Ed. Note: The following entry is part of a series of posts marking the 1-year anniversary of the Special Issue ‘What is New in Voice Training?’
Over the last decade, I have been developing the project Listening Back: Towards a Vocal Archaeology of Greek Theatre. The project seeks to uncover the materiality of the voice in 5th century BCE theatre and to design a methodology for conducting vocal archaeology.[i] From oratory to musical competitions and from symposia to religious ceremony, voice was practised, conceptualised and trained in plural ways in 5th century BCE Athens. Foundational ideas around selfhood and citizenship that emerged in classical antiquity and still resonate today centre on voice: the inner voice of conscience, the voice of the people, God’s voice, the voice of the Law. Theatre played out, reflected and debated these ideas through a wide range of vocal performances. Yet, in discussions of Greek classical theatre, voice is routinely considered irretrievably lost and most research focuses on the surviving literature or visual depictions instead.[ii]
Listening Back: Towards an Archaeology of Greek Theatre tackles the challenge of upturning such established attitudes and asks:
Which social, political, philosophical and aesthetic trainings shaped the production and reception of theatre voice in the 5th century BCE?
How can the sound qualities of the performed voice be retraced through pioneering methodologies?
Can we listen back to such on-stage voices not only through the philological, visual and musical evidence but also through the work of theatre practitioners engaged in reconstructing the classical voice?
How can this ‘listening-back’ lead to new understandings and performances of the links between voice, self and collectivity?
How can we examine, more broadly, the embodied sound of voices past?
Which approaches can be pioneered to overturn the widely-circulated assumption that such voices have been irrevocably lost?
In response to this set of questions, the project proposes a conceptual shift and a new methodology. Rather than considering vocal practice from the past as irretrievable, this research advances an understanding of voice as an in-between not exclusively defined by either production (speaking/singing) or reception (listening). In this sense, voice is jointly constructed by aesthetic production and ideological environment, and voice training is a process that materializes both at a bodily level. To deploy an example perhaps more immediately graspable: the emergence of the operatic voice was the outcome of the increase in size of accompanying orchestras and the construction of larger auditoria (vocal volume), neoclassical aesthetics (appoggio breathing and the immobile torso of the ‘noble posture’), the use of colour in 17th- and 18th-century painting and first experiments in photography (chiaroscuro vocal onset), the scientific examination of vocal physiology (Garcia created both the laryngoscope and techniques for operatic training) and the genesis of the Romantic individual (notion of the operatic feat through melismas, pitch and duration). Even if operatic vocal performance was not an unbroken tradition, researching the music and texts it performed, the spaces in which it sounded and the aesthetics or ideas privileged at the time, alongside testing ways of voicing the repertoire within these spaces, could generate strong indications, if not certainties, about how the operatic voice functioned.
To return to 5th century BCE, this project radically departs from previous studies in suggesting that, although Greek vocal performance is not an uninterrupted tradition, if voice is examined as an in-between, then its material practice must not be treated as irreversibly vanished. Gathering information about how voice was perceived and aesthetically appreciated, the texts which it communicated and the spaces within which it reverberated can generate information about specific ways and techniques of voicing. Reversely, experimenting with vocal practice within the sites of its original production and using texts in the original, while receiving consultation from experts in 5th century antiquity, can unearth novel findings about embodied vocality in Greek theatre from the past.
In this sense, voice pedagogy can act as a practice-research methodology of primary importance for understanding the bodily processes through which aesthetic modes of voicing instantiate, amplify or contest ideological discourses on vocality. To this day, my PaR has taken the form of:
(1) performance ethnography: this included training with (a) theatre and music practitioners that reconstruct and perform Greek texts, including Polish company Gardzienice (2009, 2011) and actor-musician Anna-Helena McLean(2010) (see Thomaidis 2014); and (b) directors-researchers that have developed unique methodologies of actor training also concerned with the sounding body and/or the aural qualities of surviving texts (ATTIS Theatre/Theodoros Terzopoulos, 2017; National Theatre of Greece Lab/Mikhail Marmarinos, 2017, 2019);
(2) upon conducting transdisciplinary readings (from poetics, politics, anthropology, psychology, drama, archaeology, sound studies, music, physiology, architecture, rhetoric, philosophy) and analysis of non-textual evidence (music fragments, visual archive), teaching ancient Greek text and existing musical fragments in the original (BA Vocal and Choral Studies, University of Winchester, UK, 2012-2013; MA Physical Theatre, Estonian Academy of Music and Drama, Estonia, 2017; BA Drama, University of Exeter, UK, 2016-2020);
(3) acting as voice consultant and sound dramaturg for the development of professional Greek theatre productions (Trackers by Sophocles, Epidaurus, 2020/21; Ajax by Sophocles, Athens Festival 2021);
(4) leading embodied experimentation with professional actors in an archaeological theatre site based on vocal techniques I developed (Ancient Theatre of Dodoni/Therino Manteio Workshop, 2018 & 2019). This stage was particularly concerned with a concept I created around voice as cognitive space: voice encapsulates ideological and aesthetic spaces, materially resounds in given architectures, and brings forth imagined spatialities/social and political spaces-yet-to-be. In this light, I reworked findings from previous stages of this artistic research to investigate vocal directionality, physio-vocal proxemics, emergent vocal relationalities, and the co-devising of voice quality by bodies, props and sites.
This summer I enter a new phase of the project (further fieldwork with artists working with reconstruction and re-enactment; transdisciplinary collaborations with archaeologists, philologists, musicians and mask-makers; systematization, documentation and dissemination of the training). The hope is to dismantle the belief that voices from the distant past remain essentially unknowable, to challenge the presentist views of predominant voice trainings, and to reclaim vocal practice as central to an epistemic move beyond a (conceptual, archival, logocentric) voice historiography and towards an (embodied, material, sonorous) vocal archaeology.
Butler, Shane. 2015. The Ancient Phonograph. New York: Zone Books.
Comotti, Giovanni. 1991. Music in Greek and Roman Culture. Trans. Rosaria V. Munson. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
Hall, Edith. 2002. ‘The Singing Actors of Antiquity,’ Pat Easterling and Edith Hall, eds, Greek and Roman Actors: Aspects of an Ancient Profession. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 3-38.
Havelock, Eric. 1963. Preface to Plato. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Ley, Graham. 2015. Acting Greek Tragedy. Exeter: University of Exeter Press.
Pöhlmann, Egert, and Martin L. West. 2001. Documents of Ancient Greek Music. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Thomaidis, Konstantinos. 2018a. ‘Voice, Sound, Music & Theatre, A Provocation: Common Assumptions in Performance Studies’. Inaugural Meeting of the ‘Sound, Voice & Music’ working group, Theatre & Performance Research Association Annual Conference, Aberystwyth, UK.
— 2018b. ‘Listening Back: Towards a Vocal Archaeology of Greek Theatre’. Pre-Sessional Conference, Drama Department, University of Exeter.
— 2015. ‘What is Voice Studies? Konstantinos Thomaidis’, in K. Thomaidis and B. Macpherson (eds), Voice Studies: Critical Approaches to Process, Performance and Experience. London and New York: Routledge, 214-16.
—. 2014. ‘Singing from Stones: Physiovocality and Gardzienice’s Theatre of Musicality’, in D. Symonds and M. Taylor (eds), Gestures of Music Theater: The Performativity of Song and Dance. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 242-58.
Vovolis, Thanos. 2009. Prosopon: The Acoustical Mask in Greek Tragedy and in Contemporary Theatre. Stockholm: Dramatiska Institutet.
West, Martin. 1992. Ancient Greek Music. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Wiles, David. 2000. Greek Theatre Performance: An Introduction. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Konstantinos Thomaidis is Senior Lecturer in Drama, Theatre & Performance at the University of Exeter. His books include Voice Studies: Critical Approaches to Process, Performance and Experience (Routledge 2015, with Ben Macpherson), Theatre & Voice (Palgrave Macmillan 2017) and Time and Performer Training (Routledge 2019, with Mark Evans and Libby Worth). He co-founded the Journal of Interdisciplinary Voice Studies, the Routledge Voice Studies book series, and the Sound, Voice & Music Working Group at TaPRA. He is Artistic Director of Adrift Performance Makers.
[i] I first proposed the term ‘vocal archaeology’ in Thomaidis 2015: 215 and outlined it as a methodology in Thomaidis 2018a and 2018b.
[ii] Localized studies in classics and musicology have illuminated aspects of vocal phenomena in antiquity but without a sustained focus on vocal practice or, more specifically, the aural aspects of theatre performance. Comotti (1991), West (1992), Pöhlmann (2001) and D’Angour (2017), among others, have provided close insights into the modes, melodies, rhythms and instruments used in Greek music from the period. Hall (2002) has gleaned information from classical and Hellenistic literature about singing in antiquity, and Vovolis (2009) has drawn on vase iconography to construct masks similar to those worn by performers at the time. Within studies about performance in antiquity, the general problem of lacking immediate access to theatre voices from pre-technological eras has led to the exclusion of vocal production from analyses of Greek theatre (Wiles 2001), to emphasizing subsequent periods and other genres (Butler 2015) or to redirecting attention towards contemporary speaking and voicing of this repertoire (Ley 2015). In many ways, Greek theatre vocal practice in 5th century BCE is a problem yet to be explored.
Ed. Note: The following entry is part of a series of posts marking the 1-year anniversary of the Special Issue ‘What is New in Voice Training?’
As part of the act of commemorating and reanimating this exciting special issue on voice training, I am honored to share some notes on the voice study I am presently undertaking.
In the early weeks of the pandemic, isolating alone in my home in Chicago, I faced the challenge of pivoting from swiftly-cancelled plans for the rehearsal and production of a musical for which I am a co-author to diving headlong into my scholarly work on race, musical theatre, and voice—which suddenly felt arbitrary and removed from the specifics of a sharply reconfigured world. In April 2020, in response to these circumstances, I launched Voicing Across Distance, a new podcast on listening for voices and vocal sound in our historical moment, across social distance. Bringing together voice scholars and practitioners, I settled into a rhythm of structuring each episode in three parts—a reading from a theoretical text on voice, a conversation with a scholar on voices in our time of Covid19, and a practical vocal exercise from an expert. Reflections of my own are also woven throughout.
Across its 11 episodes to date, guest scholars have included musicologists Nina Sun Eidsheim, Katherine Meizel, Shana Redmond, Ryan Dohoney, and Dylan Robinson, media scholar Neil Verma, sociolinguist Anne Charity-Hudley, and theatre and performance studies scholars Donatella Galella, Elena Elías Krell, and Katelyn Hale Wood. Practitioners have ranged from virtuosic experimental singers Joan La Barbara and Abigail Bengson to theatre voice and speech educators Stan Brown, Julie Foh, Linda Gates, and Jonathan Hart Makwaia, Feldenkrais practitioner and voice teacher Robert Sussuma, musical theatre voice professor Jeremy Ryan Mossman, choral director Derrick Fox, and sound designer Andy Evan Cohen.
How might these episodes be useful for voice training? The vocal exercises are generative and wide-ranging, from Jonathan Hart Makwaia calling for “following the voice” beyond where the voicer can exert control (Episode 8), to Andy Evan Cohen coaching listeners on how to optimize Zoom settings for voice practice (Episode 9), to Robert Sussuma leading a meditative vocal experiment in pharyngeal ventriloquism (Episode 4). The theoretical contributions of guest scholars are also stunning, lucid, and timely, from Neil Verma connecting the kaleidosonic aims of 1930s and 1940s nationalist radio performance to Zoomboxed vocal performances of unity (Episode 2), to Katherine Meizel reflecting on what it means to understand voices as virus-aerosolizing agents of danger (Episode 6), to Anne Charity-Hudley inviting theatre educators to attend to language attitudes—racially-inflected beliefs about which kinds of voices are beautiful or strong, and why (Episode 10).
How does these sessions offer something new for voice training and study? I have found that they allow space for thinkers and voicers to grapple with what it means to do our work—and why it still has value—in the new and previously unimaginable circumstances of the pandemic and amid the full-throated, international outcry against racism. Whether figured as dangerous, Zoomboxed, or socially distanced, vocal sound still resounds. Voicing Across Distance is a love letter to ongoing practice and study of the voice, and to voices firmly situated in an ethical relationship to our historical moment.
MASI ASARE is Assistant Professor of Theatre and Performance Studies at Northwestern University. As a composer and writer, she holds commissions from Broadway producers and Marvel, and is a lyricist for Monsoon Wedding the musical; her voice students have appeared on Broadway and in international tours. Masi’s scholarly book project examines the impact of blues singers on Broadway belting and makes the case for the need to feel the racial history in contemporary musical theatre performance. She holds degrees from Harvard and New York University, and has published with Samuel French, The Dramatist, and Journal of Popular Music Studies,with forthcoming writing in Performance Matters, TDR, and Studies in Musical Theatre.
Ed. Note: The following entry is part of a series of posts marking the 1-year anniversary of the Special Issue ‘What is New in Voice Training?’
Linking body and voice in vocal training is a complex process and, at times, little more than lip service has been paid to the labour necessary to actually embody this connection. The complexity of this task is often reduced by a limited understanding of the psychosomatic nature of vocal expressivity. In the book Owning our Voices: Vocal Discovery in the Wolfsohn-Hart Tradition, which Dr Patrick Campbell and I have recently published in the Routledge Voice Studies Series, we discuss this link in closer detail.
Given that the voice is a nexus of psychophysical activity, rather than a singular ‘organ,’ building awareness of and access to the deep and varied vocal sources in the body involves more than a series of mechanical exercises or simply ‘sounding out’.
When speaking of vocal sources in relation to the Wolfsohn-Hart tradition of extended voice, we refer to ‘spaces’ in the body and along the spine, broadly corresponding to the lower abdominal (belly), chest and head regions, which:
…are psychosomatic in nature and correspond both to qualities of timbre and ranges of pitch and feelings (both emotional and physiological) and images … Vocal sources serve as both evocative, imaginary frames for vocalisation and somatically identifiable nexuses of muscular engagement and sonorous vibration, which are consciously activated physiologically during breath-work and vocalisation.
(Pikes and Campbell, 2021: 102)
In order to connect to and integrate these vocal sources, a level of reflexive listening and discrimination needs to be developed through practice and experience of connecting with inner space, as well as with external space through movement. Both of these dimensions are activated through attention to the soma, with a focus on the feelings and images evoked while vocalising.
