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 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).