EXPERIENTIAL PERSPECTIVES: REFLECTIONS ON VOICE AND SPEECH TRAINING
What has changed in the field of voice training for the theatre in the past 100 years? I cannot speak personally for the full century of actors’ voice training since 1915 but I will boldly claim some personal knowledge of what has happened in the English-speaking world of actor-training in the last half-century. I hope, thus, to frame my reflections on what constitutes the craft of training the speaking voice within the context of the art of theatre.
I started teaching in 1958 at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA) under the tutelage of a woman named Iris Warren who had developed her own approach to voice training. She was interested in the emotional roots of voice and she was opening up a new world of exploration in a profession that had clearly defined its aesthetic parameters and set the boundaries of successful vocal performance. In the early twentieth century vocal standards in the English theatre world were plain: sufficient projection to be heard in the back row of the theatre, a pleasantly modulated range of vocal dynamics, and crisp articulation. The actor’s voice was a musical instrument to be well managed and expertly played. But Iris was dealing with successful actors on the West End stage who were losing their voices through the effort and strain of pushing for those desired effects. According to ‘unofficial,’ orally transmitted accounts of her practice, at some time in the 1930s Iris was asked by a Freudian analyst if she could help a patient of his who was unable to speak about his traumatic experiences. Iris got him to relax, breathe deeply and feel the sound of his voice in his body. He immediately began crying, and with the flood of tears came a flood of words. The emotion had freed his voice. Iris started adapting her voice exercises to include emotional impulse. Time and again her clients recovered their voices as emotion was released. Her exercises were revolutionized to find their origins deep inside the emotional body rather than be managed by abdominal and intercostal regulation.
It took another twenty years or more for English actor training to catch up with Iris. It was not until the 1950s that mainstream English theatre evolved from its somewhat external, boulevard style of performance to an acceptance of the psychological realism of Stanislavsky. John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger (1956) was certainly a breakthrough for emotional realism and, since the 1940s, Jacques Copeau’s explorations into character work had begun to influence actor training in England but, in my judgment, it was the raw naturalism of American film acting that finally cracked the façade of English acting technique in the 1970s, 80s and on.
American acting was steeped in Stanislavsky’s methodology and Lee Strasberg’s Actors Studio approach, which dominated American actor training from the 1950s to the 1980s. (Strasberg’s teachers were Maria Ouspenskaya and Richard Boleslavsky who had studied with Stanislavsky and set up their school in New York after the famous visit there in 1923 of the Moscow Art Theatre). But at that time the training for voice and movement was largely rooted in singing techniques and dance. These techniques required physical management and manipulation that distanced the performer from emotional and psychological impulse.
I was lucky enough to enter the American theatre-training world in 1963. I had been teaching at LAMDA for six years and wanted a change. I thought I would visit New York for a year. I remained in the States for 50 years. Iris’s emotion-based voice work spoke the same psycho-physical language as the Method and over the next years, I developed her techniques in the rich climate of psycho-physical exploration that became the human potential movement of the 1960s, 70s and 80s. My work is deeply rooted in the body, in the freedom of emotion and in the subtlety of thought impulse.
Before I went to the United States, I knew nothing of anatomy. My American students, however, wanted to know the facts behind the exercises I taught. The first related voice book I read was Training the Speaking Voice by Virgil Anderson (1961). This led me to Mabel Elsworth Todd’s The Thinking Body (1937). Todd’s work was the basis for the development of ideokinesis—the use of visual imagery to stimulate body movement. These books gave anatomical language to the approach to vocal exercise that Iris Warren had constructed and it became clear to me that her intuitive understanding of vocal anatomy was impeccable.
Still, it is one thing to help an actor gain vocal strength, range and freedom in the classroom but quite another to transfer that success to the rehearsal room and into performance. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, I experimented with strategies that would bring language out of the head and into the body. Working with Shakespeare’s texts, I created ‘Sound and Movement,’ a systematic series of exercises that reconstitutes every component of a word and then all the building blocks of grammar as physical, sensory, emotional experiences. This is the practical research I have pursued in the classroom, on the rehearsal floor, and as an actor.