Embodying and owning our voices requires this dynamic and experiential work, which eschews cartesian duality. This painstaking, creative process can, eventually, enable us to reconnect with the feeling-ful core of our being, that which phenomenologist Michel Henry describes as ‘the pathetic immediacy of life’ (Henry, 2008: 2), which is manifest in the affective, psychosomatic layers of the libidinal drives that haunt the voice. This holistic process of vocal exploration and discovery, although requiring practise, guidance and assiduity, is deeply rewarding and life giving.
Pikes, M. and Campbell, P. (2021) Owning Our Voices: Vocal Discovery in the Wolfsohn-Hart Tradition, Abingdon: Routledge.
Henry, M. (2008) Material Phenomenology, New York: Fordham University Press.
Margaret Pikes is a founding member of the Roy Hart Theatre who trained with Roy Hart and participated in all of the Roy Hart Theatre’s early experimental performances. She has been teaching the Wolfsohn-Hart approach to vocal expression internationally for more than 50 years and regularly leads workshops in the UK, France and Germany.
Patrick Campbell is Senior Lecturer in Drama and Contemporary Performance at Manchester Metropolitan University. He is a core member of Cross Pollination, an expanded, nomadic laboratory for the dialogue in-between practices, and is Associate Editor of the Brazilian Journal on Presence Studies.
Ed. Note: The following entry is part of a series of posts marking the 1-year anniversary of the Special Issue ‘What is New in Voice Training?’
The relationship between the voice and the body in the theatre has revealed that, through the latter, the voice subscribes the notion of presence within the spectator, while also, the paradox of dislocating itself from the body remains. The acousmatic turn—from which authors such as Michel Chion (1993) or the Chilean Andrés Grumann (2020), to name a few, have examined the hegemony of the body over the voice in contemporary theatre—has allowed to put into the debate of vocal pedagogy new ways of dealing with body/voice training and of challenging the installed anthropocentric logic of the voice as a production of the body.
In a general, the central concern of these authors has been to think about, and problematise, the paradox of a voice belonging to the wrong body and/or the dislocation of the body from which it emanates. This acousmatic split—between the presence of the body and the mediation of the voice in the theatre—has generated an auditory and visual enigma that has not yet been resolved by most theatre schools in Chile. With the appearance and incorporation of electroacoustic technologies, audiovisual devices and the diverse theoretical matrices from which the body has been studied, new forms of understanding and approaching the voice and the body in performance have been triggered. Therefore, the voice & body equation in vocal pedagogy demands a constant and synergistic dialogue with the becoming of stage practices.
Part of my doctoral research (PaR) centres around these issues and proposes that the voice, as a phenomenon and a force is not bound by delimitations and/or hierarchies but, rather, to strategies of associativity engaged in stage work. Thus, the associative conjunction ‘&’ operates as a portal for the various entrances of the vocal in the performative space. Likewise, it demolishes the need to annex voice to the body and language as the only source for its training and study.
In Sistema Sonoro (2020), the introductory project to my doctor PaR, I tried to echo such (and other) reflections and concerns:
Sistema Sonoro teaser
In this line of thought, the Argentinean Silvia Davini (2007) has established that, in light of the modern project and the expansion of the limits between the human and the non-human, the concept of body and instrument for the deployment of the voice in the performance scene has also been placed in the debate on vocal pedagogy. In a curious topology of the body, it has evolved from Cartesian automata to the virtual body, a body of multiple enjoyments, a multi-sexed body, a Cyberbody, among other categorisations. Here, the problem of voice attachment to these bodies is presented and revealed as a still unsolved issue.
How, then, is vocal pedagogy to face these other types of body? If every time we listen to a voice, it invokes and calls for a body (Lagaay 2011), then we should ask ourselves: what kind of body is this voice attached to, and what should be the strategies and approaches for teaching its applications in performance?
Chion, M. (1993). La Audiovisión: Introducción a un análisis conjunto de la imagen y el sonido (2ª edición al español). Barcelona, España: Paidós. Trans. Antonio López Ruiz.
Davini, S. (2007). Cartografías de la voz en el teatro contemporáneo, el caso de Buenos Aires Argentina. Buenos Aires, Argentina: Universidad de Quilmes.
Grumann, A. (2020). ‘Voces fuera de escena.El vocear tecno-mediatizado de la voz en el teatro’. (Artículo inédito). Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Facultad de Artes, Escuela de Teatro.
Lagaay, A. (2011). Towards a (Negative) Philosophy of Voice. In: Kendrick, L. & Roesner, D. (Eds) Theatre Noises: The Sound of Performance (pp. 57-69). Newcastle upon Tyme: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
Luis Aros, an actor and voice studies practitioner/scholar, holds a MA Voice Studies from RCSSD and is the founder and director of the Nucleus of Vocal Research. Currently researching a Ph.D. in Arts / Practice and Theatre Studies, he is developing a PaR project on voice and performance.
Ed. Note: The following entry is part of a series of posts marking the 1-year anniversary of the Special Issue ‘What is New in Voice Training?‘ and was created by Chan E. Park and Konstantinos Thomaidis (due to technical issues, I as editor uploaded this content but am not the author).
Professor Chan E. Parkis an innovator of theatrical pansori for transnational audiences and the originator of bilingual pansori, a development and reworking of pansori storytelling that includes singing in Korean and delivery of narrative parts (aniri) in English and/or alongside English subtitles (for more information, see Park 2003: 245-272).
A first articulation of Park’s current thinking on the intersections of pansori and technology appeared in a section of her chapter ‘Beyond the “time capsule”: recreating Korean narrative temporalities in pansori singing’. It read:
“Today, I continue training with a set of my teacher’s recordings. And the thoughts and ideas from learning and practice substantiate my written research. I have taken part in several theatrical or musical productions of pansori as innovative adaptation, but my sense of innovation is discovery in my teacher’s recorded voice: if you can do a vocal doubling of a phrase you could not do yesterday, that is innovation for me. By engaging this partial archive of the work of an intangible cultural asset, I am able to renew my affiliations, albeit in a meditated way, with a pansori community, past, present and future.” (Park 2019: 176)
Konstantinos Thomaidis (KT):In what ways has the use of technology (for example, professional CDs or DVDs, amateur recordings, blogs, sur- or sub-titling, YouTube, websites etc) impacted contemporary pansori training?
Chan E. Park (CP): Recordings are essential tools for all learners. A learner makes own recordings of his or her teacher, during lessons.
From experience, professional CDs or DVDs, YouTube, should largely be for those amateur listeners not affiliated with teacher and school of learning, but take active interest as a fan, researcher, hobby, or self-study. And everyone seeking the professional field news or updates, or personal embellishments also browse on YouTube.
Blogs, I do not have, so am not qualified to speak about it. I tend to think, however, those younger generation practitioners perhaps use social media to exchange news and promote their own achievements rather than to enhance their training.
The concept of subtitling came into use in and around 1987, to the best of my knowledge. I happened to have provided the first English subtitles for the Song of Chunhyang produced by the National Changgeuk Company in 1987. Today, all professional singers making international appearances are aware of the critical importance of good subtitles to go with their presentations. For them, subtitles add to their presentation, rather than training.
KT: In what ways has such technology impacted contemporary pansori performance?
CP: Given the historical reality, without the advancements in recording technology (and consumption), pansori singing may not have survived as much as it has.
KT: Do you think that the use of technology for pedagogic purposes (voice training) is more suited towards preserving or renewing pansori?
Renewal of pansori must first start with preservation.
KT: Have you used such technology as a trainee? Or teacher? Or performer? If yes, could you describe a case of such use that exemplifies your approach?
CP: Yes, yes, and yes.
First, my teacher is no longer living, yet I have continuously been depending on his recordings to review and re-review, re-re-review, and further.
In essence, he lives to continue to teach me through his recordings.
Listening to them thousands of times, I cultivate closer listening of his artistry as structural entity, the understanding of which is mine to reproduce within the boundary of my own vocal expressiveness.
In repeated listening, the obscure and the unidentifiable textual and acoustic elements often become clearer, suddenly or gradually.
KT: In the past, the use of technology (for example, recordings) has been criticised as leading to mere imitation (‘photographic sound’/sajinsori) rather than creative mastery of the genre. Do you agree/disagree? Do you think such critique is fair or limited?
CP: True, and this was my own limited observation during the earlier stages of training. Outwardly, it does feel and look like you’re photocopying. But consider the process of learning a new language: it starts with sampling and ‘photocopying’ your teacher’s articulation and mannerism. The language one day becomes yours to use, and you speak, listen, write, and comprehend in your own way.
People who sees only the ‘photocopying’ need to go further into the process of training, continuously.
KT:Do you have any final thoughts to share on the issue of using technology in pansori training, either within or outside Korea?
CP: Recording technology, despite the loss of oral culture, is a saving grace when it comes to the pedagogical field of traditional singing.
Park, C.E. 2003. Voices from the Straw Mat: Toward and Ethnography of Korean Story Singing. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.
Park, C.E. 2019. Beyond the ‘time capsule’: recreating Korean narrative temporalities in pansori singing. In: M. Evans, K. Thomaidis and Libby Worth, eds., Time and Performer Training. London and New York: Routledge. 172-78.
Chan E. Park is the author of Voices from the Straw Mat: Toward an Ethnography of Korean Story Singing (University of Hawai’i Press 2003), and currently professor of Korean Literature and Performance at Ohio State University. Park has innovated numerous bilingual and theatrical pansori including: In 1903, Pak Hungbo Went to Hawai’i (2003); When Tiger Smoked His Pipe (2003); Shim Chong: A Korean Folktale (2003); Alaskan Pansori: Klanott and the Land Otter People (2005); Song of Everyday Chunhyang (2008); Hare Returns from the Underwater Palace (2013).
Konstantinos Thomaidis is Senior Lecturer in Drama, Theatre & Performance at the University of Exeter. His books include Voice Studies: Critical Approaches to Process, Performance and Experience (Routledge 2015, with Ben Macpherson) and Theatre & Voice (Palgrave Macmillan 2017). He co-founded the Journal of Interdisciplinary Voice Studies, the Routledge Voice Studies book series, and the Sound, Voice & Music Working Group at TaPRA. He is Artistic Director of Adrift Performance Makers.
While the human voice mostly dominates the territory of voice training today, interspecies vocal performances like The Algae Opera (2012) and multispecies audiences like Laurie Anderson’s Concert for Dogs (2016) challenge the anthropocentric focus and open up for new experiences. Voice training can join in this venture by including more diverse pedagogies.
For some time now, animals have inspired western arts practitioners in performer training: from theatrical innovator Jacques Copeau’s animal improvisations (Evans 2006: 79-80), to singing philosopher Alfred Wolfsohn’s extended voice research (2012), to theatre director Jerzy Grotowski’s actor training exercises incorporating the vocalities of tigers, snakes, and bulls (1968: 180-82). The practices used in this longstanding tradition of seeking inspiration from other animals are still in many ways quite human-centred.
Part of my PhD project studies the Nordic herding-calling tradition Kulning, a practice of interspecies vocal attraction between herders and free-grazing cows, goats and sheep. As a vocal deviser, I am fascinated by how the herders vocally attract their cattle. While most herders today learn traditional calls of attraction through the (human-to-human) oral tradition, we can assume that in the very first training sessions, herders and cattle together co-devised these calls.
Learning vocal technique together with the cattle embraces a ‘humanimal’ voice pedagogy. Donna Haraway describes the ‘humanimal’ as the human and the animal coming ‘into each other’ (2013). Informed by ethnographic fieldwork that I conducted in the north of Sweden (July 2019), I devised four workshops on ‘humanimal’ voice pedagogy for arts practitioners. These workshops (held at the University of Exeter’s Drama Department, 2020) each involved a group of eleven participants.
The first workshop included exercises designed to explore elements to be considered when devising the calls of attraction in Kulning. In order to introduce participants to the vocal tradition and to serve as a stimulus in the exercises, I brought in footage and sound recordings of cattle from my fieldwork.
During my ethnographic study, it was suggested by the herders that I interviewed that vocal attunement and imitation of the recipient are key to the sonic dramaturgy of the calls of attraction. Thus, one of my exercises aimed to train workshop participants to vocally attune to and imitate cattle. After a series of ‘humanimal’ physiovocal warm-ups, I invited participants to close their eyes, to go down on ‘all fours’, and listen to recordings of cattle ‘feeling’ the cattle’s vocality resonate in their bodies. Inspired by Jane Bennett’s conception of a morphing creature ‘not necessarily divided equally’ (2001: 19-20), I led participants through a vocal journey exploring different degrees of mimesis (we explored moving from sounding 10% human-90% cow to 20%human-80% cow etc.). In this creative space, participants were encouraged to explore the freedom of the shapeshifting embedded in the ‘humanimal’.
By practising imitating the unique voices of each animal, this exercise also offered performers new models for voicing. All workshop exercises involved learning from the cattle’s vocality through listening, moving, and sounding-with audio recordings.
What possibilities may emerge if this kind of vocal training next takes place in nature together with cattle, allowing for a complete ‘humanimal’ vocal exchange? What possibilities may emerge when we broaden the anthropocentric paradigm of voice pedagogy, inviting more ways of voicing, listening, and relating? What performance possibilities may emerge with ‘humanimal’ voice training? Will such a training embrace further ‘humanimal’ audiences?
Anderson, Laurie. (2016). Concert for Dogs (January 4). Times Square, New York City.
Bennett, Jane. (2001). Cross-Species Encounters. In J. Bennett (ed) The Enchantment of Modern Life (pp. 17-32). Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Burton Nitta. (2012). The Algae Opera (September 22-23). Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Edlund, Sophia. (2020). Humanimal voice workshop on vocal attraction (February 15). Exeter Drama Department, Thornlea, Exeter.
Evans, Mark. (2006). Jacques Copeau. New York: Routledge.
Grotowski, Jerzy. (1968). Towards a Poor Theatre. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Wolfsohn, Alfred. (2012). Orpheus or the Way to a Mask (trans. M. Günther). Woodstock, Connecticut: Abraxas Publishing.
Sophia Edlund is a visual-vocal artist and a PhD candidate in Performance Practice at the University of Exeter. Her voice-based PhD examines different practices of voicing ‘thelxis’ (a Greek word for attraction/enchantment). Sophia’s studies include a BA in English Literature, an MA in Text and Performance, and an MSc in Performance Psychology. She is passionate about the health and wellbeing of singers and about raising awareness of singing as a means to promote health and wellbeing. Sophia is the current Reviews Editor for the Journal of Interdisciplinary Voice Studies, where she has published on the topic of sirens.
