Saturday, February 17, 2007

ON ACTING: Correcting The Voice

Very, very few actors have 'vocal problems'...that is, basic, irremediable physical problems; what they have are 'emotional' problems, which manifest themselves in their present--and temporary--vocal dilemmas. Which is why voice training alone is important--but not exclusively--to becoming a good actor. Voice training deals with the problems of an ineffective speaking instrument on a symptomatic level...that is, by analyzing and correcting the actor's production of voice: air expulsion from the lungs, through the esophagus, and then through the voice box and ancillary musculature of the throat, tongue, teeth and lips.

However, there is another--and invaluable--type of voice training: the 'internal' training of the actor's emotions. It can be thought of dealing with the underlying vocal disease, not merely the symptom, training the actor to reduce the unnecessary vocal tension created by the actor's uncomfortableness with his/her emotions, which is, at core, is at the origin of the unwanted, or ineffective, voice production.

Let us take the case of an actor who speaks "i' the nose," as Hamlet phrases it (critically) to the Players in "Hamlet": an actor who has 'squeaky', nasal voices (by the way, the pitch has nothing to do with 'squeakiness' or nasal-ness; there are pleasant sounding tenors as well as basses, contraltos as well as sopranos), who seem to speak through their noses and not their throats, who seem to have no fullness or 'timbre' in their voices. They almost seem to be 'whining' instead of explaining; their voice production seems to have its origins in their chest and not their lungs (contracted by the diaphragm); it seems to come out of their noses and not their mouths. As a regional phenomenon, it seems sometimes prevalent in American actors from the South and Southwest (especially Texas); though the problem of nasal 'whine' cuts across all geographical boundaries, as well as gender and age and socio-economic groups.

Actors who speak thus do not have a deficient sound-making system; they speak that way because they have a constriction/restriction in their chest. It is often a result of living an emotionally restricted upbringing; in families, towns and regions where the free flow (and experiencing) of emotion is often being seen as something negative, to be avoided: ideally not to be felt, or, if felt, held in, constricted. As a result, their system refuses to let out their feelings or words in full, rich tones (sounds). In order to speak they they squeeze their chests, like the mouth of a balloon being pinched tightly; they thereby let the air out only slowly, in a controlled manner. Their voice production starts in the chest and comes up to and through the nose, rather than originating in the diaphragm, flowing through a relaxed (not tense) chest (lung) cavity, and out the mouth.

Thus, training in emotional life/acting (experiencing the full range of life's emotions in a safe environment) will free the actor from undue, unnecessary and unwarranted tension onstage or onscreen due to fear of feeling: words will start in the gut and comes out the mouth; rather than starting in the chest and coming out of the nose.


Blogger Myles said...

Sometimes I get an emotional 'stuck' feeling. I don't know if I'm describing it correctly. Like there is so much more to come out but I have a hard time letting it go. I can feel strain in my throat and I feel I'm forcing my sound to come out. Practice makes...better. I need to get better, I need to practice.

6:55 PM  
Blogger Cliff Osmond said...

The 'strain' you are feeling is the sound of air trying to flow of a balloon whose air outlet is being stretched. Try it sometime and hear it squeak. That's your voice. The correction is to get comfortable emotionally so you don't hold in the vast amount of emotion (which is probably scaring you) with a constricted chest and voice box. There are also external breathing and voice exercises that can help. But the central disease is emotional tension.

3:27 PM  
Blogger Myles said...

You're right, it is scary..but I love it! I am going to get to the central disease and cure it so I can shed these layers and be 'raw' in a scene.

8:21 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home