THE ACTOR’S QUARTET
The ‘geography’ of an actor’s creative and expressive process is complex because the raw material of an actor’s performance is the human being who performs. In order to simplify the picture for training purposes I sometimes talk about the ‘Actor’s Quartet.’ The Actor’s Quartet is made up of Body, Voice, Emotion, and Intellect—played (conducted, led, inspired) by the Creative Imagination. The four instruments must be trained both separately and together and must balance equally for optimum performance. Optimum performance means transformation; body, voice, emotion, intellect transmute into a character under the alchemical guidance of the imagination. My focus will be on the instrument of the voice but it is quickly apparent that the whole quartet is involved in this most human of musical instruments.
The craft of voice training depends on a detailed understanding of how the voice works anatomically. The voice is forged in the body. But a voice is set in motion by impulses in the brain. The art of voice training implicates not only the physicality of the voice but the psyche of the voice which has an indivisible union with the body in its original meaning from the Greek of ‘breath.’ Every human being’s voice is forged and shaped by the emerging emotions of that human as a baby and then as a gradually more and more sentient child—think of the power and resilience of a baby’s crying voice or of a toddler’s tantrum voice. Emotion, breath and voice are the stuff of the art of vocal communication. As babies we are born voice artists.
Later, comes speech. Sadly our inevitable induction into the normal modes of communication, a necessary acceptance of communal grammar, often diminishes the artistic expression of who we are. The emphatic message we get as we learn to speak and, later when we go to school, is to ‘think!’ and ‘make sense!’ Seldom are children told to feel and find the words for the feeling. Grammar, reason, logic are our gods. If training in this field wants to achieve any kind of artistic depth, it must take the time to undo the acquired defensive habits and the internalization of societal norms that inevitably inhibit emotional speaking in favor of ‘being nice and polite.’ ‘Nice and polite’ is fine for daily use but it is not going to take an actor very far who may one day wish to play Oedipus, Medea, Lear, Queen Margaret or a character in a play by Sarah Kane or Tracy Letts. Actors need to be emotional warriors with voices to match.
In the Introduction to the 1976 edition of my book Freeing the Natural Voice, I say that this approach to voice work
is designed to liberate the natural voice rather than to develop a vocal technique. The basic assumption of the work is that everyone possesses a voice capable of expressing, through a two-to-four octave natural pitch range, whatever gamut of emotion, complexity of mood and subtlety of thought he or she experiences. The second assumption is that the tensions acquired through living in this world, as well as defenses, inhibitions and negative reactions to environmental influences, often diminish the efficiency of the natural voice to the point of distorted communication. Hence, the emphasis here is the removal of the blocks that inhibit the human instrument as distinct from the development of a skillful musical instrument… The objective is a voice in direct contact with emotional impulse, shaped by the intellect but not inhibited by it.
(Linklater 1976: 1)
When training focuses on results—on the clarity of speech, the effectiveness of voice and the control of the act of speaking—the emotional origins of voice and speech are ignored and a whole world of creative connections is by-passed. The artistry of the Actor’s Quartet is compromised. As teachers of voice and speech we are faced with the fact that the voices in our classrooms have already been trained—by upbringing, family and school. They have been unconsciously trained to speak in a certain way and to conform to certain rules of social behaviour. Our job, initially, is to undo habits of speaking acquired in childhood that restrict the potential of the voice.
VOICE AND SPEECH
It is worth noting that voice can communicate without speech but speech cannot communicate without voice, which indicates that voice is the master of verbal communication and speech the servant of that master. Our training must recognize that fact. Voice carries the tonality, the nuance, the intensity, the emotionality of verbal communication. Speech delivers the specific information that explicates the need for communication. Voice and speech training, therefore, delves into an interface of extremely complex neural activity. We must invest in strategies and indirect stimuli that will persuade the involuntary, autonomic nervous system to change its habitual (though not natural) behaviour from one of inhibition and defense to one of openness and vulnerability. Muscles in the diaphragmatic region must re-learn how to receive and transmit emotional impulses rather than repress them.