Voice researcher and teacher D. Ralph Appelman writes: ‘A man cannot lift a heavy object without laryngeal closure, and he can become quite hoarse in the prolonged performance of this act’ (1967, p. 43). Appelman here is referring to an involuntary Valsalva manoeuvre: the reflexive closing of the throat in response to heavy lifting. The glottis closes to trap air in the lungs. The increased air pressure in the lungs and the accompanying increase in intrabdominal pressure exert force on the anterior surface of the spine, increasing spinal stability and allowing force to be transferred through the body more effectively.
Appelman articulates a belief historically shared by many spoken-voice and singing teachers: that heavy weight-lifting and optimal voicing are incompatible. Voice professionals have often recommended against heavy lifting: either out of a concern that weight-lifting generates physical tension and brings the body out of alignment (Rodenburg, 1992, p.59; Bunch 2010, p. 158-8) and/or out of a concern that it produces harmful effects such as hyperadduction or structural damage at the level of the vocal folds (Chapman, 2012, p. 68; Houseman, 2002, p. 12).
There are both personal and professional reasons that an actor might choose to engage in weight-lifting. And yet there exists limited practical advice on how to do so in a way that supports rather than hinders voice training. Furthermore, while voice teachers couch their recommendations against weight-lifting in scientific explanations, there is limited scientific research to conclusively support the assertion that weight-lifting necessarily has a negative impact on the voice.
I am investigating this issue through my current teaching practice at Bath Spa University and through a practice-as-research PhD with the University of Exeter. I aim to generate different interactions between weight-lifting and voice than those historically envisioned by voice teachers. I ask how an actor could learn to actively shape these interactions. For example, I investigate the adjustments I need to make in order to lift a heavy weight without laryngeal closure.
I also ask whether it is valuable to consider more than simply the mechanical interactions between weight-lifting and voice. Fundamental to many actor voice practices is the notion that how one uses one’s voice is contiguous with one’s sense of self. How, then, does weight-lifting intervene in one’s self-experience? For example, could the sense of agency and empowerment that potentially comes with learning to weight-lift challenge and re-form one’s embodied experience of social identity? In this respect, my research has socio-political resonances and I use weight-lifting as way of probing tensions in contemporary feminisms: particularly neoliberal feminism.
Though my project is practice-based, I analyse and shape my practice using ethnographic and autoethnographic research. I interview voice teachers and also draw on my own expertise and experiences not only as a voice teacher but also as a weight-lifter and weight-lifting coach. This (auto)ethnographic framework allows me to consider the broader cultural and social resonances of my work and the ways it challenges or affirms existing voice training practices and discourses.
In the following video, I demonstrate one element of my practice. I explore the idea that, contrary to Appelman’s assertion, laryngeal closure while lifting a heavy object is negotiable rather than inevitable.
To resist the involuntary Valsalva manoeuvre, I have to consciously inhibit my body’s instinctual response to heavy lifting. I do this by sustaining a position of inhalation even as I exhale through the hardest part of the lift: I actively maintain an open throat and hold my lower ribs open. The impulse to close my throat, to grunt or to cry out is strong, and the amount of physical and mental effort to sustain the inhale position against this impulse is significant.
This technique does not come naturally to me; and indeed, feels counterintuitive given my particular voice training history. I am a spoken-voice teacher trained in what Tara McAllister-Viel refers to as the natural/free voice approach (2019, p. 46): a pedagogical approach that emphasises physical release as a means to vocal ‘freedom’ as opposed to consciously applied effort. On the one hand, I find that effort in the body helps me sustain ‘freedom’ in my throat. On the other hand, by resisting the impulse to allow my throat to close or to grunt or to cry out when I lift, I deny the vocal release so fundamental to the free voice approach.
To grunt or not to grunt? As a natural/free voice practitioner and in the spirit of ‘freeing’ the voice, I am working on cultivating the choice to do either: to lift with an open throat, silencing the effort in my body; or to express the effort, voicing the intensity of the somatic experience of working at the edge of my physical and mental capacity. Both options involve an embodied understanding of effort, where to put it, and how to voice it. Thus, in contrast to natural/free voice practices that focus primarily on developing the voice through muscular release, I propose exploring the voice through muscular effort. I suggest that this guiding principle could form the basis of a new pedagogical approach to spoken-voice training for actors: one that provides the actor not only with the tools and knowledge to protect the voice while engaging in physical effort, but also with the freedom to give voice to that effort. This pedagogy aims to give students a broader toolkit for ‘thinking-through’ and constructing their physiovocal selves.
Appelman, D.R. (1967) The science of vocal pedagogy: theory and application, London, Indiana University Press.
Bunch-Dayme, M. (2010) Dynamics of the singing voice, 2nd ed, London, Springer Wien.
Chapman, J. (2017) Singing and teaching singing: a holistic approach to classical voice, San Diego, Plural Publishing.
Houseman, B. (2002) Finding your voice: A step-by-step guide for actors, London, Nick Hern Books.
McAllister-Viel, T. (2019) Training actors’ voices: towards an intercultural/interdisciplinary approach, Abingdon, UK, Routledge.
Rippetoe, M. (2011) Starting Strength: basic barbell training, 3rd edition, Wichita Falls, TX, USA, The Aasgaard Company.
Rodenburg, P. (1992) The right to speak: working with the voice, 1st edition, London, Routledge.
A collaborative document, with contributions from: Mark Evans, Cass Fleming, Rebecca Loukes, Sara Reed and Amy Russell.
This piece of writing aims to offer reflection and provocation on the ways that the TDPT Special Issue ‘Against the Canon’ might be used as part of teaching and learning activities within theatre, dance and performance courses and training programmes. We write this as academics and artists, aware of our position as white and privileged – and we invite critique, challenge and debate.
For work ‘against the canon’ to have continuing impact, it needs to reach out beyond the page of academic journals and start to affect the ways in which pedagogy operates and the ways in which teachers and students engage with canonical forms of training and canonical content. Editing the special issue has brought to the fore for us so many questions about deep assumptions underpinning much practice in Universities and conservatoires. The changes being wrought by #MeToo and by the Black Lives Matter (BLM) campaign also offer profound challenges to the ways in which training for performance is structured, taught, assessed and perceived. The suggestions and provocations outlined below are offered only as a number of possible starting points and are in no way definitive – they should themselves be open to challenge and critique. We suggest that those interested in this work should approach it collaboratively, as befits the subject matter, working in partnership with students, colleagues, industry partners and interested communities.
We post this in the midst of a global pandemic, which will hit hardest those who are traditionally marginalised. We acknowledge that in the context of this unprecedented situation, the start of a new academic year is difficult timing for people to engage with this blog, so we invite continuing debate and discussion when time and work allows.
Consider your own identity, where does it sit in the hierarchies of inclusion/exclusion, and the systems of power, privilege and ownership in the wider world, the cultural and arts sector and educational organisations – and perhaps self-assess and take a moment to dialogue with yourself (Daron Oram) – can you foreground and celebrate aspects of your identity (Kristine Landon-Smith), can you identify gaps in your knowledge about the lives and cultures of others (Kaja Dunn et al.), can you invite yourself to be curious and provocative?
Make an honest inventory of your objectives and motives on the one hand, and your hesitations, fears, and resistances if you experience any. For example, are you afraid of getting it wrong, or of letting something go that is important to you? Imagine having a conversation with one of your ancestors about this project of working against the canon. Are they for or against it? In what ways do you agree or disagree? Can you be curious about your own resistance if you experience any? Can you feel the excitement of change and enthusiasm at being part of it? If there is ambivalence or fear, how can you work with it?
Assess your own practices and the methodologies you draw on for your practice, teaching, scholarship and/or research. What are the implicit assumptions in those methods and whom do they exclude or marginalise? Do you feel empowered or disempowered by the methods you employ – why is this so? What techniques, terms and language do you use that require an element of transformation or critique – neutral, natural, trust, ideal, truth, authentic, cultural assumptions about ‘naturalistic’ acting, for example – and how might you adapt and/or critically situate them in your practice? Do you have aspects of your own cultural heritage and/or identity (in relation to race, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexuality, age, disability) that may be marginalised in theatre, dance and performance training – and can these be brought to the fore, celebrated and shared?
Consider the context within which your course(s) takes place: the diversity of those teaching and studying in terms of race, age, gender, sexuality, class and disability. How does this composition reflect the diversity of the wider community? Does it reflect the wider societal need to recognise the achievements of those who have been marginalised, oppressed or ignored in the past? It is important and valuable to name the issues that are in the room – they are not things that anyone should be afraid of dealing with. The starting point however has to be acknowledging that they are there. In order to challenge white, heterosexual, non-disabled male privilege, consider the importance of pushing against the canon even if your students happen to be all white/male/straight!
Do you share any of your students’ fears? If you share some of their concerns and fears, can this compassion provide insight into how to address what students may not be willing to reveal about themselves unless they feel safe?
Take critical note of the texts, workshops and performances that are recommended for reading or identified as essential for students to read to complete your module or course. Make sure that authorship is diverse – that may mean extra work to identify scholarship that is less well known. Can all your students see themselves in enough of the documents that they read, the plays they study or perform, and the performances that they watch? Is disability arts and performance included in your curriculum? Where diverse examples are not available ensure that teachers and students recognise that omission (and at times exclusion) and critique the reasons for it. Where canonical works are used, ensure that they are critiqued through study and through practice. How much do we rely on the legacy of the written word? Whose words remain and for whom do they speak? Remember the value of oral histories – where books and articles don’t exist for contemporary practice, there will be people’s memories and experiences. If you access these, how might they be shared in order to encourage others?
Don’t just decolonise the curriculum, decolonise the pedagogy.
Using the journal in the classroom:
As provocation – how does each contribution represent a provocation to question and challenge existing canons? What is the nature of each provocation? Is the form of each piece significant – why might a postcard, a conversation, diagram or a manifesto be provocative as a contribution to an academic journal? What is the purpose of provocation?
Look at the postcard pieces. Who would you ask to write a postcard and why? How might you curate such postcards? How can an image and a short piece of text work together – one counterpointing the other, one illustrating the other? Can an image work on its own? How might a series of postcards work – as a linear narrative, as a constellation of related ideas?
Create a board game that represents the ways in which privilege operates within the performing arts (historically and/or in the present) – a snakes and ladders or monopoly of opportunities and rejections. Could your students then create an alternative model or structure?
As model – Consider canonical practice not directly addressed in this special issue (Stanislavsky, Duncan, Graham, Brecht, Meyerhold, Cunningham, Brook, Grotowski, somatics etc.) – how might students use the journal contributions to construct challenges to such practice? What would they focus on? What models might they use – postcards and conversations are used in the special issue, are there other models (interviews, hot seating, letters/emails, cartoons, graffiti, vlogs, etc.)? Use images as the starting point for a critique of who is seen doing what – how is power preserved through images? Construct images that challenge this.
As dialogue – take an issue raised in ‘Against the Canon’ through one or more of the contributions, ask the students to formulate questions related to the issue and construct a formal debate around it. Ask students to construct arguments for and against, drawing on evidence they can find. Debate highlights difference and enables a multiplicity of viewpoints; various positions can be set up and defended – no position is established as definitive although it often creates a strong motivation for determining and arguing for what is ‘right’. In Russell et al. different views are expressed on whether there is such a thing as essential femininity and essential masculinity. The neutral mask used in Lecoq teaching is often gender binary. Your students could discuss this essentialism or debate it. If you can obtain even one neutral mask, you might consider using it “against the canon” as a way of eliciting conversation and awareness of gender performance. If this provokes a parodied use of the mask, refining the performance might raise interesting questions about gender fluidity and might serve to destabilize the reification of gender identities.
Encourage students to dialogue with practising artists – who should they contact (whose work is typically marginalised or under-recognised)? What contact might they have with them – perhaps via postcards they construct around themes, issues, questions? Would the artists be willing to construct postcards for the students? Ask students to construct dialogues between canonical figures and those who were marginalised within their practice – Brecht and his female collaborators, Stanislavski and his female students, Brook and theatre-makers from India and Africa – what would they say to each other? Where would they disagree and where might they agree? Consider ways in which conversations can be sexualised encounters – how might you queer a conversation? Use dialogue to question how and why terms such as energy, presence and character can become gendered and/or sexualised.
When using debate, discussion and role-playing consider how to create an open and supported space for students (for example, you can acknowledge that those who are asked to take an unpopular role or defend an unpopular position are doing something valuable for the overall debate). Ask students to play a role they don’t agree with, but are willing to give that role their best effort. If the dialogue or debate seems to veer at some point to students ‘calling each other out’, can you help to instil a culture of ‘calling in’ – where relationships are built rather than sacrificed, helping people to find their compassion for each other? This should not be about allowing people to hold on to prejudiced views, but about creating and sustaining a level of empathy with others that enables change to happen. With colleagues and students discuss how best to deal with problematic attitudes and difficult incidents (your institution may – or in some cases sadly may not – have useful guidance).
Challenge the sanctity of the clean document – take canonical text(s) and allow students to annotate and comment on them, encourage them to use images and illustrations to counterpoint text, making the unseen or unacknowledged visible.
How might a student construct a dialogue with themselves regarding their practice (Daron Oram) – what would they want to address in doing so? How could they record/document or share such a dialogue, and what would be the benefit of doing so?
Also consider this unique historical moment when institutions are moving from live teaching to online learning at lightning speed. What structures of power, inequality and accessibility need to be considered? In what ways might the shift to online pedagogies offer new opportunities in themselves to democratize or radically question existing methods?
Using the journal with online learning:
The web resources available are not neutral, and search engine algorithms prioritise what is established and popular. Task students with searching around key words, figures, training regimes and topics and ask them to review what comes up, what doesn’t and how difficult or easy it is to find alternatives. They might take one of the articles from the special issue and examine what results internet searches produce for different key people, practices and approaches within the article – how easy is it to find out about marginalised practitioners and practices? What does this tell students about internet resources and about the marginalisation of artists?
How might students create their own online resource for training? What materials and resources would they pull together? How would they operate together to realise collaboration as a way of working? What training exercises might they design and how might they present and share them?
Using the journal in the studio:
How might a student or group of students construct a series of postcards to represent their practice? How might image and text in this format work together? Who would the postcards be for – who would they be designed to be sent to (either living or dead)?
