter 1: Teaching Passionately - The Spiral of Learning". I liked that some learners are whole-to-part learners (me) and some are part-to-whole learners (the author). I will keep this in mind as I venture forth in my musical theater class this year in two sections (6-8 and 9-12) and all of the other various teaching I will end up doing with Substitute Services and, maybe, PLAY Conservatory (a youth theater company I worked with all spring and summer). It is also funny that I learned most of my voice pedagogies in a "whole" way, and now I'm embarking on learning the parts...Hmmm...tricky book...
Now, I begin the readings from long ago Cornish College of the Arts voice classes. They were never required readings, but 'suggested readings' and I bought all of them because I was in such awe of my voice teacher, Deena Burke, that I wanted to please her. However, I think my adoration for her also caused a lot of issues in voice class because I was never doing it for me fully...Oh well...I know better now, and despite her possible disappointment in me, I did learn a lot from her, and I have retained more of her teachings than possibly some of the other things I learned in that program. And, again, from an earlier blog, that awe sound...always gets me in trouble...
THE ACTOR AND THE TEXT by Cecily Berry.
"Forward" by Trevor Nunn. Again, this is always the place where the publishers put someone in the theater world who will give gravity to the methods of the person writing the book. Trevor refers to Cis as a self-deprecating, passionate, and thoroughly effective voice coach.
"Introduction". Cis talks about why she wrote this book -- "finding the right energy for that particular text..." She also summarizes her previous book VOICE AND THE ACTOR. Finally, she makes two general points: (1) We often make words literal, logical or emotional (never all of those things at once). And (2) The imaginative process often becomes ordinary at the moment of speaking.
VOICE AND THE ACTOR by Cecily Berry.
"Forward" by Peter Brook. Now, I'm a huge fan of Peter, so...gravity achieved. Peter offers a dialectic as to whether or not exercises are necessary or whether we should only work from instinct. He answers his own question with the fact that Cis' work achieved some hidden possibilities in his ensemble's work and he, himself, has seen success in himself that he did not expect.
"Introduction". Cis points out that our voice is a complicated mixture of environment, ear, physical agility, and personality. She also points out that the breath is the initial impulse for sound. This is also something that Catherine Fitzmaurice goes on about early in her essay writings. I suppose it makes sense because Cecily Berry and Catherine Fitzmaurice studied under the same person.
THE USE AND TRAINING OF THE HUMAN VOICE: A PRACTICAL APPROACH TO SPEECH AND VOICE DYNAMICS by Arthur Lessac.
Now, Aruthur is the only one in my bunch of vocal practitioners who is American and male (Edith Skinner is American, but she largely focuses on speech) , so his perspective might become very interesting in the next months.
"Special Preface" by Alfred G. Brooks. Mr. Brooks notes that SUNY Binghamton has supported Arthur's work and has found it is successful in many arenas including the Physical Education Department. I really liked that statement because it goes to show that a sense of presence and awareness of the bodies' capability can supersede the theater. I also like it because I have always found that the easiest way to teach a new actor presence is through any physical theater technique, and I'm excited to delve further into Catherine Fitzmaurice's work because she strives to "demystify the process of presence and power."
"Preface" by Irene Dailey. Ms. Dailey notes that the system is a "true organic integration, where acting is speech and speech is acting." She also points out that voice work is a lifestyle change. Hmmm...I'll say.
"Introduction". Arthur refers to his method as 'vocal life' (emotional and physical life). The synergism of all things connected to communication are important in his work: culture, education, inspiration, and physical sensation. "Voice training should consist of eliminating bad physical habits and strengthening the natural tendencies that emerge as a result. This method is thus both esthetic and scientific." (xii) Arthur considers the human body as a musical instrument. "Through the muscular sensation of the facial posture, the tonal sensation, and the orchestral accompaniment of the consonants, objectionable regional influences are eliminated while the flavor of regional individuality is retained to give variety to an excellent common culture of voice and speech." (xvii) Arthur says he works with action-sensations: structural, tonal, and consonant (I think I will learn more about that in the coming chapters). "In any of the arts a skill must be learned correctly before it can be distorted effectively..." (xviii) I liked that because that's exactly what I'm doing with my little kinesthetic reading experiment, and what I'm doing by learning the parts of something I already learned the "whole" of.