This intense exploration needs the motivation of a worthwhile goal. For the actor that goal might be said to be honest speaking and the ability to communicate authentically the whole range of human experience from the most delicately beautiful to the most cruel, the ugliest extremity. This goal demands a conscious dedication to re-conditioning neuro-physiological connections from brain to body to brain and back again to body. Training is available for such vocal and verbal authenticity but there are no quick fixes. We are re-routing causal impulses—restoring them to their original neuro-physiological pathways. We are training the brain.
‘Voice and Speech’ is a subject deemed necessary for any actor-training programme but we need to look beneath the surface of a job description for a voice and speech teacher that only references the latest methodologies plus phonetics and an expertise in dialects. These criteria suggest that the voice is regarded as a skill rather than an integral part of the creative act. It is at best inefficient, and at worst destructive, to separate the training of voice and body from the acting process. The Actor’s Quartet demands a deep integration of all the ingredients that combine in performance; actors develop on an artistic level when acting, movement and voice are interwoven in the course of training.
An actor must have a voice that can carry from the stage to the balcony and can, in other media, communicate the subtleties and nuances of inner psychological dramatic truth for the camera and the microphone. The voice needs to be both intimately connected with emotional veracity and have extroverted power. The art of voice is rooted in emotion and grows by refining a sensibility and an ear that knows how to listen in to a text. The craft of training voice for an actor means freeing the voice and the instruments of speech from inhibitory habits.
ANATOMY OF THE VOICE AND ANATOMY OF THE TEXT
Here, I must deliver a paean to the glory and brilliance of the involuntary physical processes that activate the voice. What a miracle of cooperation! You have the desire to speak and lo! a multitude of involuntary activities brings in breath via a myriad coordinating muscles in the diaphragm, the crura and the intercostals, simultaneously activating a posse of tiny laryngeal muscles that pull the vocal folds together. Breath meets the resistance of the vocal folds and the vibrationary response reverberates in bony cavities and on resonating surfaces within the body. At the same time as all this, the muscles of lips and tongue are galvanized—and behold! words emerge… and someone hears what you think and feel.
All these activities are far too complex and multifarious for the organized, regulated, sensible, conscious mind to deliver. Thus it is futile for any training of this miraculous activity to say: ‘Breathe like this. Put your voice here. Organize your diction in this way.’ Ultimately, all we can do is say (and this is a mental via negativa that goes in defiance of every dictate of achievement advertised by the current climate of success): ‘Let go of the result. Commit yourself to the feeling of what you want to say. Feed in the desire to communicate that feeling. Release the desire into your breath and the vibration of your voice. See what happens.’ This is a commitment to causal thought. Voice and speech are the result of that causal impulse. Communication is a by-product of desire and freedom.
Putting it as simply as possible: There’s a desire to speak—an impulse. It runs down the spinal column and through the central nervous system galvanizing simultaneously the breathing mechanism and the laryngeal mechanism into an activity that creates a vibration which is immediately amplified by surrounding resonating surfaces into voice. At the same time the impulse activates movements of lips and tongue that deliver words. In neuro-anatomical theory this sounds fairly simple. ‘I feel, I breathe, I speak.’ But in practice we are in thrall to countervailing impulses that warn that ‘it’s not safe to say what I feel,’ bringing us back to those cultural norms that, from the earliest age, cut the voice off from its natural nutritional roots in the emotions. This lack of emotional freedom manifests in tensions in the breathing area, tension in the throat, the tongue and the jaw, thin (often nasal) sound, limited range, poor diction.
Voice teachers teach relaxation, diaphragmatic breathing, resonance and range and articulation. What about the ‘Speech’ part of the training requirement? What is speech? Words? Is speech the way words are spoken or the meaning of the words that are spoken? Who decides the way? Is that way informed by the place the speaker grew up in and was formed linguistically? Does that speaker speak with a specific accent? Is there a ‘correct’ way? Who decides ‘the meaning’? Is there one meaning—or several possible meanings? Speech training involves much more than the activation of lips and tongue.