Use one of the contributions to provoke changes in how the students learn or how teachers teach. Make one issue a focus for a lesson and consider how teacher and student might reflect on a session (or sessions) in the light of these issues. Points of focus might include: the experience of disabled students, the experience of students from global majority backgrounds, the experience of privileged students, the experience of working-class students, the experience of older students, the experience of female students, the experience of transgendered students, the expectations teachers have of students, the possibility of meaningful failure. What assumptions are made within studio work: around acceptable forms of behaviour, around the limits and assumptions of touch and the direction of gaze, around the use of language, accent, body language, gesture and dialect? Who feels that they are allowed to ‘be themselves’ within the studio space – and what does that mean? What assumptions about wealth and privilege underpin most of our training intuitions and how do we make space for working class realities (Cornford).
How can students dialogue about their practice – talking to themselves (Oram), talking with others (Russell, Dunn), creating fictional dialogue (Cornford)? How about tasking students to construct a proposal for a blog entry for the TDPT blog – what would they write about? It could be a response to one of the articles in the special issue, or a proposal for a new contribution? What skills would they learn in doing this? Then encourage the students to post their blog on TDPT – their voices need to be heard!
Journal issues only ever include an edited selection of contributions. Ask students to consider what other issues might have been good to include in this special issue and how they might have tackled such issues. What might be hard about writing such pieces and why – where might obstacles, resistances or difficulties come from and how be overcome?
How might students create new representations of historical practice that deconstructs and challenges the narrative of the genius, the white male guru?
How might some of the content of the special issue work as provocations in relation to students practice? Who is their work for – who is able to engage with it? What do they want to say in their work? What training conventions are they taking for granted? Who takes responsibility for what within their group work – how is work apportioned, who leads, what voices are heard (or not)? What are the politics and ethics of these structures and relationships?
How might the practices of Bing, Boal, Brecht, Candoco, Gindler, Graeae, Henricks, Landon-Smith, Newson, Phoenix Dance, Talawa, Tamasha, WAC or others create models within which canonical practice and performance might be challenged, interrupted, disrupted, deconstructed, commented on and reveal those that the practice has historically marginalised or ignored? How do the practices themselves resist or activate resistance in the participants? What examples of such practices are available for students?
What does touch mean post #MeToo and the killing of George Floyd? Who owns space, how do we negotiate touch, what might touching signify, what can we learn from/through touch? Where are our embodied borders and what do they mean now for us and for others? How do assumptions around touch, weight and space play in to assumptions around gender, sexuality, disability and race/ethnicity?
The Language of the studio/practical class – discuss with students the impact of words and how choice of words can subtly delineated who is or isn’t included. What is implied by references to ‘guys and girls’ or ‘OK guys’? What is the effect of mispronouncing someone’s name? Work with students to be alert to assumptions within language about gender, class, disability and race/ethnicity. When asking students to write about practice, discuss with them the relevance of using alternative pronouns – he/she, s/he, they, she. Consider with all your students how being within the LGBTQI+ community may involve having very different impulses to those recognised by dominant heterosexist cultures and how this may/could/should impact on training performers (Lazlo Pearlman and Deirdre McLaughlin). Reviewing reading and resource lists for their course – encourage them to examine how often the actor is assumed as white, male, straight and/or non-disabled. Ask the students for suggestions and ideas.
Consider Landon-Smith’s article and discuss with students the ways in which they might bring their own cultures into the studio – through games, dances, songs, exercises, storytelling, patois/accent/dialect, postures and ways of sitting/standing, gestures and movements. Recognise that all cultures have these and be sure to reveal how these exist in straight, white, non-disabled culture even when they are ‘invisible’ in their ubiquity and dominance.
How can practical sessions be used to challenge canonical training practice? Change should not just be about making accommodation for difference, but about transformation and radical change. Be clear that inclusion is not just about ‘fitting in’ disabled, global majority or queer students, it is about celebrating their presence – what might that mean in terms of changes to studio practice, your work ideas and strategies?
Reflect on the practice that does not make it into the studio – why is it absent or excluded? Whose responsibility is it to find ways of including it? What ideas and approaches have our students contributed and how can we take this further in the future?
Open up discussions between staff and students around canonical practice and equality issues. This should not be threatening, but should enable multiple perspectives to enrich mutual understanding of the role and purpose of training and the ethical dimensions surrounding training practice.
White colleagues – Reject the assumption that you have to know everything about marginalised artists in order to teach about their practice. There is not time to wait for those books to be written. Invite the artists to be part of constructing the curriculum. Invite students to help create/curate the materials for learning. Don’t be afraid to start from a position of ignorance and learn with the students.
Reject the assumption that students have to learn about the canon in order to ‘really’ know their subject. The subject is the centre of the learning, the canonical figures are only a set of examples.
Reject the assumption that the canonical figures are all individual geniuses. What kind of mythologies, misunderstanding and ideologies are created by this assumption? Each one’s career involves multiple collaborations with forgotten or marginalised others. Recognising these others need not diminish the achievements of all involved, but does given recognition where it is due but not always given. It does no harm at all to recognise the value and success of collaboration and the ways in which artists work together. It does great harm to assume that the work of many can be understood as the achievements of only one.
Reject the assumption that marginalised work is somehow lower in quality, that it therefore deserves to be marginalised. Such an assumption does not recognise the ways in which value systems are socially and politically constructed and managed by those who hold power.
Reject the marginalisation of yourself or others in the field of work, study and practice because of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexuality, age, class or disability. Reject being the token representative. Don’t allow that to happen to students either.
The diversity of your students – allow them to be themselves.
Your own identity, culture, history and experiences – they should inform your teaching without you being seen as exotic or a token member of staff. If that happens, complain.
Your own learning journey as a teacher and a person and those who you collaborated with within that journey.
The wonderful ways in which theatre, dance and performance enable us all to realise and challenge the ways in which our identities are created, policed and presented.
Reading/watching to help reflection and action – this list is not definitive!
An open letter to UK Theatre, Dance and Performance Studies
Look at work within the performing arts as an area of inequality and exclusion.
DV8 The Cost of Living (extracts)
Examine and explore representations of disability.
Calling In: A Quick Guide to When and How by Sian Ferguson
Reflect with students on when to call out and when to call in.
Change comes from action – so what will you do differently?
At Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, UK, the institution has set in motion a project to address issues of institutional racism through institutional review. You can see details at: https://www.cssd.ac.uk/repairing-curriculum. How might such a project relate to your own practice? What might you take from this at an individual level? What might you change, challenge or adapt? Should such a project be replicated in order to make provision for tackling issues around gender, sexuality, disability, age, class, etc.?
And then we have to make our intuitions follow through on agreed changes, actions and re-structures. What institutional support do you need in order to challenge the canon? What allies can help with this change – both from within and outside your institution?
You are not alone – who else can support you, share with you, join in conversations with you? What networks do you have or should you seek to establish that will support change? Who can you engage with as visiting professors, hourly paid lecturers, local/national/global professional contacts, audience/community members, students, campaigners and activists? How can you maintain pressure on your institution to recruit more diverse staff members as permanent members of staff and to remove the powerful glass ceilings to promotion that prevail in our sector?
Huge congratulations from all at TDPT to Konstantinos Thomaidis who has just won the Honourable Mention for Excellence in Editing at this year’s ATHE Awards, for his special issue for TDPT ‘What is new in voice training?’ 10.3. The award was announced today at the annual (online) conference. The full list of winners and mentions in this category are posted here.
Konstantinos’ success arises from his tremendous hard work and dedication as a guest editor on the journal combined with his extensive knowledge and experience in the field of voice studies. Jonathan and I as co-editors were full of admiration at the way Konstantinos overcame some initial setbacks that were out of his control to ensure the quality and adventurousness of the issue.
In his introduction to the special issue Konstantinos offers a brief survey of the literature and practices of the ‘emergent field of voice studies’ and comments in the following way:
‘These studies have invited us to listen to the voice anew: voice as that which encompasses and exceeds textuality and linguistic meaning-making, voice as embodied and materially intersubjective; voice as both individual and political, affective and ideological, semantically potent and pragmatically interpolated, demandingly present and abjectly haunted – as simultaneously knowable and perpetually undefinable.’ (2019: 295).
And listen he does in his role as guest editor, inviting us to engage with the wide range of authors who address ‘what is new’ through both varied content and in a range of different formats.
To celebrate this achievement, Taylor and Francis Online and the Theatre, Dance and Performance Training journal has made the following three articles from the Special Issue free to view until October:
Beth Osnes, Chelsea Hackett, Jen Walentas Lewon, Norma Baján & Christine Brennan (2019) Vocal Empowerment Curriculum for young Maya Guatemalan women, Theatre, Dance and Performance Training, 10:3, 313-331, DOI: 10.1080/19443927.2019.1637371
Konstantinos Thomaidis (2019) Between preservation and renewal: reconsidering technology in contemporary pansori training, Theatre, Dance and Performance Training, 10:3, 418-438, DOI: 10.1080/19443927.2019.1645040
Mel Drake (2019) ‘Next year’s words await another voice’1: British Sign Language and voice work with D/deaf actors at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Theatre, Dance and Performance Training, 10:3, 448-454, DOI: 10.1080/19443927.2019.1677388
At a time when TDPT had to postpone its 10th Birthday celebrations it’s wonderful to have this moment of success, an opportunity to raise a glass to Konstantinos and shout out our congratulations – whilst listening anew, of course, to our voices.
The view that one can only practice and not practice for performance art and live art has persisted since the emergence of time-, body-, and action-based performance artworks in the 1960s. After all, to speak of ‘training’ evokes ideas of technique, mastery or tradition, ideas that the artists engaged in performance art and live art have frequently sought to challenge or altogether abandon. However, many of the artists who have shaped the history of performance art and live art have also been committed teachers; pedagogical approaches to performance practices emerged at the same time as the practices themselves; educational institutions have frequently offered material support for the making of performance works and provided a living for artists; and artist-led, non-institutional training spaces have adopted events and publications as alternative forms of curricula. Acknowledging the importance of training not just in the formation of a performance artist but as part of their continuing practice also means to value experience, expertise and professional standing as part of the work of performance art and live art.
This special issue brings together contributions that address the theme of training for performance art and live art in reference to different histories (covering the 1960s and 1970s as well as the recent present); diverse geographies (examining developments in the UK and in Portugal); institutions and anti-institutions (covering art schools, summer schools, festivals and workshop programmes); and varied approaches to teaching and training as a performative inter-generational transaction.
Gavin Butt’s ‘Without Walls: Performance Art and Pedagogy at the “Bauhaus of the North”’ traces the impact of libertarian teaching in the 1970s at arguably the most influential teaching institutions for the history of performance art in the UK, Leeds Polytechnic. In ‘Lessons from Outside the Classroom: Performance Pedagogies in Portugal, 1970-1980’, Cláudia Madeira and Fernando Matos Oliveira recount approaches to performance training as they developed in Portugal in the wake of the 1974 revolution outside of formal institutions.
Deirdre Heddon’s ‘Professional Development for Live Artists: Doing it Yourself’ explores the history of the DIY professional development scheme as an example for how training practices are being reimagined as live art practices in themselves. In ‘Training for Live Art: Process Pedagogies and New Moves International’s Winter Schools’, Stephen Greer examines the New Moves International (NMI)’s winter school as another key example for an artist-led scheme that made productive live art’s resistant relationship to established forms of performer training.
In ‘“I’ve been as intimate with him as I have been with anybody”: Queer Approaches, Encounters and Exchanges as Live Art Performer Training’, Kieran Sellars identifies in the cross-generational performance collaboration between Sheree Rose and Martin O’Brien a form of queer embodied discipline that draws on BDSM as well as Live Art lineages. And in ‘Curious Methods–Pedagogy Through Performance’, Leslie Hill and Helen Paris document the close ways in which their training methods have reflected on and contributed to their creation of live performance work.
The Training Grounds section (edited by Bryan Brown) supplements this with a collection of shorter essais, postcards, and a book review (edited by Chris Hays). Will Dickie’s expanded essai (accompanied by videos available here on the TDPT blog) investigates the application of psychophysical actor training to live art. In the issue’s second essai, a trio of practitioners (Áine Phillips, Dominic Thorpe and Tara Carroll) offer insight into three generations of Irish live art practice by detailing transformative encounters with their teachers. The two postcards for this special issue (by Sara Zaltash and N. Eda Erçin) wrestle with the entanglements of live art practice, life and communities. And Campbell Edinborough’s review of Marina Abramović’s memoir Walk Through Walls furthers the discussion of how a live artist’s work is their life while querying the ability to turn that life into a method.
This MA/MFA course, now in its tenth year, is designed to provide a flexible programme of study and an environment of rigorous creative enquiry, supporting practicing artists in their further development. Studio practice is accompanied by reflective and theoretical study; modules are devised to be conversant with one another, allowing for an interdisciplinary approach individual research. Areas of study range across perspectives, including theoretical and philosophical underpinning of arts practice, in visual art, film making, writing and embodied practice and other disciplines.
To be able to apply for a bursary, you must have applied and been accepted onto the MA/MFA Creative Practice: Dance Professional Practice Pathway. For all information about the bursary, please see click here.
International and UK-based students are eligible for bursary awards.
DEADLINE Deadline for bursary applications for 2020/21: Monday 22 June, 5pm. On time deadline for course applications to be able to apply for the Gill Clarke Bursary: 15 June 2020. Applications to the course can be submitted after this date, but won’t be eligible for the Gill Clarke Bursary.
Other bursaries are also available from Trinity Laban. Click here to find out about more funding opportunities.
Anyone interested in applying is welcome to have an informal conversation: please email Independent Dance at firstname.lastname@example.org
Six years after this article was first published, the thing that strikes me is what I find in the title. ‘Seen but not heard’ was my effort to create something brief and memorable for the potential reader, and in choosing it of course I was thinking about all the ways in which an actor’s body is put to work (and put at risk), in a tension between business, art and the personal which we often see but rarely discuss.
What I didn’t reflect on so much at the time was where that phrase comes from: the old saying, ‘Children should be seen and not heard’. This English proverb dates from the 15thcentury, where it was originally directed primarily at young women: ‘A mayde schuld be seen, but not herd’ (John Mirk, ca. 1403).
This opens up a couple of things for me that I don’t discuss in the article, but which I think continue to be important:
In the middle of last year when we were considering how best to celebrate 10 years of TDPT, we focused in on the idea of 10 free-to-access articles representing the last decade of the journal’s activity: A Desert Island Discs, or Training Top Ten.
That was before the profound changes brought about by the global pandemic, an event which seems to have carved history into two: BEFORE and AFTER. Then, in the blissful period of BEFORE, we had no idea how precious online resources would be, how far the digital space would become home for so many of us, so quickly and involuntarily.
