Articles & Essays

BREATH IN ACTION; March 1, 2009

Edited by Jane Boston and Rena Cook.
Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2009

There is no one correct way to breathe. There is breathing that works for yoga, breathing that works for swimming, there is the proper breathing for martial arts and the best for playing the trumpet, there is meditation breathing, and at least a dozen different 'correct' ways of breathing for singing. Our breathing muscles are multifarious and adaptable. They can perform both voluntarily and involuntarily. Their primary purpose is, of course, to keep us alive; this they do on the involuntary level. My particular interest in breath is the way in which it creates voice as it passes through the vocal folds and how it helps us either to reveal or hide the truth as we speak. The role played by breathing in the art of acting has occupied me professionally for fifty years and, in the art of acting, the goals are believability and a sense of limitlessness. We search for truth in the language of extremity and in the most intimate emotional expression. The alchemy of inspired communication is a mix of emotion, intellect and voice. The 'prima materia' is breath. This fundamental element of truthful speaking is accessible for anyone involved in speaking publicly—or indeed privately.


April, 2003

In singing the voice erotic, a world-renowned voice teacher lays bare the basic instincts—an anatomy—of theatre as a verbal art.

The voice is inherently an erotic organ. The sensation of voice is part of the totalized suspended Eros of childhood—what Freud referred to as the polymorphous perverse world of childhood, upon whose delights we slam the door as adults. Children, the object of their own love, explore indiscriminately the erotic potential of the whole body, and that erotic potential extends to the inner organs of the body and is in no wise limited to the genitals. As adulthood teaches us to draw our energies up out of our bodies and to concentrate them in reasonable and rational thinking in the brain (which lives in the head), the pleasure principle is subdued to the reality principle- polymorphous perversity becomes buried libido. Thought and speech become the servants of reason and fact, and the voice that expresses such thoughts loses, in adulthood, its map of the neuro-physiological circuitry that connects the voice with the sensuality of the body. When the connecting door between voice and auto-eroticism is shuttered, communication through mere language becomes dry, hollow, authoritatively vociferous or shrill-to the point where a larger erotic possibility shrivels and dies. Deliberately mis-used, the human voice could well be developed as a tool in aversion therapy for sex addicts.

THE VOCAL VISION; Applause Books, 1997

Edited by Marian Hampton & Barbara Acker
Applause Books, 1997

Theatre, therapy, and the art of voice: it would be presumptuous of me to think that I can corral these three huge and restless subjects into a cohesive holding pen for long enough to separate, brand, and relocate them for classification, breeding, and sale, were these not cattle already grazing in my training pastures. I have to examine the art of voice training within the context of where theatre is headed next and what kind of healing power is generated by my work and the greater art it serves because these questions are daily present, not theoretically but practically, in my classroom.


October, 1990

A crying baby expresses its emotional truth—its breath picks up its essential survival impulses and turns them to sounds, which demand a response. If the response comes, the baby lives. If the call is unanswered, the baby dies, either literally or in spirit. Later, when words begin to come, a child's environment either confirms that emotional expression is all right or, more commonly, inhibits such expression. The three-year-old with a life-or-death need for a chocolate chip cookie—"MOMMY, MOMMY, MOMMY, I WANT A CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIE I WANT"— very quickly learns to disconnect his or her voice from emotional impulse in order to get results. The voice that coos or pleads in a sweet unthreatening high tone—"Mommee, if I'm a very good little boy (or girl) and say pretty please with sugar on it, can I have a chocolate chip cookie?"—is likely to get the cookie. That voice has begun a conditioning that disconnects it from emotion and hooks it into mechanisms that disguise the truth, thus creating a vocal behavior conformable to and supportive of the cultural norm.