Voice into Acting is all set for publication in February! This is a new edition of John Gillett (author of Acting Stanislavski) and Christina Gutekunst’s must-have manual for the actor seeking full vocal identity in characterization. The book bridges the gap felt by many between acting a character and offering full vocal technique. It’s practical, easy-to-use and includes 55 illustrations by German artist Dany Heck.
This updated edition contains: a new chapter on vocal embodiment of actions, new findings from neuroscience supporting the approach, more exercises, warm-up routines for training, rehearsal and performance, and a completely new glossary of terms.
Here’s a taste of what to expect:
Representational or organic – how is voice affected? (extract from Chapter One: The Organic Acting Approach and the Voice)
The two opposing acting approaches make corresponding demands on voice work.
The representational approach describes the world of the script and ‘the language’ may be seen as a sealed entity, reality itself, totally self-sufficient and revealing all we need to know. The form of how content is presented becomes the prime focus. Voice here is required to interpret the text – its structure, rhythm, sounds, figures of speech, images, literal meaning – and express it with the appropriate articulation, phrasing, intonation, accentuation and pitch range. We decide intellectually what a script is about and how it should be delivered. We design a key to unlock the box, which, when opened, is expected to reveal the world of the play, but too often the box is empty – all we have is the casing, the form.
This approach often prompts actors to develop early speech patterns, character states, vocal mannerisms and faked emotions, and fails to do what it sets out to do – to connect to the all-valued text. Actors get into a rut and produce external results. Any input from a voice specialist in this process will most likely focus on the purely technical role of how to make the actor more audible and clear or to improve an accent. In other words, it polishes the actor’s mettle, or tinkers with some problems, but doesn’t get through to the root causes of them. To attempt the latter may well incur the accusation of ‘interfering with the acting’.
Stanislavski’s approach sees the text as the only basis for the action, expressed in a form and genre that has to be respected, analysed and explored. However, looking at the script in an imaginative way, it is the result of the world of the play, and all the given or imaginary actions, thoughts and feelings – the subtext – that give rise to it have to be accessed and explored. Then the form of the language, which is of crucial importance because it expresses this content – both given by the writer and imagined by the actors and production team – can be fully brought to life. The structure, rhythm, sounds and literal meaning of the text will be given imaginative colour, visualization and spontaneity by the actor inhabiting the world of the play and finding the impulses, the need to speak, behind the words in the given circumstances of the script. In this process, we go from the conscious to the subconscious, imagination and intuition, and from the text to the subtext and back to the text. As Stanislavski says in Creating a Role (2013: 224):
Therefore begin with the text and put your mind to work on reading its depths. Your feelings will not hesitate to join your mind and lead you deeper down into the subtext where the writer has concealed the motives which prompted him to create the play. The text thus gives birth to the subtext in order to have it recreate the text.
The actor will use rehearsal to probe and explore the text, subtext and circumstances, absorbing information and other actors’ responses, building up a sense of the action and inner life of the characters. Stanislavski argued against pushing for premature results, but he emphasized the importance of both a full physical life for a role and the mastering of the written form of the script: ‘Without an external form neither your inner characterisation nor the spirit of your image will reach the public’ (Stanislavski 2013b: 1). In rich forms like Shakespeare’s we are also given helpful indications in the metre, figures of speech, pauses and punctuation about the condition of the characters, and a detailed examination of form is needed in rehearsal when it helps, rather than hinders, the actor’s organic involvement in the play’s content and communication of its themes.
In this process, physicalization of the character through the body and voice will emerge as a response to the imaginative world developed, not as a cerebral decision. The voice and body must be sensitive and responsive to psychological creative impulses (as Michael Chekhov, one of Stanislavski’s brilliant actors, says in Chapter 1 of his famous book, To the Actor). Then we can find freedom and spontaneity within the structure and discipline of the language and the production as a whole. The idea of speaking language like a jazz improvisation has been proposed by more than one prominent practitioner, but a representational approach works against that, instead encouraging something fixed and lacking in full reality and life.
Voice within the organic approach is an integral part of character development and voice specialists can have the role of harmonizing with actors’ creative process and helping them to find full expression of their impulses through all the components of the language.
The table below gives a summary of elements that arise in representational and organic acting, and how they may be reflected in the actor’s voice and speech. All of these elements may not be found in any one performance of either type, of course, but are representative:
adopting vocal manner;
* imitation and
mimicry; illustration of
psychological, and emotional
ideas; conscious decisions
* imaginative exploration
* intellectual choices
on how to speak
of world of text
imaginative exploration of
* how to do things
* what we do and why, leading to how
circumstances, text and subtext
* manners, states, and effects
vocal tricks for effect
* impulses and actions
intonation and pitch range arise from the need to communicate
* external form
language seen as static, tackled formalistically through intellect
* from inner life to outer form: creating ‘the life of the human spirit of the role’ within a fully physicalized form
language as dynamic, imaginative response to inner impulses: jazz
* premeditated control
programmed way of saying the lines
* flexible involvement
free, spontaneous expression of text in response to the action
patterns of stress, phrasing and intonation associated with popular performers
drawing on a depth of human experience to create a unique delivery
* faked emotion
externally determined vocal limitation of emotion
* experienced emotion
vocal expression of emotion emerging organically through the action
separate, individual choices
character vocal qualities developed as part of a collaborative whole
We favour the organic approach because we believe it best serves the writer, the actor, the production and the audience. A purely representational approach, which can include both the technically efficient and the low-key ‘naturalistic’ mode of delivery, can create a gap between the actor and the text, action and circumstances. Equally, voice work that sets out to illustrate the text technically will limit vocal expression to the range of the intellect, which creatively will always be narrower than that of the imagination.