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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After much hoopla and ado, pacing and nail biting, I am finally sitting down to write about the voice experiment sessions. They have in fact been going really well. Too well. I haven’t felt like there was much to report. Today was only session 4 and we’re nowhere near actual SONG yet! But today was so much fun that my inertia broke… As it were.
Allie is taking to this work like a fish to water. I love teaching the inexperienced. They have no bad habits that they want to hold on to, no egos established, just a curiosity and willingness to learn. Which is of course the best way to approach any creative task, no matter where you are in your career.
To fill you in quickly, the first 2 sessions were double whammies on free, truthful sound and starting her on the support exercises.
Flashback to day one:
My subject (hehe I feel like I should be wearing a lab coat and goggles) has an interesting approach to the sigh. She’s a very active person and from what I can tell she relaxes very actively too. In our first session I was completely flummoxed. Every sigh was an explosion! The word relax was met with a very deliberate rearranging of her shoulder muscles. A re-organization of tension. Stillness? Yes. Relaxed? Not so much. But she’s learning: she’s doing spinal rolls and we’ve found a breath image that encourages her to use a lot less effort. I’m fortunate in having a student with such an open attitude, Allie is very honest and self-aware about her patterns, it makes her very easy to work with. I’m quite proud of her. :)
Back to present day:
Today’s session blew Allie’s mind. “Who knew learning to sing could be so much like doing mushrooms?” OK, she didn’t actually say that, but it was the spirit of the thing. Up until today we’ve been fairly somber (well, for me), but today we really got up into the body’s natural amplifiers and we were getting all tingly!
Session 3 and 4 have both had a focus on resonance. Last week was a version of Stewart Pearce’s chakra resonator scale, a big favourite of mine. Very profound. But today, session 4, was the soft palette and the Linklater Resonance scale. Waaay more room for sillyness. And we had an audience! Who shall remain nameless and was a little bit of a surprise to me I won’t lie. It was my first time teaching with an observer in the room. But that’s what you get for doing free sessions as house calls. I’m sure he learned a lot. ;)
I am so excited to keep moving, I could’ve gone all night. But as I left Allie draped herself on the couch in an exhausted flop, so perhaps it was prudent to stop when we did. Stay tuned for more experimental madness!
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.