Now in the deeply unsettling and unknown period of AFTER, this selective retrospective of the Journal’s activity since 2010, joins an unprecedented landscape of free digital resources and innovative online endeavour gifted to the world. In our selection, editors, Libby and Jonathan have tried to represent the international and intellectual diversity which has characterised contributions to TDPT from the very beginning. In doing so, we have had to leave out the vast majority of the excellent contributions we have published over the years. What we offer here, then, is a snapshot of TDPT’s sizeable intervention into the field of Performer Training, one produced in what now seems a different world. If you can, please read every one of the free to access articles, and engage with us and the authors, in the comments box on the blog. Why not start, where it all began in 2010, with Marijke Hoogenboom’s, ‘Building with Blocks’ article? Her final words, turning Kafka on its head, are more pertinent than ever: ‘We are here, so there is hope’.
While this post aims to contribute to the conversation provoked by Jonathan Pitches’ ‘Embodied Learning Online‘, it is primarily a sharing of thoughts that emerge in light of the current climate caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and has been informed by two years of research on online, remote, and collaborative teaching conducted in collaboration with Hannah Schwadron (FSU, US) and Theron Schmidt (UNSW, Australia) under the title ‘Planetary Performance Pedagogies’. Hannah, Theron, and I are planning to launch a series of online seminars that build on this discussion by mid-May. If you would like to learn more about that, feel free to drop me a line at felipe.cervera[at]lasalle.edu.sg.
Like many practitioners, educators and scholars, I have been involved in developing and implementing online strategies for theatre and performance-based courses over the last few months. Additionally, I have had the benefit of thinking through this ‘digital transition’ with various friends and colleagues while trying to figure out how theatre and performance should respond to the moment. In digesting these conversations, my first coherent thought about the current situation is that we are facing a disciplinary crisis. This crisis is visible in the various ways in which theatre and performance makers and especially educators are trying to “move online”. However, these efforts — besides not being *really* online but rather emergency reactions — are symptoms of a deeper problem surfaced by the pandemic.
The actual crisis that we face is the crisis of performance knowledge and its systematization into a structure of transferable skills or their display. This is a crisis in the foundational arguments that dance, theatre, and performance made to academia in their fight to legitimize their knowledge(s) as distinct from, and not a subsection of, literature or history (for discipline and degree specialization). It is also a crisis that unsettles the argument that they made to the contemporary economy on their value and specificity concerning other media. Of course, the issue stems from the dislocation of face-to-face teaching and presenting, which by extension, questions too the irreplaceability of tacit and embodied knowledge as being the ontological condition to performance pedagogy. The problem lies slightly beyond the classic debates on liveness and media. It cuts to the core of the specificity of performance knowledge and how it is organised, transferred, and shared.
We are not *really* teaching online, but adjusting to an emergency. This is a pivotal point to have in mind. The situation we face will teach us more about how to teach theatre and performance (and their study) remotely, digitally, and online. But what we are actually doing right now, for the most part, is fumbling to adjust tacit and embodied knowledge into a medium of teaching that we have made sure to pose as its contrary. And we made this point in the pursuit of validating the specificity of live, synchronous, and face to face performance as a legitimate, award-granting medium of instruction and proper academic object of knowledge. In dealing with the current situation, many of us have had to promise our institutions and our students, explicitly or not, that our programmes can and will continue *online* (of course, when online is even an option). As we begin to realize that we are likely to have to adjust or even redesign the curriculum to fit the emergency’s aftermath, it is also important to bear in mind the ways in which the boundaries of our discipline will bend, and maybe even break. That bending/breaking will be a fight for the institutional survival of our field, for sure. Yet, at the same time, it will teach us a thing or two about performance, epistemology, and their interaction. It will show us what performance can do when assemblies are illegal or not allowed. And it will also teach us a lesson to care for our less/non-institutionalized colleagues and our less/non-digital students.
The pandemic has already taught dance, theatre, and performance that remoteness is compatible with learning, teaching, and collaboration. Physical distance does not mean social distance. The situation, thus, invites collaborative efforts, both in proximity and remoteness, to address the disciplinary crisis we face. In the conversations that I have had with friends and colleagues in Singapore and elsewhere on this matter during the last two months, the debate has tended to ask whether what we have done (moving online) is good or bad for the protection of our discipline; or whether we should “go back” to embodiment as a way to retain what is properly ours, or whether university-based dance, theatre, and performance disciplines have finally met their end; or whether we should activate the politics of performance studies and its adisciplinarity to safeguard our future in the post-pandemic university. These are all debates that exceed my contribution to this post, but I remain open to continue to unpack.
Looking at the pattern, however, my instinct is that the actual task at hand might be to spend valuable time re-evaluating the ancillary arguments that hold dance, theatre, and performance together as academic disciplines, and that in doing so we should be ready to unlearn. I also suspect that at the same time, we need to be ready to defend performance knowledge now more than ever, both within higher education and outside of it, and that maintaining the cliché binary of live/online will do us no good in that fight. Multimedia epistemes and pedagogies have been around for a long while, after all.
Felipe Cervera is a Lecturer in Theatre at LASALLE College of the Arts (Singapore) and holds a status-only appointment at the Centre for Drama, Theatre, & Performance Studies of the University of Toronto. His research focuses on collaborative academia (teaching and research), and in the interplays between performance, science, and technology. He serves as associated editor of Performance Research and Global Performance Studies.
As we enter a near global shelter at home response to the COVID-19 pandemic, performance practitioners and educators are rapidly shifting to virtual online resources for their training. Institutions are shuttering but our practice and educational work continues. Unlike the plagues of previous centuries, our contemporary technology allows us to converse, move and share knowledge despite the suspension of face-to-face encounter. However, virtual and online learning has been critiqued extensively as a platform for embodied transmission.
The following post by Jonathan Pitches aims to dispel some of the critiques of online learning as being insufficient for embodied practice and learning. We hope it’s a useful provocation for our readers to explore more digital learning and to comeback to the blog with their own posts to add to the conversation.
Embodied learning – a guide to moving online
A few days ago thousands congregated in the UK to show their appreciation of the health workers on the front line of the coronavirus pandemic, a mass gathering of isolates facilitated by social media, recorded on our phones and re-distributed online. The #clapforourcarers national event echoed those held all over the world, bringing together communities in unprepared isolation to make a simple gesture of respect and humility to the doctors, nurses, and care-workers working in the health system.
In the last few weeks there have been seismic movements in the relationship between online and off-line activity: myriad examples, like the #clapforourcarers initiative, of creative people taking their skills online to encourage others to explore new activities in their homes. Pub quizzes, fitness sessions, cookery classes: all are upscaling to national dimensions to keep countries sane, not to mention an entire education system (from nursery to PhD) which has converted to online teaching and learning overnight.
In this definitive digital moment,
what are the things to look out for as beacons of good practice for online embodied
learning? What can be achieved? I write from the perspective of a Lead Educator
and designer of a FutureLearn course, Exploring
Physical Theatre, a Massive Open Online Course which five years ago was
groundbreaking, heretical even – at least for Russian theatre training purists.
In just a few days, online specialist training has become the new normal but carefully
crafted and insightful embodied practices delivered digitally remain rare. Here
are some of my reflections derived from teaching nearly 30,000 students techniques
of Russian actor training. I have arranged them as an acrostic.
Experience is key
Even in the asynchronous world of
an online course, key events structured into the learning can be galvanising
for students – the promise, for instance, of moving from theoretical ideas to practical
investigation at the beginning of a new week.
Massive cohorts can work
Some online courses have been
critiqued for being mechanistic and non-interactive, but if care is taken large
groups of students can have a bespoke experience – moderators can support lead
educators to reply to comments and students support one another in self-organising
Bodies change online
Teaching a very precise, physical
form, using video tutorials, enables an educator to gauge how deeply the
students are embodying the principles of the training. Students who upload
examples of their training can be given precise feedback, in ways which are
very similar to studio training.
Organisation of resources is vital
Online courses, just as with face-to-face
modules, construct a journey of learning. It is this level of organisation and
curation which distinguishes them from more piecemeal online offerings.
Digital artefacts can be key to the
Gauging Learning can be challenging
when your students are all over the world or silent in comment threads. Asking
for the uploading of a digital artefact, capturing their learning, appeals to
different learning styles and creates a gallery for others to comment on.
and old will engage
Theatre studios tend to be
populated by young fit people. An online space brings a much wider demographic
of learners together and some of the typical hierarchies experienced by
trainees can be dismantled.
Jonathan Pitches is Professor of Theatre and Performance at the University of Leeds, UK and a FutureLearn lead educator. He has trained with Russian masters in Vsevolod Meyerhold’s system of ‘biomechanics’ and has been teaching students these principles since 1995.
Reflections on the 2020 International Platform for Performer Training
For three days in January 2020, the University of Kent’s
drama department hosted the 7th edition of the International
Platform for Performer Training with a focus on how words operate in
performer training. The platform was organised and led by Paul Allain,
Professor of Theatre and Performance, Stacie Lee Bennett-Worth, PhD
candidate at De Montfort University and Honorary Research Associate at Kent,
Alicja Bral, PhD candidate at Kent, and Dr Roanna Mitchell, Lecturer in Drama
and Theatre also at Kent. The event involved some 50 participants, mostly from
across Europe, in a lively mixture of short workshops, presentations, talks and
Sessions focused on community-based applications of
training, voice and text work, languages used in training pedagogies, speaking
dreams and inhabiting avatars, verse-speaking and the breath, ideas drawn from
Russian and Polish theatre and Grotowski especially, using film for training
and how circus tends to ignore the voice. The journal Theatre Dance and Performance Training had a continual presence at
the platform, offering itself and this blog as spaces for continuing our
physical and vocal dialogues. Here we take up this challenge.
Bennett-Worth created this collage to visually and textually though silently activate some of the energy, ideas and words circulating during the platform, also depicting many of the people involved.
Please click the image below to open in a new window which will allow you to zoom in.
The following video recordings have been collected to go with the essay ‘Training to be me’, found in TDPT 11.2 Live and Performance Art. The entries comprise a short film and 3 videos of exercises I created to help me make 3 different performances. Each entry works as an example of how I have applied a principle or technique from my experience with performer training to my autobiographical, live art making processes.
This short film, created in 2011, is included here to share how I applied my martial arts training in the South Indian Martial Art Kalaripayattu. I used an embodied sense of ‘listening to space’ to make choreographic responses to the built environment of my childhood hometown – Hampton – in South West London. Camera by Will Hanke.
MEMORIES OF SUBURBIA – password: MOS
This video records the vocal training I undertook to deliver the final text in my solo dance theatre work – Memories of Suburbia. The video includes 2 exercises from the Suzuki Method of Actor Training, as taught to me by John Nobbs and Jacqui Carrol from their own method – the Nobbs Suzuki Praxis. Introducing a recording I made from interviewing my Nan to the process, I used these exercises to deepen my capacity to embody her voice and listen to it at the same time. The video ends by showing the text on its feet in performance at Battersea Arts Centre in 2014.
Memories of Suburbia was created with support from Chisenhale Dance Space, with movement direction from Fabiola Santana & lighting design by Marry Langthorne. Camera by Chris Jenkins.
TEAM OF THE DECADES – Password: TOTD
This video records an exercise created for the two performers of Team of the Decades, an outdoor participatory work for 10 audiences members at a time. The purpose of the exercise is to give myself and the team coach the chance to drill aspects of the show within the performance environment. We are attuning to the landscape, each other, our individual scores, and an imagined audience we will guide through the experience.
Team of the Decadeswas created with support from Battersea Arts Centre, and is performed by Will Dickie & Tim Hopkins. Camera by Fabiola Santana.
THE RAVE SPACE – Password: TRS
This video records an exercise created to train my kinaesthetic relationships to the equipment and playing space of The Rave Space – an immersive DJ performance for nightclubs. My final 90 minute performance score includes all the sonic manipulations and movement work that appear in this exercise.
The Rave Space was created with support with Arts Council England, Battersea Arts Centre, Camden Peoples Theatre, Heart N Soul, Shoreditch Town Hall, South Street Reading & ZU-UK, and the creative team includes Chris Collins, Dan Canham, Fabiola Santana, Hayley Hill, Marty Langthorne & Peader Kirk. Camera by Chris Jenkins.
Contemporary dance is anecdotally described as a white field of practice. Although there is a growing body of arts research that examines whiteness as racial privilege, there is little that investigates the phenomenon of whiteness in British contemporary dance. Contemporary Dance and Whiteness is a research project that explores how race and racism mark the cultures, institutions and aesthetics underpinning contemporary dance in the UK.
The project’s aim is to explore racism in contemporary dance and to critique whiteness as part of a commitment to the field’s anti-racist futures. We examine whiteness as a structure of racism that exists in the relationships between personal prejudice, cultural norms, and the lived conditions of inequality and racial violence. We as a project team want to walk a fine line in understanding and critiquing the default presence of whiteness in the field of contemporary dance while centering practices of liberation and solidarity through which whiteness is to be dismantled.
The research will be built on a number of conversations/interviews with dance artists, administrators and a wider project group of people invested in questions of race and race privilege in the dance industry. The ideas and experiences discussed in those conversations – along with reading available literature – will help develop our understanding, and we will share the research through the following outcomes: a journal article, an academic presentation, a public workshop, a public presentation, a video essay and this website.
This special issue guest edited by Henrietta Hale, Nikki Tomlinson and
Gitta Wigro draws from our roles at Independent Dance, an organisation that
supports and sustains independent dance artists to develop dance as an art
form. The ‘independent dance artists’ that ID engages with can be many things.
They may produce or perform in choreographic works in theatres, galleries,
digital formats or outdoor / informal sites. They may work as facilitators or
teachers with other professionals or in community settings, engaging untrained
people in dance. Or they may be practitioners from other disciplines such as
fine arts, architecture or science who engage in an embodied movement practice
to complement and bring new knowledge to their field.
The aim of this issue is to consider and map how movement practices that
have evolved from specific traditions or situations are used and re-articulated
for other purposes; and show how this plays out in inter-related, international
networks of practitioners.
The issue, guest edited by Konstantinos Thomaidis, proposes a timely re-examination of voice in performer training. The literature on voice, theatre and pedagogy is, of course, vast. In the case of singing, it is largely dominated by paradigms appropriate for operatic and musical theatre performance. In the case of speech training, areas that have been systematically explored include the pedagogies developed by an influential generation of mid-twentieth-century, UK- and US-based speech trainers – and, to a lesser extent, the voice practices pertaining to (post)Grotowskian lineages or the integration of first-wave somatics into voice work. While drawing impetus from these significant insights, the purpose of this special issue has been to lend an attentive ear to the transformations such established pedagogies are currently undergoing as well as to less widely circulated and emergent methodologies.