Speech training involves the component parts of words—vowels and consonants, words themselves, grammar, syntax, text, the script—and thought. ‘Text’ involves the question of prosody. Jody Kreiman and Diana Sidtis, in Foundations of Voice Studies, define prosody thus:
Voice quality (broadly and narrowly considered) is the stuff of speech prosody, an area of intensive study in speech science, psycholinguistics, and neuropsychology. Prosody traditionally encompasses average pitch and pitch variability (or the mean and variability of fundamental frequency), loudness (or intensity) mean and variation, the large array of temporal factors that determine perceived speech rate and rhythm, and voice quality narrowly defined (for example, creakiness and breathiness, which function subtly—and sometimes not so subtly—in everyday speech to communicate meaning). [...] the four primary components of prosody—pitch, loudness, timing and voice quality—serve as indicators of linguistic structure.
For my purposes here, however, I prefer the simplicity of Wikipedia’s definition because it includes the emotional state and intentionality of the speaker:
In linguistics, prosody is concerned with [...] such linguistic functions as the rhythm, stress, and intonation of speech. Prosody may reflect various features of the speaker or the utterance: the emotional state of the speaker; the form of the utterance (statement, question, or command); the presence of irony or sarcasm; emphasis, contrast, and focus; or other elements of language that may not be encoded by grammar or by choice of vocabulary.
We each have our own personal prosody and every writer—playwright, poet, prose-writer—also has his or her own prosody that reflects the back story of the story, the back story of the character, the back story of the writer. The actor must listen in to these three prosodic ‘back stories’ while being conscious that his or her own prosody may distort that of the character. The actor’s voice must be alive and elastic and unconfined by the dynamics of personal speaking habits.
DYNAMICS OF THE VOICE
The actor learns to listen in with a sensitive inner ear to the intrinsic prosody and dynamics of text. Dynamics are built-in human energies. Dynamics can be neatly labelled ‘Pace, Volume, and Pitch’ but they are: the ‘pace’ of our inner thoughts and feelings from slow to fast and everything in between including rhythm; the ‘volume’ that emerges from the shifting intensities of our inner states of being—intensities that require loud to soft and everything in between; ‘pitch,’ meaning the frequencies of our inner energies from high to low and everything in between. ‘Pitch’ is made manifest in resonators extending from the chest to the skull. Any playwright with an ear and a sensibility tuned to human speech reflects and records human dynamics. A poetic playwright, such as Shakespeare, is tuning in to the dynamics of heightened emotion, heightened action, and the dynamics rev up to poetic energy levels.
Listening in, tuning in to a text comes under the heading of what I described as the art of voice and speech training. One of the attributes of a talented actor is that he or she instinctively goes to the heart of a character and intuitively reincarnates the dynamics and the prosody of that character’s thinking and feeling life. A good acting exercise in an acting class will lead to the source of the character’s need to speak and thus activate the necessary dynamics of that character’s voice and speech. But voice and speech training must also develop a conditioned approach to text that merges with the actions of the play.
Acting teachers often say: ‘Get out of your head’ and sometimes ‘Stop thinking’ and even ‘The words don’t matter.’ Voice teachers say: ‘Your voice is in your body; your thought-feeling impulses are generated in your body; words are images and feelings and sensory experiences.’ Good voice and speech training help clarify the acting instructions thus: ‘If I experience thought in my head, I’m thinking about the thing. When I experience thought in my body and my breath, I am thinking and feeling the thing at the same time. The words are no longer mere cognition; they have become imagination, consciousness, intention. They connect through breath with instinct and intuition and the creative spark.’
The key psycho-physical connection is through the intimate connection between the diaphragm and the solar plexus, a nerve centre which is generally experienced as being the primary receiving and transmitting centre of emotion. In a rich involuntary collaboration, the inner abdominal (or crura) breathing muscles weave down from the diaphragm through the sacral nerve centre to the pelvic region and react to stimuli on the level of instinct. Breath must be free from conscious or habitual muscular control for emotion and instinct to be free. The release of breath is crucial for the freedom and release of the complex energies of the psychological, sensory and intellectual life of an imagined character’s story.
