Giving Voice to the Next Generation of Classical Actors
Valerie Kaneko Lucas
"I sang better than ever at work tonight thanks to my open body and voice!" was the immediate result for one West End performer who was lucky enough to get one of the twenty places for 'Speaking English Classic Drama', the Society for Theatre Research annual Poel Event, which aims to inspire and inform actors in methods and practice for the performance of Shakespeare and all classic drama. The free, all-day training event took place at the National Theatre on Friday 23rd October.
Voice specialist Barbara Houseman, director Barrie Rutter, actor Oliver Ford-Davies and the National's own Jeanette Nelson, generously led this year's masterclasses. These leading theatre professionals spend a day volunteering their expertise, wisdom and guidance to early-career actors and directors. Poel Event's director, Norman Tozer, explains that the day responds to two concerns: the desire of actors to continue to develop their skills after completing drama training and the desire of audiences to enjoy articulate and audible performances of Shakespeare and his contemporaries.
Barbara Houseman began the day with strategies to keep the voice healthy and dynamic, sharing as well her experience of working with Daniel Radcliffe for his transition from Harry Potter to Equus in the West End. She offered participants a tool-kit for grounding and strengthening the voice (including warming up in the confines of a pub theatre!). She encouraged actors to reconnect with a sense of playfulness, exploring ways to achieve audibility without sacrificing the emotional nuances demanded by one's role. 'Let the audience be your intimates,' Houseman advised. 'The audience is a fellow player.'
Director Barrie Rutter - whose Othello is currently on the West End - revels in 'the sheer rock-and-roll-ability of classical text.' Rutter's scenework with the actors explored the rhythm and musicality of Shakespeare's verse, emphasizing how the writing 'carries the story and tells the emotion.'
The afternoon sessions moved from rehearsal room to Oliver Theatre, where actors worked onstage to experience the challenges of this impressive space. Jeanette Nelson, Head of Voice at the NT, worked individually with each actor; diagnosing problems giving seemingly simple exercises to produce amazing results, enabling the actors to fill the space confidently and audibly.
Oliver Ford-Davies, a seasoned leading Olivier player, shared his views on working its unusually wide stage. His session further developed issues of interpretation, looking at the myriad choices that Shakespeare's Love's Labours Lost and Measure for Measure present to actors.
From the opening work on vocal health and technique through to considerations of character, space, intention, interpretation and the all-important connection between technique and creativity, participants gained an intensive and thought-provoking foundation for their future work. As one actor remarked, 'We pay for our training. This was a wonderful gift! Shakespeare has been a weight on my shoulders - but now I feel more confident. It's great to know that you can learn to listen and trust the language.'
The 2009 event took place on Friday 23rd October, at the National Theatre on London's South Bank.
This is what the participants remembered from the day:
This is how the day matched up to the participants' expectations:
The day definitely delivered on my hope. I also came away feeling truly inspired and excited about my new classical career I am about to embark on after finishing my contract in Les Miserables.
My hopes were well met. It did feel however that we scratched the surface and perhaps with smaller groups or more time we could have gone further and deeper. It was the last two sessions that I felt really useful perhaps an idea for next time is if the group is split in two and half go to Jeannette and half to Oliver (or whoever run the sessions next year!) and then we swap over. It would mean workshop leaders running two sessions rather than one and the participants would only the get one session on stage, but personally I would prefer that in order to gain a richer session.
I was very happy to be chosen for the workshop and it went a long well to giving me the confidence and the willingness to go further in my training and ability in order to better my voice and breathing skills.
I realised that I knew much more than I thought and that I could take confidence in my own knowledge and most importantly I found how to express those things in words.
It was an amazing day and it was definitely met my expectations and more!!
You delivered on my hope. Absolutely!
I thought it would go over vocal skills I had covered in my training and hopefully add a few more. I also thought it would give an opportunity to meet and work with other actors.
It fulfilled my hopes and exceeded my expectations. I found the passion and dedication of the tutors exhilarating and it inspired me to be more vigorous with my vocal exercises and raised my expectation of what I am capable of. I had a wonderful day. It has affirmed my passion for classical work and re-booted my commitment to keeping my body and voice fit for purpose. I thought overall it was a well-organised day, although the Oliver Ford Davies session was a lot more productive for those doing the Love's Labour's piece. I think it would have been more effective to have given everyone a scene rather than a monologue, to make that session sufficiently different from the Jeanette Nelson one.
Yes, Barbara helped enormously
Fantastically well. I could gush but I'll resist, suffice to say I thoroughly enjoyed the entire day and felt it was hands on, relevant and inspiring in a way that appeals enormously to actors. I would like to express my thanks to your team for organising this event. I think it is extremely important to highlight the need for all actors to acquire the ability to perform classical, epic text.
Within the time available the organisation and content was excellent.
Barrie's Rockability quote has made Classical text much more fun! And Jeannette really released something in me with the simple instruction to free my jaw. Thanks for a memorable day. Will always remember my first time on the Olivier stage!
It was everything I wanted, I left feeling inspired, confident and buzzing with information. I only wish it had lasted for a couple of days so that we all could have got more practical experience and guidance.
I feel that for me to work in straight theatre could now be a real possibility and I sang better than ever at work that night, thanks to my open body and voice!
The day gave me an insight and experience into how a technically strong voice combined with a command and ease and a sense of play with the text all need to sit hand in hand so in those respects it delivered. I would have benefited from some more individual time and direction on stage but I understand the time constraints.
Great day. Perhaps a little more feedback on the acting side in conjunction with the voice would have been useful.
STR News Archive
11th December 2009