The legendary voice instructor and creator of the Morrison Bone Prop, Annie Morrison, has spent upwards of 40 years revolutionising the field as a voice and speech therapist, teaching at world-renowned institutions including the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) and assisting on hugely successful productions such as Danny Boyle’s Frankenstein (National Theatre). For the first time ever, this revered teacher has put her modernising practice to paper, sharing her transformative process in The Moment of Speech: Creative Articulation for Actors, published in our RADA Guides series.
In this extract from the book’s introduction and preface, the author outlines the origins of her revolutionary approach. Touching on why actor training should move away from its current ‘tongue gym’ style of teaching, she explains why we should all be aware of how our voice connects with our spirit and artistic athleticism: why we should all become increasingly mindful of the ‘moment of speech’.
An extract from the Preface and Introduction of The Moment of Speech: Creative Articulation for Actors.
The origins of my holistic approach to articulation lie in the science, art and philosophy of soundmaking. Speech is the most brilliant, sophisticated sound-making system there is. As well as being a neuromuscular event, political and psychological factors are ever present.
Writing this book has brought me full circle to how I began working with speech. After qualifying as a speech and language therapist I trained under Fay Fransella and Peggy Dalton at the Centre for Personal Construct Psychology working with George Kelly’s methods of inquiry and change. I recognized that one of the main challenges to becoming fluent for someone who stammered was that of change of identity.
Now, forty years on, the young actors I work with face the same challenge of change—the change they have to make in their own speech system in order to be heard and understood by diverse audiences.
In Kelly’s words: ‘When a person finds his personal construction failing him, he suffers anxiety. When he faces an impending upheaval in his core structure, he experiences threat. A person who construes the construction system of another person sets the stage for playing a role in relation to that person. When he finds himself dislodged from his role, he experiences guilt.’
For me, Bannister and Fransella’s assertion that ‘Being in love is probably … the greatest possibility of really elaborating ourselves and thereby take our greatest personal risk, serves to describe the heart’s role in speech.’ Being in love with language allows us to risk elaborating ourselves as actors and professional communicators.
All learning starts with a question and one of mine is: how do you re-enchant speech? If this book inspires you in the quest for a visceral, vibrant connection to the sounds that make up words it will have been worth doing. I want you to interrogate language artistically through forensic reflective practice. As an infant learning to speak you did this naturally. Then you forgot.
Many of us have felt shame because of the way we speak so it is to be welcomed that we are now in a post-RP world with a renewed desire for training that wholeheartedly celebrates the richness of expression that diversity brings.
Creative articulation is holistic and haptic. Haptic means relating to touch sensations – the touchings and feelings of the articulators in the dance of speech. It’s your haptic senses that bring relish to spoken language.
I want to move speech training away from the notion of tongue gym and the idea that tongues need taming! For most people it is the opposite – we have tongues that need ‘wilding’, in other words reconnecting to instinct and heart. Speech is a muscular activity, but by approaching the athleticism as artists – keeping in check our tendency to exercise mechanically – we become increasingly mindful of the moment of speech.
You can communicate feelings without words, through gesture, facial expression and movement: the language of your body. It is somatic. What about thinking? The language of your mind seems different – communicated through spoken, written or printed words. As a holistic practice, I question the separation of mind and body. If your body is in your mind and your mind is in your body, words themselves are embodied. Embodied words are charged and there are consequences when you speak them; they can be goody bags or grenades. Embodied speech is authentic. Every one of us has our own speech system. We are unique and so is the sound of our voice. Words shape our world and how we interact with it. Each speech system is a different world.
Creative articulation means turning thoughts into physical words by using our articulators to sculpt breath and voice. Words travel through the air as sound waves felt not just by our ears but our skin, bones and organs as changes in air pressure; they would look amazing if only we could see them.
Creative articulation is about expressing something of yourself, your soul, in the words you form. It’s exciting to embody words: to feel, taste and own them. Imagine the atmosphere in a room where words have been ‘left hanging in the air’.
Creativity and choice
You might want to change the way you speak, the same way you might want to change the way you look; it’s part of your identity. Or you might want to change the way you speak in order to play someone with a different identity – as an actor does. Either way, you can change the way you speak in an embodied way due to neuroplasticity.
The kind of change we’re talking about concerns flow. You start by becoming conscious of how and where you don’t flow. What’s blocking you? What’s stopping you from changing?
Learning a new sound means creating new neural pathways. For this you need auditory discrimination (the difference between sounds), determination and repetition – lots of it. You have to be able to hear the change before you can make it and then you have to keep doing it over and over again.
After a while, you have a new sound in your repertoire and this gives you choice. With choice you have the possibility of artistry. Everyone is creative, but not everyone is an artist. To be an artist you have to make choices.
The Moment of Speech: Creative Articulation for Actors is now available to buy at bloomsbury.com
 George Kelly, The Psychology of Personal Constructs, Volume 2: Clinical Diagnosis and Psychotherapy (1991)