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:
It's my birthday! You know what that means? Birthday giveaway time!
What's the prize? Well, I have a bunch of workshops coming up so I thought I'd let you choose.
The winner will get to participate in the Living Voice workshop of their choice (or gift that spot to a loved one) as long as that workshop happens before 31 December 2014. You can see a full workshop calendar here and it is updated regularly.
Enter the contest by emailing me (firstname.lastname@example.org) your answers to the questions below before November 30th I will draw the winner on December 3rd.
1. Full name
2. Email address
3. What is your profession?
4. Do you act/sing/dance/perform in any capacity? (Please describe.)
5. What is your biggest challenge with your voice?
6. How do you find that #5 affects you in your daily life or limits your potential?
7. What outcome would you prefer to #6 in an ideal world?
8. How would getting #7 affect your life?
9. If you experience anxiety speaking in front of people in any situations, please describe.
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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That's right! It's Fringe time again in Vancouver and as per usual I am part of the Plank Magazine review team covering the festival. You can read all of the reviews at www.plankmagazine.com
Shows I highly recommend so far (for a variety of reasons):
Kit and Jane
Come Cuddle Me
The Chronicles of Johnny Tomorrow
And finally my jealousy of all my friends I have seen posting about the Edinburgh Fringe for the whole of August is (mostly) assuaged.
If you see a show you love (or hate) at the Vancouver Fringe this year, you are invited to comment either here or at www.plankamagzine.com :)
I was explaining to my friend Ashley (who isn’t an actor) how it feels in those moments in the wings before I step on stage. It’s hard to explain how time slows, how I breathe in magic from the air and relax into a state of present focus. No matter how little sleep I have had over the rehearsal process I feel a bottomless well of inspiration, energy, enthusiasm and fight open up below my feet and I know it will be there as long as I need it. I feel more alive than I’ve ever felt and I know that I can give my scene partner everything that I’ve got to the very last drop.
Ashley casually asked why it is I don’t approach the rest of my life that way.
The question floored me. I didn't have an answer for him at the time. It had never even occurred to me that I could apply the same principles of joy, focus and energy to my real-life goals! But why not? What other opportunities have I been passing up because I had forgotten that all the world is a stage?
Recently I have been working a lot. Long days with little sleep. At first it was difficult and a few weeks in I could feel my energy waning. I could feel the familiar shaky, over-worked, stressed out feeling that I associate with approaching burn-out. Failure and despair were imminent and I was very ready to give up and crawl into
a hole somewhere. But Ashley’s question kept nibbling away at my consciousness.
Actors: Do you know that feeling when you've worked hard all day, every day for ages? You’ve voluntarily put yourself through the emotional wringer and you keep coming back for more and at the end of each day you're just wreaked. I know I’m doing my job right when it feels like I’ve lived out every possible emotion in the whole of human history in one afternoon; my body and your soul are raw and I have no idea what I‘m doing, nor who I am or how I feel because I left everything I had up there on the stage.
You get where this is going? The body sore, frustrated to tears, utterly lost and alone burn-out feeling I get from pushing myself in my life is the same feeling! The only difference is that in my life I expect to have the answers. I want to see the product and feel like I’m composed and in control. So. If I can surrender and trust the process on stage and in an acting class and LOVE it, in theory I can do the same with my life.
I’ve been pushing for a few months now. The exhaustion and the drive come and go. I’m not yet at the point where I’m approaching my life with the vigorous joyful surrender as I do a performance, but I have moments. The muscle memory is building,
I’m looking forward to waking up one morning, putting my feet on the floor and seeing that limitless well of inspiration, energy, fight and enthusiasm open up before my feet and knowing that it will be there as long as I need it to be.
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My recent experiences auditioning and giving advice to friends who are starting to audition made me realize I should share a few audition tips for those of us who get nervous.
1. Choosing a Monologue
I'm just zeroing in on nerve-busting strategies here. Obviously you must still take into account all the normal stuff like appropriateness of genre, range, length, context, your personal connection to the piece etc etc.
If you've done any work with me you'll have heard me say that you need to know your text inside out and back to front. This is always true but it is especially important in the context of an audition. To test if you know your piece well enough try it while doing something that requires both your body and brain like a choreographed dance or gardening. If you cannot simultaneously say your words and do the activity then you don't know the piece well enough yet. In addition to knowing your words inside out, it is also helpful to know yourself. Everyone is different. How do your nerves manifest? At an audition what does your body typically do? What mannerisms and personality traits surface? And how can you use this knowledge to your advantage?
Now, I'm NOT saying that you should choose something about a nervous actor and just ride your nerves in the audition. There are so many reasons why that doesn't work. But it IS a lot easier to match your physical energy and subtly change it than is is to do a complete 180 against what your body is giving you. You'll always have to ground your energy, personalize and get into character but if your nervous self is highly strung perhaps a neurotic or desperate person would be a better choice than a depressive or zen-master. That way you can use your adrenaline engine instead of spending all your energy trying to smother it. Similarly, if you become paralyzed with nerves and want to crawl into a hole a hide then perhaps you want a less physical character, look for something a bit more contained.
The hardest part about auditioning, especially if you are choosing to work with your nerves instead of against them, is staying/getting grounded. Most of us when we're nervous let that hysterical energy bring our centre of gravity way up into our shoulders. But we'll address that a little later in the series. Right now just think about the character you've chosen or are going to choose and how you can make the physical manifestation of your nerves work for you.
I was listening to, of all things, Gold Mother by James today and it got me think about how I'm approaching the world and my life right now. I've been hibernating the last week or two, doing a lot of punishing and judging, not so much of the curious exploring. I only realized listening to that song what a funk I was in! So this tip of the week is as much for me as it is for you.
Tip of the Week: Be Curious!
Imagine a baby approaching the world, they don't even know how their fingers work! Everything is wonder and mystery and discovery. Why shouldn't we continue to approach our bodies that way all through our lives? If anything as adults we have more of a capacity to appreciate just how intricate and powerful and fragile and versatile and strong our bodies are. But instead of being in awe, we punish, we bully, we ignore and neglect.
And of course this especially applies to approaching voice work. Do you ever bully your voice? Take it for granted? Do you ever ignore what your voice is telling you because you're pushing for a result no matter the cost? I know I do. Let's take time this week to approach our bodies and our voices with respect and curiosity. Approach your practice, your singing, your rehearsals and your conversations with wonder and joy. Truly listen to your body. This could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship.
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.
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.