Tip of the Week: Trust Yourself
Today's tip is a day late because I was writing an exam yesterday. BUT writing the exam provided me with this week's tip. Funny how these things work out.
Today's tip: Work hard. Prepare. Then let it all go and trust!
This advice applies to performance of any type: acting, singing, corporate presentations, academic exams, the whole kit and caboodle. It's an effective process. And yesterday, getting ready to sit down for my exam I heard Larry Silverberg's voice in my head saying "Trust the preparation!" and I realized that I learned how to approach exams, job interviews and work presentations many, many years ago when I was just a wee young thing at speech and drama classes!
I'm going to use the actors process to illustrate what I mean, but you can apply this to anything.
The actor works relentlessly through the rehearsal period. You review your script every night even when you know all the words, you do all the table work, you question and over-analyze everything, you try every possible combination you can think of in the scene study, you work towards exhaustion. And then, the day before the performance, you rest. You get enough sleep, you go for a walk, you clear your mind, you "forget" everything you've worked so hard on and you Trust. You trust the work you've done has seeped into your bones and you trust the techniques you've drilled yourself on have become muscle memory, you trust that you know the character inside and out and you stand in the wings waiting for your cue expectant, open and ready for anything. (Personally I often stand in the wings realizing I don't know what my first line is, but I've learned to enjoy that, it has always been there when the time comes.)
Trusting yourself on stage allows you to surrender to the moment, to your partner and to the situation in front of you so that you are truly present and alive when it matters most. If you're holding your lines in your head or thinking about your blocking or your emotional journey or (god forbid) what the audience must be thinking or whatever your particular "control habit" is, your performance will be wooden and stale. Never mind upping the anxiety scale to the point of stage fright: sweats, shakes and stammers! It is only by letting go of everything that you can make yourself available to the fullness of your experience and knowledge.
And this applies as much to cramming for an exam or preparing for a presentation to the board as it does to acting. Work hard, know your material inside out and then let it all go. Float and enjoy the mastery of your infinite potential.
Tip of the week: use the "wait" time!
Haha! No innuendo in this week's tip! I did it! *dance around the computer maniacally*
You're right. Who cares? Get on with the tip already!
If you're anything like me you struggle to find time for everything that needs to get done in your day. And I'm guessing that even if you ARE like me, voice practice might not be at the very tip top of your to-do list. So how can you keep caring for your voice without booking off an hour a day to do warmups and relaxation exercises? Well, how much time every day do you spend waiting? For the bus, for your partner to get ready, for school to be over? Use that time!
Maybe you won't be able to get on the floor and start stretching while you wait for the bus (Especially in Vancouver, it's wet! Ick!) but you can absolutely check in with your posture. In fact, that's my favourite way to wait for the bus. I do it every morning and every night. I check the weight distribution on my feet, are my knees locked or soft? Where is my sacrum at? And are my shoulders tensed or hunched? Is my sternum collapsed? Can I lift and open it? I mindfully adjust my posture and then challenge myself to stay aligned until the bus comes.
Or on the bus I practice my breath support exercises: breathing to capacity into my belly and side ribs and out to a very quiet "fff" while I count in my head. Or I just practice breathing deeper. (See how I'm referencing previous tips? They're all relevant people!)
At the office in front of that computer check in with your head/neck relationship. Is your head off your spine, conked off forward or are you balancing your skull lightly on that atlas vertebra? Is your back hunched or straight? Is your jaw clenched? Can you relax it while you work? Working at the office could become relax your jaw time!
These seem like tiny things, but they add up. If you check in with your body regularly, in the little breaks while you're waiting for that page to load, that bus to come or that clock to strike leaving time, you'll be amazed at the cumulative difference in your life. Give it a try! And please, if you have positive results (or negative results, I don't want to discriminate here) please post your findings below. :)
Tip of the Week: Open Your Mouth
Why do my voice tips always sound dirty? It's not intentional I swear!
To continue with the singing theme from yesterday: Do you ever struggle to hit those high notes when you're singing? Do you ever get choked-up (literally) with emotion or nerves or just plain tension? Next time, try opening your mouth a little more. See what happens. ;)
In our bigger, better, faster, more society there's an awful lot of jaw clenching going on. You might not even know you do it, but chances are you do. And chances are you can afford to let that tension go, open that mouth just a little further and let that voice out!
I find when I'm stressed out I sing to myself. The more depressed or angry or hopeless I feel, the more I sing.
Today I couldn't stop. It was sing or cry. So, there I was walking down East Hastings Street singing to myself! I fit right in.
It's not a narcissistic thing that I find the sound of my own voice comforting; not like talking because I like the sound of my own voice. It's like a lullaby. A special song from me to me. Similar to rocking myself when I grieve. Sometimes all you have is your self and that's as it should be. Singing to myself, or sometimes just making sound (like an "ohm" on my signature note) does remind me so much of that feeling: lying in a cot, safe, wrapped in a blanket of warmth being rocked to sleep with my mother's love washing over me.
I don't have any profound theories to sum this experience up with. I feel sure there's one in there about the importance of singing and love and evolution... Perhaps someone else can expound on that for me. I just really wanted to share, maybe even hear if anyone else out there does the same thing? It certainly brings home how important it is to me to continue with my Teach the World to Sing Experiment. If I didn't have my voice, I have no idea how I'd cope with extreme emotion. Not to be able to express, to send my message out to the universe through sound and to feel that connection reverberating out all the way to the stars, not to siphon off all that excess tension... I shudder to think what a wreck I'd be.
***A quick addendum here: I do sing when I'm happy too!!
I don't want you to think, if you do ever see me singing away as I walk down the street, that I'm necessarily feeling suicidal. I sing all the time, no matter how I'm feeling. If I'm feeling anything I'm probably singing about it. But there's casual happy go lucky singing and then there's singing with urgency. Singing with need and longing and alone-ness. That's what I'm talking about here.
Tip of the Week: Go Deeper!
In an attempt to regulate my sporadic blogging habit I have decided to start a Tip Of The Week initiative. I'm going to aim to post one every Thursday.
4 October's tip is: Go Deeper!
Now get your mind out of the gutter for a second and think about everything you've ever been told about breath.
Perhaps you know you don't want to breathe into your shoulders (I hope!), perhaps you even breathe into your side ribs, belly or back ribs. That's great! Now I challenge you to go deeper. See if you can breathe into your pelvis, your bum, hey see if you can breathe into your thighs! Try it this week and see what happens.
Of course, there's a catch: I want to hear from you! Who tried it? How did it feel? What did you realize? How did it change your life? All observations are welcome from the revolutionary to the mundane. (But nothing offensive please, this is a family friendly website.) Post your comments below and every week you'll get to see what other people thought and experienced in this little experiment.
So go now. Live life. Breathe deep. And tell me all about it! ;)
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. :)
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.