THE RIGHT TO SPEAK: WORKING WITH THE VOICE by Patsy Rodenburg.
"Foreward" by Ian McKellen". Again, I love, love, love, Ian, so gravity, again, achieved. Ian talks about growing up in Lancanshire and how he tried to mask his Northern England vowels, but now is confidently a part of the first generation of actors that brought regional accents back to classical theater. He says that Patsy says what matters in the end is what we say rather than how we say it. I also like how he said, "Any impressionist will tell you -- get the voice right and the audience will recognise your victim." (vii) with Sound advice for any actor who really wants to transform an audience. I'm a pretty good mimic, and I find that that is true. When I've done the voice right, the audience responds. I also recently watched the Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan film THE TRIP and most of "the trip" is spent with them competing with each other to have the best impressions or line deliveries. Highly satisfying for theater geeks.
"Introduction". Patsy talks about her past and her own fear (so similar to my own - referred to in the last blog) of speaking and how that led to her discoveries. (Giving me validation for the journey I'm currently on.) She goes on to say that beneath our habits are the colors and wonders of our voice. She also touches on how vulnerable vocal work truly is, but that, ultimately, "your voice belongs to you, it is your responsibility and right to use it fully." (xiv) Alright, already, I'll learn how to breathe without thinking...thank god for Catherine Fitzmaurice's De-Structuring method because nothing else has worked, and Patsy says "I have a responsibility to use this instrument I inherited fully." Okay, Patsy, okay...
THE NEED FOR WORDS: VOICE AND THE TEXT by Patsy Rodenburg.
"Foreward" by Antony Sher. Mr. Sher talks about why Patsy is such a good vocal teacher. He lists what qualities all vocal teachers should have (I wrote them down because that's what I'm doing this for...so...best to know what is expected of me...): (And...I'm paraphrasing him, but...) "enormous positive force and enormous imagination; a warm, steady character; optimism; refusing to acknowledge weaknesses but rather having the ability to turn them into strengths." Mr. Sher goes on to point out that she is a new breed of voice teacher: a pioneer, a missionary to teach breath and speech all over the world and in, maybe, not so safe places, like prison or developing countries. (As someone who taught in prison, I appreciated this sentiment of respect that it garners from those who largely are only in the professional acting world.)
"Introduction". Patsy just mentions that this is a companion/sequel to her previous book and doesn't add the personal touches of that book's introduction, but adds that, "The more I have taught voice the more I have come to learn about how someone must know and trust words. I have also learned some of the reasons why we fear the very words that can free us, and the bold ways we can make words work on our behalf." (xvi) I find that in this day in age, and on the other journey I'm taking toward New Mexico Teaching, this is worse than it was in the '90s when I first read this book. Now, I can barely decipher the text messages my own friends send me. Words are turning into what George Orwell warned us about when we all read 1984 in High School...or maybe some of us didn't, but...the warning was there, and it's coming to fruition...scary...how can a voice teacher dare to embark on the challenge of a society that wants to kill language and make it simpler? Rhetorical question...that I'm not going to answer.
The next book is a book that I've looked at a lot over the years because it was the main method that I was taught in by Deena Burke at Cornish College of the Arts, so the vocabulary is the most familiar.
FREEING THE NATURAL VOICE by Kristin Linklater. "Iris Warren: A Memoir" by Michael MacOwen. In a twist to normal pseudo-textbooks Kristin Linklater requested a topic for her introduction, as opposed to having someone brag about her she has the former head of the London Academy for the Dramatic Arts, write a memoir about her teacher Iris Warren, who inspired her work and her decision to become of voice teacher. Ms. Warren died of cancer in 1963 and never wanted her method to be written down, but she also never wanted Kristin to be a carbon copy of her, either, so...I guess it's okay that Kristin created her own pedagogy inspired by Iris Warren, but, ultimately is Kristin's.