When the breath is free from inhibitory constriction and the throat, tongue and jaw have relaxed their compensatory tensions, the voice begins to flow through the bones, the cavities, the multitudinous passageways of the body. Vibrations reverberate through the rumbling chest, the legs, the beckoning roof of the mouth, the buzzing teeth, the astonishing corridors and caverns that create the intricate architecture of the face. The sharp convexity of the nose, the smooth round ringing chambers of the cheek bones, the surprise of the sinuses below and above the eyes, the eye sockets, the clarion call of the forehead, and the giddy euphoria of the skull. The resonators reflect the dynamics of emotional energy. The involuntary nervous system and the involuntary musculature play on the voice as on the most multi-toned organ imaginable.
FREEING THE NATURAL VOICE: THOUGHTS AND A PRACTICE-DRIVEN EXAMPLE
My approach to voice training is known as ‘freeing the natural voice’ (see Linklater 1976, 2006 and 2010). The ‘freeing’ part of it refers to letting go of habitual defensive tensions in the breathing and vocal tract musculature. The ‘natural’ part refers to what is nature before nurture interferes. More than that, however, we can play with the idea that the organs of the body contain frequencies of sound—that the voice, indeed, already exists in the body waiting to be liberated. Mentally, there is a wonderful letting go of effort when one pictures the voice existing in vibrationary readiness in the organs, the pelvic basin, the hollows of the hip sockets, the thighs, the feet. I love the experience recorded by John Cage of his entry into an anechoic chamber—a space designed to absorb all resonance and electro-magnetic waves creating complete and utter silence. His account has a poetic form which I reproduce here:
I am constantly telling it.
in that silent room,
I heard two sounds,
one high and one low.
I asked the engineer in charge
why, if the room was so silent,
I had heard two sounds.
He said, ‘Describe them.’
‘The high one was your nervous system
The low one was your blood
(Cage 1967: 134)
What a huge, organic and active range of sound is built in to our living systems! We are full of sounds. We are full of feelings. Full of impulses. Full of rhythm. If we have the courage to follow our impulses of feeling and of sound, our only job as vocal/verbal artists is to feed our imaginations intelligently, provide accurate information to the back stories, think clearly, find the motivation (the desire to speak) and let go! But what does that entail? If we unconsciously think that the voice emanates exclusively from the throat then that’s what it will do. It takes a conscious re-routing of the unconscious processes to arrive at the rewarding realities of how the voice works.
It is now well-known on an anatomical and medical level that our human condition is activated as much from neurons in the gut and the heart as from the familiar brain in the head (see Gershon 1999 and Rajvanshi 2011). Most of the research in this area focuses on the medical and psychological implications of this knowledge but those of us who have, empirically, been working with this understanding for years (half a century in my case) can now guide our students with scientific authority—as well as imaginative stimulus—to the re-routing of thought out of the skull brain and into the body. We experience words emerging from the gut brain and the heart brain into the skull brain, re-routing the feeling of voice out of the throat and into the body.
I am going to focus on a well-known passage from Shakespeare to try and convey how this re-routing can be conditioned so that the complex dynamics of the act of speaking merge with the embodied imagination and unify in the Actor’s Quartet. This is the Prologue that introduces Act IV in Henry V:
Now entertain conjecture of a time
When creeping murmur and the poring dark
Fills the wide vessel of the universe.
From camp to camp through the foul womb of night
The hum of either army stilly sounds,
That the fixed sentinels almost receive
The secret whispers of each other's watch:
Fire answers fire, and through their paly flames
Each battle sees the other's umber'd face;
Steed threatens steed, in high and boastful neighs
Piercing the night's dull ear, and from the tents
The armourers, accomplishing the knights,
With busy hammers closing rivets up,
Give dreadful note of preparation:
The country cocks do crow, the clocks do toll,
And the third hour of drowsy morning name.
