You’re the Voice! Try and Understand That

Yes, I’m quoting John Farnham. Actually, I’m quoting Chris Thompson, Andy Quanta, Keith Reid and Maggie Ryder   – the people who wrote the lyrics.

You’re the voice, try and understand it
Make a noise and make it clear
Oh-o-o-o, whoa-o-o-o!
We’re not gonna sit in silence
We’re not gonna live with fear
Oh-o-o-o, whoa-o-o-o!
(repeat until end of song) (courtesy of LyricsFreak)

I was reminded of this, yet again, by a recent discussion on VASTA (Voice and Speech Trainers of America) about the way some people can learn an accent (in the USA, this is referred to as dialect), for a role in a play, do it perfectly in rehearsal, but then slip up in performance.

Changing the way we speak is a huge undertaking. It may seem, to the uninitiated, like a superficial action, reshaping a few vowel sounds here and there, jiggling the intonation pattern of phrases, but those of us who deal with these things understand that it is never that simple.

Whenever we speak, or give voice to language, we express something of our very own selves. Many complex combinations of muscles are required to perform the most amazing dance within our bodies to allow our sound to be revealed to the listeners. We have spent a lifetime perfecting the way we do it. Trying to learn new ways of doing that incredible inner dance requires months of dedication – not just on the part of the voice coach, but on the part of the voicer.  It requires agility of mind and body, listening accurately, staying alert and focussed, and forgiving every perceived error so that we can start again, and again and again.

When non-performers (also known as “regular people” :-)) try to modify their accents, they very quickly learn that they are modifying part of their culture, their social behaviour and their very sense of who and what they are.  Actors often make the mistake of thinking its just a matter of learning new muscle memory. BIG MISTAKE.  If you learn an accent purely technically, you are not learning how to inhabit it, how to be someone who speaks that way naturally. As well as the physical technique, you also need to understand WHY the character speaks that way, what cultural mores and attitudes go along with it, as well as all the psychological and emotional life you explore as part of the rehearsal process.  When you understand, at this deep level, what you have in common with the character, and where you are different, you can begin to give yourself permission to Choose to be the same in every way, just in the moment of performing.  That means you will feel different to your usual way of being. It doesn’t have to be carried off stage with you. Let it go. Allow the next moment to be just as real, and that applies both on stage and off.

And if that were easy, we’d all be doing it!  So may I respectfully suggest that we honour our voices, as part of honouring ourselves, and make them clear in every way.  We don’t have to shout to be truthful, but we do have to be honest with ourselves, first and foremost.