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. :)
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. :)
I just want to take a moment to acknowledge the high quality of performances at the Vancouver International Fringe Festival this year. I know the main Fringe is based on a lottery system (not the BYOVs though) so perhaps we just got lucky this year, but still, for Fringe, I saw a LOT of great theatre.
Not only were there a lot of high quality shows, but there were a vast number of 1 and 2 woman productions. Given that there are SOOO many more female performers than male performers out there, and that there are so many more roles for men than for women, it's heartening to see female performers even out the odds by making their own work. I am so proud and inspired.
I didn't see that many shows this year, but the ones I did see that were of exceptional quality were (in alphabetical order)
Little Lady (1 woman)
Loon (1 woman)
Opera for Heathens (1 man)
Plasticity Now (2 women)
Recess (1 woman)
Where's My Flying Car (1 woman)
I was also part of the Plank Magazine review team this year, so if you want to read a review (or submit your own thoughts on a performance) please check out www.plankmagazine.com
I am absolutely humbled by some of the talent I have seen on stage this past week. It makes me want to crawl into a hole and never try to act again. Paradoxically it also makes me REALLY want to get my own show in the Fringe next year. I'm going to go home and dig up my most recent draft and see what I can rewrite while I'm still buzzing with inspiration...
Singing Experiment Progress Report 1
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!
A special Thank You to Sarah Slean
between this meeting and that flight and the twirling bustle of my life.
Ha! I just realized how glamorous that makes my life sound. It's not, but it would please me to think you thought so. ;)
Anyway as I have been wrestling with the challenge of returning to regular blogging (ironic how when I have stuff to write about I have no time to write about it and when my life if boring I have no inclination to write) and looking for the right words, this song keeps coming back to me. I was prevented from singing it at a recent talent show by laryngitis, so I thought I'd share it with you all now. I hope you gain as much comfort and hope from this simple song as I do.
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.