Mr. MacOwen begins with how he met Iris, which was because he was directing a show that had two of her students that he described as his favorite kind of actors: [ones that had] the ability to speak with deep emotion, simply and from the heart." He decides to meet up with her and see if she wants to work for him and strikes up a friendship after she accepts. Mr. MacOwen also describes how her classroom style was magical. (Which, I guess would be another great topic to put here because I don't want to reinvent the wheel.) "While most completely disciplined, the atmosphere was easy, light and full of warmth, and people felt united to her and to each other. It was, as the same time, deeply caring and yet impersonal and professional. I believe this was a large part of the magic she could work. While she had a great understanding of people and could diagnose -- it seemed instinctively -- the strengths and weaknesses of their temperment and how their best capacities could be realized, no one was ever made to feel that she was intruding on their privacy or that they were being "got at." She worked with sureness and detachment that one meets in the finest doctors and surgeons. She would calculate most carefully how far a class or an individual could go, at what stage in their development and, while always challenging them to go forward, never forced anything."
"An Introduction to the approach". My last voice teacher, as I mentioned, mostly worked with Linklater's technique and I already had highlighted things in this introduction that I had liked and was questioning from this work. The main thrust is: "The natural voice is transparent - revealing, not describing, inner impulses of emotion and thought, directly, and spontaneously. The person is heard, not the person's voice." (2) That thrust is not much different from several of the premises that Catherine Fitzmaurice is touching on, however, she puts it this way... "'Inspiration' denotes both the physical act of breathing in, and the mental act of creating a thought."
Ms. Linklater lets the reader know in the introduction what is expected of them as they read the rest of the book. She also lets them know that she hope that the product will be an emotionally/physically/psychologically integrated speaker.
I also found Kristin's comment on training and its different styles to still hold true today, and arguably cause much of the tension that occurs in theater departments all over the United States. That the different training styles of either technique the vocal/craft building way (the British way - and there was an attempt by Michel St. Denis to infiltrate the American system with) or the psychology/"Method" way (the American way). I think these pedagogies still cause issues in quality, especially in the American training standards.
I also felt validated in my own opinion of not writing things down because Kristin struggled writing this book because she found it painful to put something so ephemeral down in a published book, when it should be experienced.
The next book, also Linklater's, is FREEING SHAKESPEARE'S VOICE: AN ACTOR'S GUIDE TO TALKING THE TEXT.
I have used this book a lot, when my other techniques have failed me in performance. I go to this to find a different way into the character. When I was playing Imogen in CYMBELINE, the prop for what Imogen thinks is her dead husband, was horrendous. And anyone who has played that character knows that they are on-stage, dead, breathing shallowly, for about 20 minutes, no time to go back stage, be centered, or, god-forbid, prepare for the epic monologue where Imogen curses the gods, etc. Anyway, some days going into the movie in Imogen's mind, a sort-of surreal nightmare (the psychological way), while onstage worked, but one day, it just didn't. I really just focused on intention and vocal work that day, but...I knew I was "phoning it in," as we say in the theater. I hate "phoning it in," I can normally just have the emotion I need, but...it just didn't work that day, so...I went home and racked my books for help...and this was the one that did.
Kristin gives the actor places to breathe into on each vowel, the color, the feeling, and the humor it affects, therefore, the emotion that it emotes. This helped extraordinarily, and sustained throughout the rest of the run of the show. Re-reading this is exciting to me after returning to it as a workbook over the years.
In the Prologue she, again, broke tradition and wrote it herself. She basically just thanks a bunch of people and says the thrust of this book is, "[Her] guide to speaking Shakespeare is experiential, rather than prescriptive." (1)
In the Introduction, Kristin sets out to persuade the reader that Shakespeare's text and situations are not so far from our own, intellectually; it's just the way his text is experienced that is different/larger than we're used to in our "wrong to express emotions" society. She uses Hamlet to start the thrust of this book off: "Suit the action to the word and the word to the action." She also mentions that "Shakespeare's text integrates words, emotions, objectives, intentions and actions, and in so doing it accurately reflects the Elizabethan society to whom it spoke. Elizabethan men and women spoke in a language four hundred years younger than ours. It was a language that was still part of the oral culture that had shaped all human interaction for thousands of years. Language live in the body. Thought was experienced in the body. Emotions inhabited the organs of the body. Filled with thought and feeling, the sound waves of the voice flowed out through the body and were received sensorially by other bodies which directly experienced the thought feeling content of sound waves. We can picture the speaker's body as all mouth and the listener's body as all ear." (6)
The next book I was kind of excited to actually read because I've only used it as a workbook for my entire acting career...well, that is, my entire acting career where I was aware of good speech as an important aspect to theater, which was in 1996 when I started Cornish College of the Arts program with Deena Burke as my voice/speech teacher. I've always called this book the "math" of theater, but I've also always secretly really loved this book; I have continued to write out all of my Shakespeare text in IPA and all of my dialect character in IPA. I really enjoy using that side of my brain...it's refreshing. Anyway, starting this book from the beginning was fun because I don't think I ever really knew who this "Edith Skinner" was or even where she was from...