In other words,
the issue asks: What is new in voice training?
Contributors to the issue shared their practice and research in a variety of formats (peer-reviewed articles, essais, visual essays, postcards, ATQs, blogs, reviews) and engaged with topics and sets of questions such as:
Renewing voice training: How are existing systems, exercises and practices reconfigured in new settings? How can we re-evaluate the foundational premises of voice training through recent discoveries in physiology and advances in critical theory? In what ways are such methods adapted, hybridised, repurposed, recycled, rethought?
New practices: Which are the new approaches to voice, speech and singing training currently in the making? How do they depart from or extend current conceptualisations of voicing? What performance contexts are they designed for? How are they taught, recorded, written about and transmitted?
New documents: Which practices of voice training have not been systematically documented and disseminated? Which practices have received less critical attention and how can new archives engage us in dialogue with them? What is the place of the ‘document’ in practice-as-research approaches to voice pedagogy?
The new voice coach: Which are the new exigencies placed on coaches today? What challenges do they face? Which methodologies have been developed in response? How is voice training conducted beyond the conservatoire studio?
New contexts: How is voice training taking into consideration gender, class and ethnic diversity? How is the pedagogy of speech and song responding to neurodiverse trainees? How are interdisciplinary performers trained in voice work? How is training originally developed for artistic performance adapted in other contexts and circumstances?
New criticalities: Which emergent critical methodologies can we deploy to critique voice training or to generate new approaches? How can voice training embrace ecocritical or new materialist strategies? What is the place of the expanding corpus of vocal philosophy in the studio?
New histories, new lineages: What does new archival research reveal about the lineages and historic practices of voice training? How is the history of voice training rewritten? How are premodern forms of voice training revitalised in contemporary performer training?
During my observation of the rehearsals of a new country-music MT (musical theatre) production in May 2019, I was fortunate to witness the two female leads (a performer in her late 50s and a performer in her early 20s) working on their singing parts. The younger lead appeared to approach her character’s songs with ease whereas the older lead had to try different vocal placements multiple times without apparent success. Since the two leads shared many duets together on stage, the reviews of the performances, perhaps unavoidably, reflected this discrepancy: ‘Although [younger lead] tries her best to rescue the harmonies this has very little effect […] [and] vocally the experience is at points unpleasant. [Older performer] playing the lead breathes a neurotic and very believable air into Sandra and this is to be commended, but vocally within a musical a lot hangs on the lead’s vocal ability, and this just isn’t up to scratch’ (Wilding, 2019).
While I was reflecting on the making of this particular musical, and taking under consideration musical theatre’s preference for young(er) over old(er) performers, a crucial question arose: what happens to the ageing female voice when that voice no longer fulfils the expectations of this musical theatre?1
The notable shift of musical theatre to CCM (Contemporary Commercial Music) styles during the last two decades resulted in an important remoulding of the industry’s vocal casting needs, with the largest percentage of postings requiring female performers to sound like rock/pop singers. Phrases such as ‘must belt to C’ or ‘must mix to D’ or descriptions such as ‘must be power rocker’ appear in the majority of professional casting notices for Broadway and West End musical theatre productions (Lovetri, 2013). This increase of CCM writing in musicals has proved to be ‘a highly sophisticated and technically demanding art form which has […] created a need for its own pedagogy’ (Edwin 2007, p. 215). Musical theatre programmes offered by theatre academies nowadays aim to meet the needs of this new vocal pedagogy recruiting, among other techniques, spectrographic software for formant tuning and visual support for the understanding of different singing techniques.
Nevertheless, previous generations of female performers in musical theatre come from different vocal training(s) and/or no formal singing training at all. The performers then were, usually, cross-over actors, singers and dancers working in musicals. David Craig, a master teacher and creator of performing techniques for singing in musical theatre, remarked: ‘After World War II, I was teaching [in musical theatre] […] actors and dancers; some of them rather well known on Broadway but not one of them was a singer’ (On Singing Onstage). Rebecca Caine, the originator of the role of Cosette in Les Misérables highlights in her interview for The Stage (2019): ‘A lot of people in my generation weren’t technically as well-founded as the kids coming out of training today’.
Despite the lack of technical training in musical theatre singing, these performers were ‘the raison d’être for the original productions. […]: [a] virtual pantheon of composers and lyricists willingly wrote for them […] [and] their singing [was not] considered second-class’ (Craig 2014, p.94). ‘Old school’ performers now have difficulties shifting to the ‘fashionable’ belting rock and pop styles, and as they are not considered anymore, due to their older age, for roles of ingénues or young soubrettes, they turn to cabaret or concerts ‘where you can still sing the “I’m gonna” songs’ (DeMaio 2013, p.69).
So, where is the training that will help older performers remain in, or return to, the MT business?
One might argue that the biological ageing of the voice, which affects women due to menopause (approximately at the age of fifty, but can begin earlier, whereas men’s voices are affected by biological ageing around sixty), might render an ageing female performer vocally ‘inadequate’ for industry standards and audience expectations. Dryness of the throat, a loss of brilliance in the voice, a decreased ability to reach high notes and, in some occasions, difficulty to maintain pitch and unclear diction may be some of the effects related to menopause.
However, when Ann Emery performed between the age of 75 and the age of 84 the role of Grandma in Billie Elliot the Musical (Elton John and Lee Hall, 2005), a CCM rock/pop musical, she used all the above ‘symptoms of age’ to deliver her song in a contemporary belt with breathy, raspy and growly vocal distortions – characteristics of a technique that defines rock and pop power singing. Was this very successful delivery the distillation of her invaluable experience of singing onstage?
DeMaio (2013), in her PhD research on strategies used by postmenopausal elite singers in order to maintain vocal quality and range, concluded that ageing female professionals on Broadway usually follow the same steps as ageing opera singers: hormonal replacement, continuous daily singing as part of the ‘use it or lose it’ philosophy, exercises that help to keep head-mix voice, general SOVT (semi-occluded vocal tract) exercises which mainly help the vocal folds to vibrate with less effort (such as Titze’s straw exercise), and general VFE (vocal function exercises), such as Stemple’s exercises, which aim to strengthen laryngeal musculature. However, opera singers train towards vocal requirements almost opposite to those for contemporary MT performers: classical voice training and operatic delivery with consistent vibrato is associated with the ‘golden age’ musicals and the ‘old fashioned’ legit singing.
Yet, if the perceived ‘fault’ of physiovocal ageing is exploited by the musical theatre industry as a justification for the fact that there is, indeed, a lack of further training for ageing female performers, then how will these performers be able to meet present-time expectations and, consequently, be given equal opportunities for roles? Is this ‘fault’ treated, perhaps, as an indistinguishable ‘disturbance’2 across all values in performers’ individual variances? In other words, is the lack of training justified on the basis of a ‘what-this-voice-can-do-because-of-the-performer’s-gender-and-age’ presupposition and thus uncritically and sweepingly imposed on all ageing female performers, no matter their individual potential, expertise and skills?
Where do we go from here? How do we develop appropriate trainings, exercises or pedagogies suited both to the aesthetic demands of contemporary musical theatre repertoire and the needs of ageing female vocalists?
Faye Rigopoulou is a PhD candidate in Drama at
the University of Exeter. Her research focuses on ageing female vocality in
musical theatre. Faye has a long service in musical theatre as a director,
music director and performer and has taught musical theatre courses since 2004.
She has trained at the National Conservatoire of Athens (voice,
composition, and piano virtuosity), the Academy of Russian Ballet in Greece
(dance), and has received training in Stanislavski’s system.
Drawing from Gough and Nakajima (2019) ‘When the dancer and the dance are inseparable, where does the dance go when that ageing body no longer does that dance?’ (p.1)
In statistics, ‘disturbance’ or ‘error term’ reflects all variables that separate a model from the actual observed reality; the term is used here metaphorically.
Craig, D., (2014). ‘On Performing
Sondheim. A Little Night Music Revisited’ in: J. Gordon (ed) Stephen
Sondheim, A Casebook Routledge. pp.93-106.
DeMaio Fox, B., (2013). ‘The
Effect of Menopause on the Elite Singing Voice: Singing Through the Storm’.
PhD. Shenandoah Conservatory.
Edwin, R., (2007). ‘Popular Song
and Music Theater: Belt Is Legit’. Journal of Singing. 64(2), p.215.
Gough, R., and Nakajima, N., (2019).
‘On Ageing (&Beyond)’. Performance Research, 24(3), pp.1-8.
Hemley, M., (2019). ‘Rebecca
Caine: Trend for belting in musical theatre has created a more generic sound’.The Stage [online]. Available at: https://www.thestage.co.uk/news/2019/rebecca-caine-trend-for-belting-in-musical-theatre-has-created-a-more-generic-sound/ [Accessed: 20.11.2019]
LoVetri, J., & Weekly – Means,
E., (2003). ‘Contemporary Commercial Music (CCM) Survey: Who’s Teaching What in
Nonclassical Music,’ Journal of Voice. 17(2), pp.207-215.
This post commences with a brief video extract taken from the photo-essay that I wrote for the special issue of the TDPT journal (10.3: ‘What is New in Voice Training?’). I decided to share on the blog a different audio-visual standpoint on my work. In contemporary academia, the so-called ‘practice turn’ allows scholars to find new and creative ways to share their research. In this sense, Voice Studies has necessitated a vocal approach to dissemination, and performance training needs to be addressed inclusively. I felt the urge to ‘vocalise’ my project, therefore my blog-entry aims to embed voices in the discussion and to offer a different way of listening to it.
What if a computer, or a machine, could teach us to sing or talk? As part of my practice-as-research Ph.D., I tried to train myself to ‘sound’ as an artificial voice, with an unusual coach: the computer itself. From November 2017-April 2018, I worked on an experimental training of voice re-production, with the specific aim of inverting conventional approaches to the loop of vocal mimicry: normally, we shape artificial voices on the basis of ‘natural’ voices, making computers mimic humans. My idea was to reverse the process and investigate how humans could mimic computers. I decided to develop a training approach that started from artificial voices, exploring human-machine communication, as well as approaching performance training differently. This blog entry contains audio-visual documentation of this process and, further, it is designed to accompany the self-reflexive and contextual account that can be found in the photo-essay. With these documents, I explore the work undertaken, explain the pitfalls and frustrations involved in the process, and outline future possibilities for performing machines differently.
Screen-recorded, the first video shows the process of
editing and recording through the DAWs – Digital Audio Workstations – Praat and Ableton Live. The plug-in Chipspeech was the primary tool for this research: it allowed me to
digitally recreate the original IBM 704’ speech synthesis that sung ‘Daisy Bell’ in 1964. In the first part, I have included one of the
exercises that I created. My wish was to mix digital and real-life training, so
I devised mixed-sources exercises. In this case, I present my attempt to ‘be taught
by the computer how to vocalise vowels. It is possible to see how I created the
vowels on Chipspeech, how I tried to replicate them, and then how I filed my
recordings on the computer and sorted them by frequency and in alphabetical
order. Praat, the sound analysis DAW, was fundamental to investigate the files
phonetically. At 01.45 the video shows the analysis and comparison between
audio files – the letter ‘I’ for example – and the difference in frequencies.
The second part – starting at 03.13 – introduces the other approach I developed for my project. Ableton Live is on vertical mode; the top left column has a speech synthesis version of ‘Daisy Bell’, in each cell. The second column is empty, as well as the third, the fourth, the fifth, and the sixth columns. On the top right, the seventh column, in every cell, has my human-voice-produced version of ‘Daisy Bell’. As the video continues, I filled the empty cells in the empty columns with ‘new’ recordings that attempted to increase the ‘robot-ness’ feel in my voice. First by copying the speech synthesis, listening to it. Secondly, by adding ‘robot-ness’ to my voice as I was listening to my human recording. On the left, you can find recordings based on me trying to replicate the speech synthesis; on the right, recordings based on myself trying to emit a robotic version of ‘Daisy Bell’, while listening to the human version. The central columns are meant to be filled by ‘re-worked’ and improved versions of the recordings, after a close listening to the ones in the second and the sixth columns.
The second video is recorded with the front camera of my
laptop. After a brief introduction of the work that I am about to do, I start
vocalising what I understand as ‘human speech-synthesis’. I decided to upload
this part to the blog to help the reader engage with my struggle of trying and
failing. My intention was to show the numerous attempts through which I
realised how hard—impossible, even—the project was, and to invite the
viewer/listener to think how a human could look and feel while ‘becoming a
machine’ through newly devised voice pedagogy. This video documents my training
on two separate days: one at the beginning of the project, the other towards
the end – and allows me and the reader (or viewer/listener) to notice the
differences in my voice.
The three audio files that I have chosen among more than
a hundred represent my two best attempts in recreating the speech synthesis
version of the song – included here under the name Robot.
The file Struggle
is probably the most important: in less than 2 seconds, it embodies the
struggle of months repeating the first two syllabi of ‘Daisy Bell’.
The third file, Robot-Human,
is a comparison between me and the computer voice.
This work invites and cultivates a different point of listening, and hopefully, provokes a discussion on how human practitioners might engage with computers, speech synthesis and robots. I hope that other practitioners are inspired to engage in a similar attempt, and share these attempts in vocally becoming a machine (perhaps as comments below). Will their struggle be the same as mine?
About the author: I was born in Italy in 1990. I am a Ph. D. student, a musician, a trained actor, a DJ, and a comedian. My field of interest moves between voice, artificial voice, voice training, hauntology, posthumanism, HRI and HAAI. I am currently a PhD student at the University of Exeter working on a project on analysing the Posthuman Condition through voice, looking at the differences between artificial voices and natural voices in Performance Practices. My work with voices echoes in my musical project called Mr Everett, where we investigate human and machine communication through voice, comedy, and dance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wiyrp4qXTdc
As a performing vocalist, my primary lens to review, analyse and contribute to any field of musical activity has been my vocal practice. However, reconsidering my embedded practice of Karnatik vocal music of South India and its culturally contingent qualities in the light of global voice literature, burgeoning theories, and other lateral practices of colleagues, across historical and current contexts, has always proven to be one way through which I have acquired a considered view of the situatedness of my practice in the broader global domain of music-making and music education.
