So the Vancouver International Fringe Festival is over for this year. I'm sad, but it's given me a lot to think about. There were some amazing (and some misused) voices this fringe. Here are some of my observations and tips from the last few weeks:
Voice is a huge part of character development. In "regular theatre" where an actor is only playing one role it's not so obvious, but in Fringe, where very often actors are playing multiple characters, it becomes increasingly important. I'm not talking about accents or funny voices, I'm talking about physically internalizing the character. It's essential. When actors use external indicators like costume to differentiate between characters it can be helpful to the audience, but if the actor doesn't believe the change, the characters all blend together despite the best intentioned visual cues.
The other thing is articulation. Young and inexperienced actors excited about singing or doing accents can forget about diction in their enthusiasm. All that energy is wasted if I can't work out what you're saying.
I have to mention Kitt and Jane by SNAFU Dance Theatre. Aside from the fact that I think this show was beyond awesome in a million other ways, it's pretty awesome vocally too. Ingrid Hansen is inspiring as the plucky Kitt and has a gorgeous(!) singing voice, but what really impressed me was Rod Peter Jr. as Jane. His thin, bright character voice was so solid that I was not expecting such a rich and resonant one when he opened his mouth after curtain call. Such an intelligent and healthy choice, directing his voice through his cheekbones and facial mask adding a thin, "weedy" quality without loosing any of his projective range. They could hear him in the back just fine even though it felt psychologically like his voice would disappear into himself at any second. Coupled with his introverted posture, the voice completely sealed the illusion. And by altering the direction of his voice instead of up-pitching, and keeping the breath deep and connected, there's no damage done so he can keep doing it night after night! I was very impressed. Might steal that trick myself some day. . .
Some great examples of multiple characters done really well were Paul Cosentino in Bad Connections? (also an AWESOME script by the way, written by Michael Levesque) and Andrew Bailey in The Adversary (which he also wrote, fit him like a glove). There were a LOT of shows in the Fringe and I didn't even see half of them, so this isn't a definitive list, just a sample of what impressed me on a purely vocal level.
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The articulation tip for today (say that 10 times fast!) is to D your T's.
No! I don't mean say budder instead of butter! This is about being precise, not lazy. D and T are a plosive pair. That means the only real difference in making them is that one is voiced (D) and the other is unvoiced (T). Other than that, they are exactly the same!
I've been hearing a lot of splashy T's lately, the result of either a lazy or an over active tongue tip. The "splash" is usually caused by the tongue straying too close to the upper teeth, either upon contact or as it releases. The placement of the tongue for the letter T should be exactly the same as for the letter D, that is firm on the ridge behind your teeth. I've included a graphic here because it's hard to explain, please excuse my ineptitude with a pencil. Click on the image to see a larger version.
The tongue should move up to touch the ridge behind your front top teeth and then retract straight back into your mouth. If your tongue slips forward at the end of your T then you are being too enthusiastic!
Try this simple exercise of sneaking a T in with the D's to create a more precise, less explosive T.
1. d d d d d d
2. d d d t d d d t (x 4)
3. d d t d d t (x 8)
4. d t d t (as much as you can without letting the T run away with you)
If you notice the T is more precise at the beginning of the exercise but that your habitual splashiness creeps in near the end, repeat the second line over and over again until you can do the third without reverting, then repeat the third until you can do the fourth comfortably.
If you do any work with a microphone this exercise is very important. Too much air on a mic results in headaches for sound engineers and less than desirable recordings of your beautiful voice. You'll have to slow down at first when you practice in order to retrain your tongue, but once you have the knack you'll be able to return to your regular speaking speed.
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.