In my Sound and Movement work, first we have to prime the body so that it can receive and transmit the imagination through words. We are looking for imagination experienced in the body and in the words as we speak them. As preparation for incarnating words, we imagine the body being light and diaphanous so that breath can move it from inside out and outside in. Then we imagine mouths opening out from each part of the body—soles of the feet, knees, buttocks, belly, between the shoulder-blades, from the centre of the upper chest, armpits, elbows, palms of the hands, finger-tips. Then we visualize vibrations of sound emanating from the solar plexus centre, activating and animating whichever part of the body they travel through to escape through each mouth. We are conditioning neuro-physiological pathways into an experience of embodied thinking. Then we explore colours that vibrate, activate and animate the body-mouths with their emotional content. Then comes the exploration of what I call primitive articulation—a fanciful, improvised evocation of the evolution of language that leads on to embodied vowels and consonants. Vowels and consonants live experientially in the body, in the senses and the emotions. Slowly, we connect vowels and consonants with each other to form images and words. Words that are units of sensual, sensory energy. Words that move the body from inside out. Words that are revealed through the voice, not described by it.
For working purposes, I organize the experience of vowels into their resonating sequence. This is the vowel resonance ladder as I have crafted it as a physical practice:
RREE-EE crown RREE-EE
KI forehead KI as in ‘kick’
PE-EY eyes PE-EY as in ‘pale’
DEh cheekbones DEh as in ‘den’
BA mid-cheeks BA as in ‘bat’
HU-UH-UH mouth HU-UH-UH as in ‘hurt’
FUh lips FUh as in ‘fun’
MAA-AAH heart MAA-AAH as in ‘mark’
GOh chest center GOh as in ‘got’
SHAW-AW solar plexus SHAW-AW as in ‘short’
WO-e belly WO-e as in ‘woe’
ZZOO-OO pelvis and legs ZZOO-OO as in ‘zoo’
In this practice, I invite you to start with ZZOO-OO and go up to RREE-EE, then come down the ladder to ZZOO-OO. We are not looking for ‘correct’ vowels but for the feeling of the different parts of the body resonating with the different frequencies on shifting planes of outgoing soundwaves. We are opening up to the different energies of the vowels, their colours and their emotional content. We are noting that some vowels are intrinsically short and others intrinsically long. We are allowing the vowels to move the body from inside out. Next, isolating consonants, we find, again, their homes in the body—some buzzing and murmuring, some explosive and shocking, some hushing and some sharp. With these awareness-es, we approach the speech. It is poetry. The man who wrote it had a conscious or unconscious ear for the music of vowels and consonants. They are keys to understanding his purpose. We have to plunge vertically into the sounds of his words before we can understand his meaning.
I have found that I must invent some quite far-fetched strategies to dislodge an actor’s habitual pattern of thinking and speaking. Most speakers’ personal prosody confines them to signature patterns of inflection and unconscious habitual rhythms. Our voices are conditioned more by daily utilitarian necessity than by the expression of our sensory, sensual, emotional thoughts and feelings. This utilitarian usage emphasizes the tunes of grammar and syntax more than the music of imagery. The rational brain is imprinted with grammatical inflection. When we are given a piece of paper with lines of words on it, we habitually read those words in order to make sense. We read horizontally through the lines to the end, hoping to be in charge of the information we have gleaned. We are in the grip of linear, logical, grammatical thought, which is then delivered through personal inflectionary patterns of voice. Through our own personal prosody.
To attempt entry into Shakespeare’s prosody, we have first of all to arrest the linear habit—as if it were a criminal. Then we must enter the adventure of vertical thinking. This process is very fully presented in my book Freeing Shakespeare’s Voice (Linklater 2010) but, for my purpose here, I will pick certain words from the Act IV Chorus and suggest that you ‘listen in’ as if your ears were in your body, feeling the effect of vowels and consonants and seeing, hearing, sensing the images. Then speak the words as if your voice comes out of your solar plexus and your heart.
The first word is
which is not to be ignored. The first job the Chorus must do is to bring the audience into the present moment—NOW.
The next words are two of the very few Latin-based, polysyllabic words in this speech. It is easy for us to take them for granted but they are asking the audience to do something very specific and are worth lingering over. After ‘now,’ the Chorus says (and I suggest you also say the word out loud feeling it in your body and your mouth)
which comes from the Latin ‘inter’ and ‘tenire’ meaning ‘hold inside.’ The meaning in English developed into bringing guests into one’s home. The guest, in this case, is
Etymologically, this means ‘throw together.’ The Chorus asks the audience to accommodate a throwing together of things. Once this request has been made, we, as the Chorus, proceed to the things themselves that must be thrown together and the language becomes more directly embodied.
