Isn't it great when your own advice comes back to bite you in the ass?
I did something very stupid 2 days ago. It really brought a lesson home for me. So of course I thought I'd share.
I'm working box office at the Vancouver International Film Festival this year. It's great fun and it's a nice short shot (2 weeks) of constant work to top up the bank account. I could feel I was getting a cold, I haven't given my body proper rest since some time in July, and I was assigned to my customary box office booth number 1. The mic in this booth doesn't work and it was a point of pride for me that when I was there that wasn't so much of a problem. I know how to use my voice! I up-pitch, I project and I get by. But that's when I'm well. I've come to realize that I allow myself some very bad habits because I know that I'm robust. What's the saying? Strong like bull, smart like lamppost.
Here's the problem. I don't speak with my true voice when I work customer service. I know this is a habit that I have and I usually just say "screw it, I'd rather feel safe thank you". For any readers who haven't done any work with authentic sound or finding your true voice, most people use what I call voice-masks most of the time instead of connecting with their true voice, in regular daily life anyway. It's like a shield, a persona we put on, a role we play. It's useful when I'm dealing with irate customers. The problem is, not using my real voice means I'm "off-voice" which means I'm creating unnecessary strain. Usually, I go home, chill out, relax, reconnect to myself and everything's dandy. A little voice strain can be weathered as long as you keep it contained and warm up (and down) appropriately. Hmph.
Combining being "off voice" with up-pitching and having a sore throat from a cold already is a very bad idea. On top of that I've been so busy and feeling so ick that I haven't done my personal practice in a while either so I really wasn't in good shape to begin with.
About half-way through the shift I could feel that I was doing some damage. The sensible thing to do at this point would have been to ask someone to switch booths for a while. Or I could drop the up-pitching and use hand gestures for the customers who weren't so great at reading lips. I did neither. I was proud and keen to prove that one broken mic was no match for me. And with this swaggering bravado I got croakier and croakier. My voice lasted. Just. As I stepped out of that booth at the end of my shift my throat closed up and that was that.
Thanks to my pridefulness I had to endure a day at the box office with no voice at all. Which is frustrating and impractical at best, but when your co-workers know that you coach voice technique, it's mortifying! I'm off to do it again tonight. My voice is coming back, I'm at maybe 60% today, but I've learned my lesson, I'm not going to push through. It's whispers and charades tonight and I'll see how much I've healed by tomorrow.
This whole experience has humbled me rather. This is a big part of what I address in my coaching and I am not practicing what I preach. I have grown lax! Not just on a physical level, I'm also not challenging myself the way I used to. I've been catering too much to my fears. There is no reason I shouldn't be connected to my true voice all the time, but I'm terrified of being rejected, ostracized, fired! I feel so exposed. It's easy when you're in a workshop or on stage or among friends, but out in the world, especially behind a counter, it seems an impossible thing. But it's not. I know that. And hopefully some of the people I've coached know that. It's a journey. I've come a long way in the last few years, now it's time to find the path again and re-commit.
All through writing this I have heard David Smukler's voice booming in the back of my head. At the 2011 National Voice Intensive, we were doing some sort of exercise I don't remember what and I was hiding and squirming and being generally uncomfortable up on stage and he asked me "Why does Honest have to mean Vulnerable?"
That's a very powerful question, David. Thanks for the compass. :)
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Danielle Benzon coaches entrepreneurs and performing artists in voice, acting and audition technique. She is also certified to teach the Meisner Approach through the True Acting Institute. Danielle is based in Vancouver, Canada.