You may or may not know that I review for an online magazine, called Plank.
Last night I saw Grace Symmetry, a collaborative performance between Ballet BC and Turning Point Ensemble. This snippet of conversation from drinks after the show sums up the experience pretty well:
“This ballet feels so primal, it’s like the material by-passed my brain, reached into my guts and stirred things about.”
“Yes! Not needing words they instead go: That thing you’re feeling? It looks something like this...“
I'd much prefer you went to see it for yourself (I heard a rumour they've opened up some more seats, might even be discounted on the day-of.) but it's only at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre Feb 20 - 22, so if you can't, at least read my review. I have a feeling I will carry the memory of this performance with me for the rest of my life.
Read more at:
Want a real cure for the hiccoughs?
There are many myths about how to cure the hiccoughs, from getting a fright to drinking water upside-down, but most of them are more amusing than helpful.
Hiccoughs are caused by a spasm in your diaphragm, the muscle that helps you breathe in and out. This breath control exercise will bring conscious energy into that muscle and so calm the spasm. It works every time.
You may not be able to isolate your diaphragm exactly. That's OK. The trick is to use the muscles in your diaphragm, solarplexis and belly as mindfully as possible. Remember: this is a control exercise, specifically designed to calm nerves or a fluttery diaphragm, it is not to be used in performance or as part of your practice towards free, relaxed sound.
As evenly and measuredly as you can:
(Using the muscles in your diaphragm, solarplexis and belly to breathe, not your shoulders or your throat!)
1. Breathe in for 5 counts
2. Hold the breath inside you for 3 counts
3. Breathe out for 10 counts on a fricative.
A fricative is a consonant sounds that creates friction as the air escapes. “Ffffff” is the best for being inconspicuous, for example when you have an attack of hiccoughs in a job interview or on a crowded train, but “Sssss”, “Thhh”, “Zzzz” and “Jjjjj” will work just as well.
Repeat steps 1 through 3 without stopping five times. For extreme cases you may need to repeat the steps up to ten times. It won't work if you're multitasking, you will need to put all of your attention on your breath. In most cases 3 to 5 breaths will have you hiccough-free! :)
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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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This passed weekend I treated myself to a mini-intensive voice workshop with David Smukler. It was a joy to be a student again and to surrender to the learning process. David is so ruthlessly perceptive that I feel my practice has deepened to a whole new level.
It's so easy (for me anyway) to get lost in the mechanics of an exercise that I practice regularly. The habit of "doing" is so powerful that if I'm not careful I go into autopilot and forget to simply "be". My experience this weekend was so freeing that I have promised myself that I will approach each exercise like it is the very first time, every time. Like a virgin in fact. (no blog post is complete without a pop-culture reference)
Sure, mindfulness takes longer and I'm going to have to let go of the urge to "know" and "get it right" but you know what? It is so worth it and I am excited about my practice again in a way I haven't been in ages! What in your life do you love that you could approach again like it was the very first time? What will you rediscover?
"Winter is coming" as they say. Are you prepared?
If you're like me and you walk down the street singing a lot you'll have noticed the change in the weather in Vancouver, BC. My throat does not like these temperatures (OK I know they're not that low yet, I'm a ninny, I admit it) and it closes up in terror when I breathe in that icy ether.
So it's just going to get even colder, what can we do about it?
1. Wear a scarf outside. A warm neck is a relaxed neck. Shoulders too. The last thing you want is residual tension from the weather!
2. Warm ups are always important, but even more so in winter. Your warm up is there to WARM up your throat. If you don't usually warm up (wrist slap for you) or you usually only do a quick one, take a bit more time and be a bit more gentle with yourself at the outset.
3. Let that air in. I know, it's cold, your body doesn't want to, but breath is still of the utmost importance and skimping on an inhalation is not the answer. You might unconsciously breathe more shallowly in winter. Make it conscious and allow the breath to travel at least all the way into your belly (Or deeper! If you haven't read the Go Deeper Tip Of the Week, make that your next stop). Remember that breath is the fuel for the sound: less breath, less sound and less vocal range.
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. :)
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! ;)
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.