The first thing to be entertained is
Then, as the speaking Chorus, we must see and hear the next things—with their vertical sensory imagery dislodged from their grammatical linearity:
CREEPING MURMUR UNIVERSE FOUL WOMB NIGHT HUM ARMY
Then see, hear and sense:
STILLY SOUNDS FIXED SENTINELS RECEIVE
SECRET WHISPERS EACH OTHER’S WATCH
The darkness of the night emerges from the sounds in the first set of words. In the second set, the ‘S’s and ‘CH’s and unvoiced consonants cut through the dark, creating the scene through the actual sounds of whispering. Our logical skull brain knows that this is onomatopoeia but it is the gut and heart brains that can incarnate the knowledge and lead us to the feelings that underlie the words.
CAMP TO CAMP FOUL WOMB OF NIGHT
The sharp high vowel ‘A’ spits from the sharp consonant ‘C,’ cutting the heavy vowels and thick consonants of the ‘foul womb.’
The scene is being vividly painted in sound and rhythm. There is the ongoing forward movement of the iambic pentameter and there is the contrapuntal internal rhythm of the long and short vowels and consonants:
FIRE ANSWERS FIRE (long vowels, soft consonants)
PALY FLAMES (high, long vowels, flicking consonants)
BATTLE (sharp, strong consonant to start, sharp high vowel)
SEES (long, high vowel—suspends the middle of the line)
UMBER’D (weighty consonants) FACE (light consonants and vowel)
Switching vertiginously from the visual to the aural, we now hear:
STEED THREATENS STEED IN HIGH AND BOASTFUL NEIGHS
The ‘neighs’ are audible in the vowels of the steeds and ‘threaten’ while the trochaic start to the line is challenged by the stress of the strongly active verb, echoing ‘Fire answers fire’—adding urgency. Halfway through the next line, we are dropped from the high neighing that pierces the night’s ear into the sounds of human activity:
AND FROM THE TENTS (short and sharp)
THE ARMOURERS (it is almost impossible to say this word fast—its vowels and consonants are heavy with foreboding)
ACCOMPLISHING THE KNIGHTS
GIVE DREADFUL NOTE OF PREPARATION
Most of the words up to this point have been Anglo-Saxon and Old French based, living naturally in the body. ‘Accomplishing’ and ‘preparation’ with their polysyllabic Latin-based nature bring us back to the conjecture we are entertaining.
But the sounds break through with vivid clarity:
WITH BUSY HAMMERS CLOSING RIVETS UP
—nailing the knights into their steel armour.
And then, the simple sounds of the countryside make themselves heard in internal rhyme and alliteration:
THE COUNTRY COCKS DO CROW, THE CLOCKS DO TOLL
AND THE THIRD HOUR OF DROWSY MORNING NAME
Gradually, we juxtapose the images and sounds into the sequence of each line. We feel how the iambic pentameter organizes the emphasis and makes sense of the vertical energies. Then we give ourselves over to the contrapuntal joyride that jazzily plays long and short vowels, heavy and light images, voiced and unvoiced consonants against the powerful forward thrust of the iambic beat.
Only now can the actor playing the Chorus contribute to the story of the play.
The scene must be painted and sound-scaped into the imaginations of the audience. Of course, for an Elizabethan audience attending the play in mid-afternoon this scene-painting was part of the drama. The only way the audience will see and hear and feel the scene is if the speaker sees and hears and feels it. The speaker’s voice must reveal the scene rather than describe it. And this is true for all of Shakespeare.
It is slow, detailed work/play. Each ingredient must be mixed in carefully, slow-cooking in the oven of our sensory bodies until the whole meal is ready. We must not leap to interpretation but allow meaning to be revealed. It will, I think, be abundantly clear that all the instruments of the Actor’s Quartet are engaged in the processes I have described. The mind-body quest for connection of voice and speech with text, of text and voice and speech with imagination and emotion, the connection of voice with character and story and back story, the connection of speech and voice with the dynamics of prosody, the exercising of voice and speech with styles and heightened language, is set in motion—marrying craft with art in the Actor’s Quartet.
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