In the Foreward from her first edition of this book (1942), Edith starts off with, "Since the words express the meaning of what the actor says, and the tone of voice reveals feeling about what is said, the actor's vehicle for carrying words -- the voice -- must be flexible. It must communicate the nuances of the most hidden emotions being portrayed in the most effective and convincing way that is possible." (iii) I found this to be a very good way of explaining to the student how important good speech truly is.
In "Remembering Edith Skinner" by Jack O'Brien, he remarks on her amazing ear and her "tenacious objectivity" which is noted in the pages of her book. I also like the quote: "Only with the fullest expression of skill and technique is an actor truly free, truly able to communicate the actual depth and range of his or her talent." In a world in which respect for craft tends to shrink daily, this volume represents a light sustained and held aloft, an emblem of pride as sure and unmistakable as the eloquent speech it protects." (iii)
In the "Introduction" by Timothy Monich and Lilene Mansell, they let the reader know that Edith never really intended this to be a book, but most everyone in the profession agreed that is was the most thorough, so she finally published it in 1942 and her last revision was in 1966, though she was almost finished with another the year before her death. This 1990 version was updated with a glossary, an index, an "Ask" list, (the "ask" sound...a subtle and elusive sound, which is beautiful when used and better to understand the emotion of a sound when you can distinguish it from any other "ah" sound), and other goodies. Which since I've never really experienced any other edition of this book; I can't say I know the difference.
In the "To the Student" section of Edith's book she lets them know that this book is an overview of the structure of the book and its purpose: "The actor who is well-trained in the best modes of Spoken English will feel equally at home in a kitchen sink drama and the Forest of Arden, at ease with Shepard and Sheridan. The command of Spoken English will ensure that an actor is easily heard and immediately understood in any theater, and will allow the actor to work with accuracy and confidence no matter what accent, dialect, or variety of English a script calls for." (ix)
So...for two differing opinions on what the above ladies and one gentleman were discussing I looked to the physical/directing techniques and actor-training techinques that I've worked with for the past 13 years: Viewpoints and Suzuki. I wanted to see if their methods that I've used for so long were, at least, amenable to the integration methods of the above ladies and one gentleman.
I have been a practitioner of Anne Bogart/Mary Overlie's Viewpoints technique for 13 years, since I was introduced to it by the inspiring and refreshingly accurate Seattle director, Sheila Daniels. Now Anne Bogart with Tina Landau has published her work in a book entitled THE VIEWPOINTS BOOK, but Mary Overlie has never published, though many of her students have copies of text that she, supposedly, is planning on publishing at some point. Anyway, I digress...Anne and Tina in Chapter 9 of their text entitled "Starting to Speak", touch on voice and technique for the voice, in regards to Viewpoints. I have used these exercises with my theater company, In Strange Company, and in rehearsal for many other productions. I re-read the first part of the chapter, and I will touch on the other part in the next blog, and I was struck by the fact that they are the first in my grouping of voice people who look at the voice sans its psychological meaning. They ask the "leader" to separate the voice out from the psychological process, but they are aware that by doing so, the psychological will be engaged with more surprises and discoveries that can be used for the production they are working on.
The Vocal Viewpoints are introduced individually and the actor works by themselves with gibberish words. Anne and Tina start with exploring the pitch of the gibberish word, then the dynamics, then the tempo and duration, then the timbre (which they delegate as different physical resonators), then the shape of the mouth while saying the gibberish words, then creating expressive and behavioral sounds, and, lastly, the actor can take the gibberish word or phrase around the room (the architecture) to test out its liveness or deadness in the room.
THE ART OF STILLNESS by Paul Allain, has a section in his chapter on Tadashi Suzuki's exercises that focuses on the voice. I have always found Suzuki's work to be the fastest way in rehearsal to build a "theatrical," voice in young/amateur actors. It might not be the most organic, but it works and it's fast.
