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've been avoiding blogging. I've been telling myself I don't have the time. But I've been writing drafts, just not finishing or publishing them, so that's obviously not true.
I've been avoiding blogging because I'm afraid of owning my opinions. I've been reviewing a lot recently and something I struggle with is this idea of creating a "balanced" review. I don't have a problem with the fact that my review will be subjective, but within that subjectivity of my experience there is so much I have to say, so many arguments to make that just choosing what to focus on is a very big decision, it can completely skew the data. And is that bad? How do you know when you're focussing on the right thing? What if someone takes my criticism to heart? What if they think that one tick was all I saw of their entire performance? I can't comment on the entirety of even one person's performance, never mind encapsulate a show! I can only get specific with one or two things, how can I honestly say what's at the forefront of my mind while still representing the whole?
A conversation with a friend at the theatre tonight (I owe my friends so much, they remind me of who I am and what's important in life and inspire my dreams) made me think I'd really like to start a critical column somewhere. Not reviews, I do that already. Specific acting and voice tips based on my experiences, based on performances I see, that kind of thing and I was wondering how on earth I could do that. And then I realized I have a blog! That's what this is for! I should use it.
So this is a recommitment to myself. And to you, whoever reads this, to be brave and honest. To own my opinions and to be wrong. (Wow I am just reminded of a promise I made myself at the last mini-intensive with David Smukler. I said I'd find my courage. Amazing how quickly we forget the big stuff.)
Courage and blogging. And here we go. . .
Just a quick one while I'm thinking about it.
Do you walk around holding your arms up? I don't mean with your hands in the air, although that is an amusing image, I mean do you use the muscles in your shoulders to keep your arms "attached"... I bet you do. What would happen if you let those muscles go and let your arms surrender to gravity? 10 bucks says they don't fall off. ;)
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?
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.
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.
In honour of my birthday I'm giving away 2 fabulous prizes!
A spot in the November Technique Workshop (Vancouver, BC) with a value of $250!
How to enter:
Private message me through LivingVoiceCoaching on Facebook or email me at email@example.com before 11:59pm PST on November 6th 2012 with your full name, email address and answers to the following questions:
1. What is your favourite quality about your voice?
2. If you had the chance and anything was possible, what would you improve?
The first prize winner will be announced on November 7th, 2012!
Three private voice sessions (also in Vancouver, BC) with a value of $120! *Redeemable in 2013.
How to enter:
Subscribe to my mailing list before November 30th, 2012.
Ways to subscribe:
1) Through the "subscribe" button on the homepage at www.livingvoice.ca
2) Email firstname.lastname@example.org with your full name and email address saying "I want to subscribe to your newsletter!"
3) Private message LivingVoiceWorkshops with your full name and email address saying "I want to subscribe to your newsletter!"
The bonus prize winner will be announced on December 1st, 2012!
"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.
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.