In my essai titled ‘Approaching Italian gorgie through Karnatik brigha: an essaion intercultural vocal transmission’ published as part of the TDPT special issue ‘What is New in Voice Training?’ I have adopted a similar strategy in weaving a narrative that factors-in a broad spectrum of subject matters; however, my intention was to funnel them into the receptacle of intercultural vocal pedagogy for the present. The unique strand of Italian vocal ornamentation of the 16th and 17th centuries, the gorgie; a typical style of vocal ornamentation that draws heavily on diminutions, brigha;theories of embodied cognition and physiovocal empathy; and the current global landscape of music education that is fast-embracing diversity, equity and inclusion, all find place in this essai.I have drawn on and reflected upon the views of students in describing the ways in which I taught strategies to unleash the gorgie on a group of student-performers of Early Opera, by adopting an imitative reconstruction of the Karnatik brigha. A lost vocal tradition from the Early Modern period is regarded in the essai through the lens of a currently alive, yet ancient, tradition from South Asia, Karnatik vocal music. This approach to pedagogy draws heavily on my doctoral research, ‘Hybridising Karnatik Music and Early Opera: A journey through voice, word, and gesture,’ wherein I have established the commonalities between vocal styles of early music and Karnatik music, from both physiognomic and technical perspectives. I expect that the outcome of this teaching exercise might legitimise non-traditional ways of approaching Western classical music training, while also decolonising music education by challenging established premises from a position of diversity and agency in voicing.
The media, ‘Researching ornamentation in Monteverdi’s Possente Spirto through reflective practice’is shared above and is an excerpt from my practice-based exploration of gorgie from a brigha perspective. It derives from cross-modal approaches to music cognition and transmission, including an acknowledgement of the affective states induced in the body during vocalisation, musically contingent and cultural-semiotic gestures, visually rich historical scores, and my own reflections. Through practice, I demonstrate that the vocalising body processes visual, gestural, kinaesthetic parameters conveyed by music by directly correlating these sensorial experiences to the vocal practice that it is familiar with, thereby establishing a linkage – between techniques across styles and times. It was this personal experience that I used as evidence to transmit gorgie training in a way that is useful to the Early Opera students, using Karnatik brigha as a conduit. Practitioners and educators may engage with this media by acknowledging their own vocal experiences as they behold the visual, gestural, and aural parameters that unfold before them. Such acknowledgement would be the first step to then engage with students across these very parameters. In doing so, newer modalities and approaches to voice training could experientially unfold.
The contributor Dr Charulatha Mani is a well-established vocal performer / researcher / educator with primary expertise in Karnatik music of South India. She recently received her PhD on intercultural intersections between 17th century Italian Opera and Karnatik Music from Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia. She loves to challenge convention and is an active scholar in the fields of voice studies, artistic research in music, historical and comparative musicology, and critical cultural studies. She currently manages the Queensland Conservatorium Research Centre, Brisbane, Australia.
The following audiovisual documentation was taken during the ACT International Voice and Performance Residency in Centro Anidra, Italy (10-27 September 2018), directed by Anna-Helena McLean. Designed as a complement and integral partner to the essai ‘The act of listening: Gardzienice’s mutuality practice and The ACTing Voice,’ this multi-modal publication is an experiment, working within the form afforded by the TDPT special issue 10:3 ‘What is new in voice training?’ to seek new approaches to practice-based research.
You are invited to witness a series of brief encounters, spanning exercises in progress, actors in rehearsal and interviews with international workshop participants as well as McLean. The films on their own offer practice-based insights, and together with the essai gain epistemological contextualisation from McLean’s experiential standpoint as a musician, actor and researcher. The enquiry is centred around the way McLean has been evolving the practice she discovered as a principal member in Gardzienice (2000-2007). Now director of her own approach to music theatre and devising, called the ACT (Actor – Chorus – Text) Ensemble Practice, McLean’s text and film trace the development of the practice and its relevance to voice work, embodied voice and vocal extension through a ‘physiovocal’ approach (see Thomaidis 2014), based on McLean’s re-imagining of the core Gardzienice principles of mutuality and musicality. The films allude to new physiovocal exercises including the musicality of the spine, harmonics, interval modulation, body resonators and the physiovocal alphabet in the director’s drive to ‘listen to’, navigate and address the actors’ process in order to extend vocal possibilities and enable more nuance and sensitivity to text.
Clip 1 (Leading with) Mutuality
Clip 2 The act of listening
Clip 3 Extending the voice
Clip 4 Physiovocality
Clip 5 Body resonators
Clip 6 The acting voice
Clip 7 Physiovocal scoring
Research advisor/support: Demetris Zavros
Film: Federico Torre
Media editors: Jesse Embury and Sid Sawant
Collaborating actors and participants: Robert Schein Bogdanovic, Rosie Clark, Eleanor Debreu, Kaeridwyn Eftelya, Andrea Foa, Ola Forman, Caroline Gatt, Amelia Gibbs, Emily Jane Grant, Wanning Jen, Louise Parr, Dylan-Donovan Sebaoun, Susanna Wilson.
Location: Centro Anidra, Borzonasca, Genova, Italy.
Thomaidis, K. 2014 Singing from stones: physiovocality and Gardzienice’s theatre of musicality. In: D. Symonds and M. Taylor, eds. Gestures of music theater: the performativity of song and dance. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 242-258.
Many voice teachers might consider developing new teaching practices and methods in voice training in actor training environments as a daunting prospect. In my own training, both as an actor and as a voice teacher, the received practices and philosophies of renowned voice and speech practitioners were passed on to me by my teachers, studied carefully through their books, and then embedded and repeated through my physical practice as an actor, and in my MA Voice Studies Teacher Training. Their specialist technical approaches and philosophies remained unquestioned in their efficacy in serving the needs or abilities of all (including those who may not fit within an assumed normative model of cognitive style). These specialist practitioners’ voice training methods are formed through years of experience in teaching the subject, with extensive knowledge of vocal anatomy, voice production and acting approaches, and are commonly Anglo-Western in origin. Some individuals’ methods have emerged over time to be singled out and followed by others, requiring further learning and practice in becoming expert in their particular techniques. For example, many voice teachers in the US, UK and Australia identify themselves as Linklater, Fitzmaurice or Lessac Practitioners (and are certified as such through specialised training). Alternatively, there are those who choose to follow the Cicely Berry, Patsy Rodenburg, Barbara Houseman, Clifford Turner, or David Carey methods (amongst others); all are commonly endorsed and practised in Western actor training.
Speaking from my own experience as a voice teacher, for some years my ownership of the work was demonstrated through my study of the exercises and range of these voice experts’ methods and repeating them slavishly in my own teaching. (In my case, voice teaching includes vocal development, speech, articulation, reading of the written text, expression of the self, and an ability to transform through voice and speech/accent characterisation). However, in frequently encountering acting students with dyslexia, I have observed that some of the commonly taught methods (although highly effective with many students) do not allow or facilitate a flexible response to the mixed learning styles and needs of individuals with Specific Learning Differences/Disabilities met within a student cohort. My esteem for the renowned practitioners and acceptance of their knowledge and expertise had restricted me from thinking for myself within the circumstances of my own teaching, and my noting of the struggles of some of the SpLD, neurodiverse students. As Carr and Kemmis point out, ‘much teacher action is the product of custom, habit […] which constrain action in ways that the teachers themselves do not recognise’ (1986, p. 189). In my copying of ‘good teaching’ and aligning my teaching identity with others’ practice, I did not ask myself: what kind of teacher am I? What knowledge do I value? Why do I teach this way? How might I break away from teaching methods that reinforce the dominant perspectives privileging some ableist groups over others? How can I ensure my teaching practice does not disable those who process differently?
In attempting to meet the needs of those students with dyslexia, through a close observation, I utilised the methodology of case study, in capturing the lived experience of individuals with dyslexia. The requirement of a fluent ability to read aloud in the acting of a complex text is a key component of many text-centred units of study within the curriculum of actor training in both conservatoires and universities (especially in the study of Shakespeare and the acting of classical texts). Crucially, through the methodology of action research, through trials of experimental practice with my dyslexic acting students, and through discussion and reflection on the outcomes, I began to discover my own teaching identity and construct my own methods of enabling and freeing the students’ vocal expression, building their accuracy of word, while nurturing their latent talents. The nature of action research, wherein a problem is identified, and possible solutions imagined and action taken with an evaluation of outcomes (McNiff 2013) provided an opportunity to explore practical changes in my teaching with my dyslexic students. As any mistakes are regarded as valuable findings for reflection and prompts for future changes, action research removes the fear of failure, thereby allowing tentative steps of confidence in devising new practices and a self-authorship, for both student and teacher.
My book ‘Teaching Strategies for Neurodiversity and Dyslexia in Actor Training: Sensing Shakespeare’ (2019) has set out six new teaching strategies. Through my explorations, aiming to support individuals with dyslexia, I also discovered my authentic voice as a teacher in furthering the development of adaptable acting, voice and speech training strategies. In a brief dissemination of content, I present two pivotal statements made by two of my acting students assessed as dyslexic:
‘For me, as a dyslexic, Shakespeare is very accommodating. It has taken me eleven years of struggle to come to realize, because of my dyslexia, I understand things through image and metaphor. Shakespeare’s writing clicks in my head the way numbers click for a mathematician’. (Fred, acting student with dyslexia)
‘As soon as a text is presented to me, my guard instantly levers up due to fear and lack of confidence. I am instantly terrified I am going to embarrass myself because of my reading ability and because I cannot analyse what I have read afterwards’. (Phoebe, acting student with dyslexia)
These statements encapsulate many of the issues explored within my book and, for those who teach, they generate questions, opening channels for discussion, reflection and action amongst teaching communities. These questions include:
• What do we need to do to understand the specific needs of individuals, (such as Fred and Phoebe quoted above) so we might free and enhance their capabilities?
• How might we scrutinize our own teaching practice, ensuring that our values and pedagogical choices are ethical and socially just, while fostering the abilities of every individual?
These are the kinds of questions that interest me and that I have engaged with in the book and still form the core of my practice. In particular, I have investigated how the building of visual and kinaesthetic constructs can facilitate some acting students with dyslexia in their reading, speaking, comprehension and acting of Shakespeare’s text, and how such epistemic tools can be utilized in voice and acting classes. The questions I have explored include:
• How might the articulation of acting students with dyslexia, (related to clarity of thought and the words), be assisted through drawing, artwork, and the physicalisation of symbols associated with the meaning of the written text?
• What is the role of embodied cognition and multi-sensory processing in accessing the written text, and retaining the information for those with dyslexia?
• How does imagery act as a mnemonic device and expressive interpreter for those with dyslexia?
• How can Stanislavski’s physical actions support neurodiverse approaches to text?
• How might interpretive mnemonics and distributed cognition lead to a voiced autonomy in those with dyslexia?
In practice, these are complex questions, which require research, time, and practical study in teaching and working with individual students as co-researchers. The nature of dyslexia is indeed slippery when trying to define and address its characteristics (Elliot & Grigorenko 2014). Its impact on the voice, communication, self- confidence, working memory and emotions produces enduring challenges in tackling these factors effectively when teaching individuals with dyslexia. Such challenges and questions influence my approaches in voice and actor training, and I continue to endeavour to answer them through conscious observations, trials of practice and responsive changes.
Carr. W. & Kemmis, S. (1986).Becoming Critical. London: RoutledgeFarmer.
Elliott, J. C. & Grigorenko, E. (2014). The Dyslexia Debate. New York: Cambridge University Press.
McNiff, J. (2013). Action Research, 3rd ed. London: Routledge.
Whitfield, P. (2019). Teaching Strategies for Neurodiversity and Dyslexia in Actor Training. New York: Routledge.
Biography Dr Petronilla Whitfield is Associate Professor in Voice and Acting on the Acting (Hons) degree at the Arts University Bournemouth. She holds a PhD in Arts Pedagogy from Warwick University and an MA in Voice Studies from the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. Trained originally as an actor at Arts Educational Schools, she was a professional actor for twenty years. A teacher of voice and acting at leading British training institutions and universities, Petronilla has presented her research and work with dyslexic acting students at conferences in the UK and in the USA, and her work has been published in several peer reviewed journals, including TDPT (2017), Research in Drama Education (RiDE 2016), and The Voice and Speech Trainers’ Review (2015 & 2009). Other writing includes a chapter in ‘Using Art as Research in Learning and Teaching’ (ed. R. Prior, 2018) and a monograph ‘Teaching Strategies for Neurodiversity and Dyslexia in Actor Training: Sensing Shakespeare’ (Routledge 2019).
This blog post is based on a presentation for the Asian book launch of Performer Training Reconfigured, organised by the School of Dance and Theatre at LASALLE College of the Arts, Singapore, 28 August 2019.
When I, Maiya, a performer-trainer-researcher focused on movement- and body-based approaches to theatre, started reading Frank Camilleri’s book, PerformerTraining Reconfigured: Post-Psychophysical Perspectives for the Twenty-First Century, I felt thrilled: ‘what comes next in this world of performer training?’ This is the first thing that the ‘post’ in the title suggested for me.
But then as
I continued reading, I began to shift uncomfortably in my seat, ‘am I being
asked to give up my commitment to embodiment as a primary point of departure
both creatively and theoretically?’ The chair suddenly felt too hard, the back
rest at the wrong angle, the air conditioning too low, my breath shallow.
assured me, the Lecoq-based creator, trainer, and writer, that his work is
indeed a development of the psychophysical commitment in performer training.
And then, instead of just being uncomfortable in my seat, I took up Camilleri’s
challenge and thought ‘well, if I am uncomfortable here it is only because
there is a chair to shift in, there is a floor for my chair to stand on, and
there is an air conditioning unit to control the temperature which is high
because I live near the equator’. Quickly I started understanding myself not as
confined within the border of Maiya’s embodiment but as one of Camilleri’s
assemblages, which he takes up from Deleuze, Guattari, and DeLanda. An
assemblage is a network of dynamic relations and connections which encompasses
physical embodiment but extend outwards. Where this network ends, I can’t quite
see… And it keeps changing …
post-psychophysical approach moves forward and outward theoretically speaking,
using a variety of disciplines and voices to point toward an ever-expanding
notion of what exactly is being trained in 21st century performer
training. Indeed as Camilleri notes, for a long time performer trainers have
expressed how training tools and environments are essential to the training
process. Masks, sticks, suitable studios are all important details for the
training process. Any trainer or trainee has also experienced it. When you have
to ‘make do’ with non-optimal spaces or tools you know the line between when
you can make a plastic Friday-the-Thirteenth-Horror-Movie Mask work in actor
training, and when it just simply won’t do what a Sartori leather neutral mask
can do. Camilleri addresses this, but he is even more bold and goes beyond what
other trainers have articulated: he looks to broader training conditions and
the factors that make those conditions possible, he takes note of the affectivity
in the process that is constantly moving through, from, and around objects,
people, spaces, and relations, and he anchors this web of relations in a
recognition that nothing, absolutely nothing, exists in psycho- physical-
affective or social- isolation. This is how he argues for a necessary turn to
I find a
deep kinship between this book and my own interests in intersections of
body-based actor training and cognitive scientific approaches. Camilleri
engages some of these, including the enactive approach, which I use to consider
the cognitive dimensions of the Jacques Lecoq’s pedagogy in my book Enacting Lecoq (2019). Through enaction,
I argue how Lecoq pedagogy – and by extension, many performer training
practices – are processes that transform our bodymindworlds to fundamentally
cognitive ends. In this instance, I also see ‘cognition’ as a capacious
category in line with enaction.