In the chapter on the voice, Mr. Allain touches on the voice is in Chapter 4 and he succinctly writes down all I've been taught by Ellen Boyle and Lawrence Ballard (two of Tadashi's students that were my instructors at Cornish). Mr. Allain also succinctly touches on the desired results of this work. The quote that put this all together is: "Rather than using the voice in a state of relaxation that is familiar to Western approaches, it is drawn out in positions of tension. The voice is added as you fight for balance when one leg is raised or when the stomach muscles are struggling to hold the upper torso off the floor. By then loosening any tension in the upper part of the body, you locate the effort and therefore the sound in the lower stomach or diaphragm." (114). I love that the place that all the ladies and one gentleman touch on for where breath should begin is what Tadashi forces out in his, for lack of a better word, "tension" work. I really love this because I can't think in his work. I work, and, ultimately, that's what I want as a director. I want to see the actor "doing" not "trying" or "thinking". I'm aware that Tadashi and Viewpoints are more of a rehearsal process voice work not a training technique, but I know that in my own teaching, I will still pepper it with this work, and I know I will always use it in directing because it works fast.
Now, the challenge of the rest of this already long-ish blog is to incorporate it into what I'm currently learning, and, hoping to certify in...Catherine Fitzmaurice's voice work.
The main thrust of Catherine Fitzmaurice’s voice, according to all of the readings I have read, and I have already stated earlier in this blog, is “To demystify the process of presence and power.” Which is an interesting thrust because it means that as theater professionals or amateurs we can try to teach and learn that illusive art of the thing that, normally, we as teachers or facilitators believe to be un-teachable, rather it is something you have to be “born” with. I have always thought that presence is not something that you are “born” with, simply, however, I am aware that some people have an overabundance of it, and they don’t, necessarily, have to be taught how to achieve presence, but how to sustain it. I came to the conclusion that you can, in fact, teach presence after learning several physical theater methods and testing them out on cast members or acting classes I have taught, and I found that some people who didn’t have inherent presence began to have more presence when utilizing their whole body and taping into the many states of consciousness that we can access on a daily basis. I would not have believed it was teachable if I had not worked in a variety of populations: mental health, prison, preschool, community center kids, etc. and it seemed to even work on people who didn’t even have an interest in the performing arts, but were being required to take my class for a variety of reasons. I found that I could tap into some people’s presence most effectively with the physical methods of Lecoq, Anne Bogart, Mary Overlie, Jerzy Grotowski, and Tadashi Suzuki. These methods get the actor into the space and to almost-working like a blue-collar laborer. That “working” creates an engaged body in action, and action is always more interesting to watch, and, thus, creates presence.
I like the theater pedagogies that create presence. I want to watch people when I go to the theater; I want to be so interested in their presence that I will watch them do anything: think, dance, sing, etc. So…learning and teaching something that will add to my enjoyment as an audience member is always what I strive to do. The main thrust of Fitzmaurice’s work posits that this is the desired end result.
Another part of the main thrust is that, “Voice is an action; it has no location until it is in action.” Great, another quote that validates my own idea that it is action that creates presence, not magic.
A longer quote that demonstrates another portion of the philosophy of Fitzmaurice’s work demonstrates what most of the other Brit ladies and American guy were getting at in their work: “A singer’s voice work deals largely with the use of the vocal folds, practicing different pitches, onsets, durations, trills, and cessation, enjoying the bird-like flutter sensations at the throat, and finding in the added manipulations of the pharynx, jaw, and articulators, delightful variations of phoneme and tone, while using the breath for tone initiation, consistency, pause, and volume. However, for those without musical skills or aspirations, the voice is usually simply a means of direct communication of ideas or feelings, requiring no conscious effort other than some acquisition of language skills. Actors in the theater are caught between these two poles.” As a trained opera singer, I can appreciate the difference between my voice and speech training for speaking in the theater and my vocal training to sing, however, I think, much of the work is similar, it just uses a different speed of breath.
I think I will stop here, for now, on this first voice blog. Most of the other books that I explored were just stating their basic premise for their work and in order to stay thematic, I should just stick with Fitzmaurice’s main premise, at this time, as well. Frankly, I’m only scratching the surface on this work right now, so applying it back to things I knew before, is still a little difficult. More soon.