In my own
journey to take seriously Lecoq’s commitment to movement, along with the
enactive approach’s commitment to cognition as fully embodied, extended, embedded
and affective, I had to drill down into many discourses and theories of
embodiment. While the enactive view takes embodiment as a core tenet, scholars
disagree over whether it should be a ‘strong’ or ‘weak’ embodiment. Matthew
Bower and Shaun Gallagher[i]
(whom Camilleri references) argue that a weak embodiment sees the body in an
outdated conception of cognition, where corporeal software of the ‘body’,
however important and active, fundamentally responds
to the mental hardware of the ‘brain’. In this sense, even an active interest
in foregrounding embodiment can bear the ghosts of Cartesian dualist bodies and
minds. When they advocate for a strong embodiment, the body is the mind – the entire psychophysical
unity makes cognition and makes mind. As someone who generally argues for a
strong embodiment, I’ve realized that taking such a strong approach to
embodiment opens up unexpected avenues.
cognition is fully embodied, and knowing, doing, understanding, imagining, and
learning are deeply related activities in an expansive holistic psychophysical process,
then I would have to agree with scholars who suggest that reading is also an
embodied practice, just as is training in so-called physical theatre practices.
Indeed, if you follow the strong conception as far as it goes, humans can never
escape embodiment. It is the only way of existing. If a strong embodiment is the human way of being in the world,
then it cannot be limited to large physical movements, it must also include the
fine-grained ways that we are bodies in the world – when we are still, when we
are sitting at our uncomfortable chairs, when we are sleeping, when we are
watching, when we are reading Deleuze and Guattari, when we are pondering even
the most theoretical of theoretical physics. Or, most importantly to
Camilleri’s discussion, when, like Fritz, we are writing in complement to
studio work. The character of Fritz is Camilleri’s nod to Clark and Chalmers’s explanation
of extended cognition.[ii]
This explanation recounts a story about a man named Otto in comparison to a
woman named Inga who both want to go to the museum. Inga simply remembers the
way, where Otto must write down directions on a notepad because he has
Alzheimer’s. According to the extended cognition hypothesis, the effect is the
same because Otto has simply extended his cognition into the notepad. Camilleri
playfully introduces this character named Fritz who is a practitioner and
regularly writes journal-style about his practice. (Now, I don’t know about
those of you others who have read this book, but I think Fritz and Frank have
quite a lot in common…) He uses Fritz to argue that the studio work is
extended into Fritz’s writing practice and should be understood as such. While
Fritz purposefully handwrites with a fountain pen for a specific manual
engagement with paper, even if he wrote on a keyboard, or like Stephen Hawking,
used cheek movements to designate every letter, he is involved in an embodied
activity. I’m not sure that we have found any living examples of escaping a
strongly embodied condition, even if we are in some sort of fully
technologically sustained state of extended cognition.
is clear that the ‘post’ in ‘post-psychophysical’ refers to moving through and
beyond the psychophysical tradition and discourse, rather than rejecting it. I
do sense, however, that in the need to define and distinguish the ‘post’ part
of the term, more attention is paid to how and why, ‘post-psychophysicality’ is
different than ‘psychophysicality’. This is logical. What I wonder about in
Camilleri’s turn, however, which I would be curious to hear more about, is just
how the post-psychophysical exists because of and builds upon the
psychophysical: how the ‘post’ comes into being through the ‘psychophysical’.
Perhaps I am making Camilleri’s point about folks who are so committed to the
psychophysical that we cannot see outside of it (me?). But as a person who has
been trained, trains others, and continues to train myself, so far, I have
experienced how we must address the complexity of performing by first
circumscribing small tasks and issues, and then gradually collaging them
together. This takes time. Activities to match breath and simple movement are
not the whole picture, but it gives the performer a point of departure from
which to develop. Of course there are countless other points of departure. To
face the vast complexities of our interconnectedness may be overwhelming in
practice – and there may be constraints on the human bodymind that keep us
anchored in a kind of first-person perspective when initiating action. What if
our profound interconnectedness and extension into the environment can only be
experienced and made use of in bite-bite sized pieces? In other words, the
psychophysical as a point of departure for action and for deploying agency has
been extremely useful. In some philosophy of cognitive science, the question
remains: is the human psychophysical body somehow the only agential point of
departure for humans?[iii]
I see one
possible aspect of the post-psychophysical as a development of the mere
psychophysical in this idea of taking a strong embodiment seriously, at least
through an enactive perspective, with its grounding in embodied biological and
cognitive processes. If you take a strong embodied cognition toward its limit,
it actually goes beyond the limits of the flesh – it has to – the enactive holisitic
bodymind’s cognitive apparatus emerges only from and through the entity’s
interaction in the world – the extended space marked by Camilleri’s term ‘bodyworld’.
Some enactivists like to quote philosopher Hans Jonas who suggests that life is
in a constant state of ‘needful freedom’ where the entity only exists (it is
free as a distinct entity) through taking what it needs to exist from its externality
(the environment that sustains it).[iv]
In a sense, I might suggest that finding yourself plop in the middle of
assemblage theory is an inevitable consequence of the strongest commitment to
embodiment there is – embodiment in inextricable entwinement with the
environment. I’d like to know more about how Camilleri might trace this path.
is one of those rare animals that simultaneously engages with highly
theoretical material – or ‘Theory with a capital “T”’ as I like to call it – while
still retaining the in-the-trenches gravity that comes from an author steeped
in lifelong practice. This is important to our fields of theatre and
performance as many of us still fight to resist binaries of thinker and doer,
scholar and maker, objective analyzer and subjective practitioner. One of the
ways Camilleri accomplishes this is by providing a recurring feature: ‘tips for
practice analysis’, or small practical exercises that engage a participant in
the issues addressed in that chapter. It’s a way to remind the reader – you
also have to ‘do’ to understand. This points to another aspect of the book that
makes me hungry for more. On the one hand, Camilleri shows how
training-as-assemblage may be considered to have always existed. On that view,
we have just been slow to theorize it. On the other hand, it also feels like
Camilleri is positing his post-psychophysical as a clarion call ‘Assemble!’ In
other words, it feels like he is suggesting that by overtly acknowledging
training as an assemblage that moves from, through, and beyond the
psychophysical, we can envision and make something new together in the realm of
performer training. Camilleri’s discussion on ethical approaches to performer
training points in this direction. While this book is sweeping and attentive to
the practical dimension, I want to know more – what is it like, or what has it
been like for Camilleri to overtly develop a training system as assemblage?
Does it look like anything beyond acknowledging what is already there and
giving value to it? Or does that act of acknowledgment then transform the
practice, transform the way practitioners think/move/act and train? In other
words, at this moment, is the post-psychophysical descriptive or activist? I
suspect both, and I am curious to know more about those details and their
consequences. So if moving from bodyminds to bodyworlds, how, on the ground, in the studio, do we find purchase in an
expansive new network way beyond the borders of our bodyminds? What does it
create? Are practitioners overwhelmed by the new, expansive vista? How do we,
in the act of performer training, take action in this new web of relations?
But I leave
you with a short hand-written letter that I wrote I found from a fellow
practitioner-researcher who makes theatre, trains performers, and writes about
the process. I found it on 28 August 2019 when I was presenting this response to
Camilleri’s book at LASALLE College of the Arts:
Thank you for showing me how to assemble. I am
enjoying it very much.
Now I have a new question: my training bodyworld
is so vast that I feel paralyzed. What do I do?
Your friend in post-psychophysical futures,
PS: Here is a map from LASALLE College of the Arts to
the National Gallery Singapore. I have the path memorized since I live here. You
might need a map since you are new to the city. I’ll meet you there?
[i] Bower, Matthew, and Shaun Gallagher. 2013. ‘Bodily affects as prenoetic elements in enactive perception’, Phenomenology andMind 4, no. 1:108–131.
[ii] Clark, Andy and David
Chalmers. 1998. ‘The extended mind’,
analysis 58, no.1: 7-19.
[iii] See Varela, F.J., Thompson, E. and Rosch, E., 2017. The
embodied mind: Cognitive science and human experience. MIT Press and Stewart,
J., Stewart, J.R., Gapenne, O. and Di Paolo, E.A. eds., 2010. Enaction:
Toward a new paradigm for cognitive science. MIT Press.
[iv] Jonas, Hans.
2001. The phenomenon of life: Toward a philosophical
biology. Evanston: Northwestern UP.
This digital postcard, comprised of audio and video material alongside the print version published in the journal, evokes an emergent set of practices and training prompts that arise from my wanderings with a digital mobile device in urban ‘wildscapes’ – environments in cities where ‘natural as opposed to human agency appears to be shaping the land’ (Jorgensen 2012, p.1). In the past year, I have attempted to train myself to use my device differently, intersecting playfully with its capacities to capture, record and ‘sample’ the spaces I move through. I have challenged myself to think through and re-position the computational processes of the mobile device in relation to my encounter with the processes of nature happening in such spaces. This practice has been led by an interest in wildness as present in nature, the digital device and within me too.
What has emerged so far is a set of prompts and provocations that I have been using as part of this training process, alongside practices that have arisen from the implementation of these. They are shared below in a couple of different forms, which have proliferated from my initial idea that this would be disseminated through a single video. Firstly, there is an audio track, mixing text and sound with prompts to engage the device you carry into a wild green space in new ways – it is designed to be activated in situ. In addition, there is a video representing the encounters between a device, a space and I, as experienced through the reflections and prompts shared in the audio track. It combines video, panned and glitched images (as referenced in the postcard within the journal), song, text and sound. I suggest that you watch this video after completing the activities proposed by the audio track, as it echoes and responds to some of the prompts and reflections there.
For ease of reference, the training prompts are also included separately from their interweaving in the sound and text of the audio track, as a text-based document, alongside a transcript of all the text included in the audio. I would love to hear any responses you have to engaging with these materials or receive results of your explorations in urban wildscapes. Please get in touch with me to share these at email@example.com.
Jorgensen, A. (2012). Introduction. In: A. Jorgensen and R. Keenan, eds. Urban Wildscapes. London: Routledge, 1-14.
The full reference list for the audio track is included in the transcript below. All music on the audio track and video below is composed, performed and recorded by Jo in Salford, apart from the excerpt of a Beatles track at the end of the audio, which is referenced in the transcript.
Bred In The Bone is a multilingual and culturally diverse company of theatre creators. Musiciality, physical practise and development of the body, ear and voice as an eternal ever-inspired instrument, are at the core of our training.
The idea that there should be a practice of ‘scales’ for the actor is arguably an ancient endeavour, and it remains the best description of what we developing, both in our rehearsal work and in what we implement in our training and our teaching.
On 3 November 2018, the special issue of Theatre, Dance and Performance Training “Training Places: Dartington College of Arts” was launched at Dartington. As an editor of the special issue it feels odd to write about the event in any depth or with any modicum of critical distance, so I won’t attempt it. However, given the reach of DCA, and the particular placement of Dartington in the rural southwest of England, it seems appropriate to mark the launch with this post and provide some traces of the event for those unable to attend, or for those attendees that may in the future wish to revisit.
The day encapsulated the spirit of the special issue: reflective and celebratory, with a pinch of mourning and a dash of optimism. After a few introductory remarks by the editors (some of which are available here),
Karen Christopher (Haranczak/Navarre Performance Projects) performed a heartfelt response to the issue, incorporating various approaches to performance and textual interplay the Drama and Dance fields at Dartington College of Arts promoted and challenged. Her dripping and disappearing ink and the audience singalong simply and poignantly evoked the lifeblood and ethos of the College for me. [Note: this is a long clip, as it is her response in full, nearly 50 minutes.]
Following Karen’s response, the audience was split in two. One section following walking artist and a core member of Wrights & Sites, Simon Persighetti as he guided us through a variety of “Thresholds” in a multisensory and multihistories stomp of the former DCA grounds.
The other section, in groups of three, shared their own reconnaissance of Remembering for the future in an activity organised by Simon Murray. Given advance warning, attendees were asked to share moments of their time (or imagined) at DCA with each other that either was a/ troubling, disquieting, problematic, counter-productive and harmful, or b/ productive, positive generative and affirmative. This experience was then discussed for its power to stay with the person down the years, and why and how it might inform creative and pedagogical practices today and in the future.
I compiled this visual essay from various social media posts after the event to capture some of the feelings and experiences of these walks and the day itself.
With walks concluded, Rhodri Samuels (CEO Dartington Hall Trust) spoke at length about the loss of the College for Dartingon today, the renewed Trust and a future for Dartington that hopes to reclaim the holistic mission of its founders, Leonard and Dorothy Elmhirst. While the devastation caused by the previous Trust remains, many former staff and students agreed that Dartington finally appears to be in good hands. We look forward to new blooms from painful compost, some of which I am sure will come from the work of Alan Boldon and Tracey Warr (both former DCA staff) who have recently been hired to rebuild the educational priorities and opportunities of Dartington by developing the Learning Lab programme.
The afternoon concluded with four brief responses to the day by David Williams, Sue Palmer, Tracey Warr and Jonathan Pitches. These very different comebacks captured the range of discussions, emotions, and ghostings the day conjured.
While a number of attendees imparted to me over drinks and dinner that the day had provided a sense of coming (perhaps not full, but at least positively) towards a sense of circle in their experience of DCA, the launch was just that: a moment to celebrate the release of this issue. Its ability to now be something in the world is up to those who use it.
There are currently a few free articles available for download on the TDPT website. If you like what you are reading and would like your own copy of the special issue, we have a limited number of hard copies still available for £5 + postage. Please contact me at B.Brown@exeter.ac.uk to purchase a copy or three today.