City of angels

I’m here in Los Angeles for five weeks as part of the Fitzmaurice Voicework ®  Teachers Certification programme.   It’s 106°F degrees Fahrenheit outside.   Frying an egg on the pavement would be no problem.  The city has an abundance of concrete and cars - I’m grateful that between the cracks in the concrete the intrepid green shoot of my vocal curiosity is thriving.

I first encountered Fitzmaurice Voicework ®  in London when I was doing my Masters in Voice Studies.   At Royal Central we were offered experiences in a range of methodologies - this gave us an overview of the diversity and breadth of methodologies and advanced training available.  I have immense respect for innovative voice practitioners like Arthur Lessac, Cecily Berry, Kristin Linklater and Patsy Rodenberg who push the boundaries and question the received wisdom of the day.

Catherine Fitzmaurice is an such an innovator.  A stellar student of Royal Central, she returned to teach there in the sixties, before moving to America and developing the practice that is now Fitzmaurice Voicework ®.  The methodology continues to evolve, and Catherine encourages teachers to blend, adjust, evolve and adapt around the core principles. 

At Central we met, and briefly worked with Saul Kotzubei, Catherine’s son.   The practical elements of voice that Saul offered were refreshing, playful and empowering.   Saul also modeled a way of teaching that I have never forgotten, and which was a big part of my wish to come and train here.  At the start of the course in LA, we had an intensive four day workshop with Saul, and this laid the foundation for our learning practice in the ensuing five weeks.  

I’m with a group of people from all over the world that I trust, respect and am learning so much from. The intensive nature of the training is made so much richer because of the relationships we have with each other.  A specific tool Saul introduced us to, is ‘brief and frequent eye contact’ – from a teacher of his, Ray Castellino.  Research has found that it’s a tool which helps a group to ‘self regulate’, it creates a blast of oxytocin, and used frequently, builds an environment of mutual support.  We’ve been making brief and frequent eye contact…a lot.  A lovely comparison was made with a farm in Spain, run by a Fitzmaurice teacher, that rescues abused horses.  When a new horse arrives, it is frightened and skittish, but the other horses gather together and stand with the newcomer, who is calmed by the collective.

Hard to believe there is only one week to go, but after this week, its back to the lovely green and wintry land of Aotearoa, and the challenge of integrating and applying Fitzmaurice Voicework ®  to my voice teaching practice begins!   I’d love to share with you what I’ve been learning, so if you’d like to work with me individually or in a group, please get in touch.

Best wishes from LALA land. 


50% of the lines are mine. If its not my turn, its my turn next....

Medea…and they want to know ‘how you remembered all those lines?’  This used to give me an internal eye roll moment – I can remember my tight lipped assertion that ‘the easiest thing to do was remember lines’.  A couple of light reads over the script before rehearsal, a few days rehearsing, and ping, the lines were in my head and I was ready to play. These days the grey matter is less permeable; the lines don’t stick as easily, and require hard graft to embed them in the memory banks.

I am off to the Fortune in Dunedin to do a brand spanking two hander by Ellie Smith, called One Perfect Moment. It’s the story of a mother and daughter on a globe trotting holiday together, their relationship and escapades.  50% of the lines are mine.  If it’s not my turn its my turn next.

I am applying a different strategy to line learning this time – one I gleaned from Sir Ian McKellen, in a forum at Toi Whakaari.  When asked THE QUESTION, he said he learnt his lines by reading the script, 60-100 times.  The benefit of this substantial investment is that you really get the flow of the story, of what’s going on for the characters, and their relationships. Miraculously, random phrases start to stick in you head.   I can’t claim 100 or even 60, but I reckon I am at 20 or 30 readings.  I am committed to learning 4 pages a day before rehearsal (number of pages of script divided by available days).

I take my script with me everywhere.  I learn the lines on the bike at the gym, as I garden, cook, wash dishes and travel.  I am integrating them in an active way, into my body.  I find new rhythms and insights with different background activities.  I mark up the script, and note where what the character wants changes – this helps me hang the lines on the character’s drive – ‘motivation’.

At the same time, I am really aware of not fixing interpretations – I want to be available to play with my fellow actor, to discover in rehearsal, and stay responsive as we perform – Miesner technique has actors learn in a monotone – I am not doing that, rather I start to hear my character’s voice in the rhythms and sentence structures, and this opens up a delta of possibilities for me, to be navigated in rehearsal.

My friend Miranda Harcourt always says that you should truly learn your lines, ‘by heart’.  So that they are intuitively there, inside you, pumping around your body. No ‘actor nano-pause’ searching.

I am getting there, line by line.  Thinking positively helps as well!

Exercising my voice – it’s an inexpensive and guilt free pleasure.

I’ve joined a gym.  As I pedal, stride and flex my hard won way towards fitness after 50, I'm fascinated the crafting and enhancement of bodies all around me, by the amount of energy and focus being poured into physical fitness. As I pedal to nowhere, I wonder why we are so focused on physical fitness and give our vocal fitness so little attention?

According to Mehrabain, 38% of our initial response to people is informed by their voice.  So resonance, pace, clarity, volume and rhythm accounts for 38% of first impressions!  That’s massive. Yet how many people are investing in how they sound?  I wonder if my fellow gymsters know that they can also develop vocal flexibility, tone and responsivity? That voice and physicality can come together in a unified impression, conveying integrity and trustworthy alignment.

I am lucky, I get to work out vocally everyday with my clients and students, as I model voice exercises.  Vocal testing, creativity and playfulness bounces around me.  I want my voice to stay strong, flexible and multi dimensional.  I am always going to be working with my voice, as long as I live and breathe.  I know that even if I didn’t teach, I would still exercise my voice – it’s an inexpensive and guilt free pleasure.

What if we invested as much in our vocal fitness and embodied speech as in our physical fitness?  It would make conversation and interaction life in general much more interesting. 



I am blogging!  But wait - blog has to be one of the uglier words recently invented.  It is voiced in the mouth all the way from front to back: the bilabial plosive, through the lateral approximant, the open vowel, this chunky little word pops its cork on the velar plosive.  It could be a caveperson’s word, it’s so…meaty?

I am no cavewoman, and in this I am blogging to learn, and to offer.  I have promised myself I’ll never stop learning.  And I’ll never stop sharing what I am finding.  I love immersing myself in the creative process of exploration and discovery. I recently did a workshop after the marvellous VASTA conference in Singapore, learning about  Knight-Thompson Speechwork. 

In ‘Speaking with Skill’, Dudley Knight’s provocative introduction sets out Principles ‘– Perhaps’ for engagement.  Among them:  ‘It is always interesting and useful to learn how to put more activity into speech actions. It is also interesting and useful to learn how to do less.  Getting stuck anywhere is never interesting.’ A million miles away from being didactic, his statements are both inspirational and provocative, a real invitation to sensitise ourselves to what we do instinctively when we speak, to open up to possibility and potential. 

The course deconstructed the speech movements that we take for granted, and pushed back the boundaries of what is possible in making sound. We explored the oral and pharyngeal (mouth and throat) structures available to us. We tested resonance and places of articulation.  This culminated in mapping all feasible sounds on a phonetic chart – a much more expanded chart than we are used to seeing. We were sampling uvular and pharyngeal sounds that we don’t hear in our language, including the pops and clicks heard in Southern and East African languages.  (The only language with such sounds outside Africa belonged to the Lardil people of Mornington and Wellesley Islands off Queensland, North Australia.  They used similar sounds in the ceremonial and moribund Damin language.)

The Knight-Thompson work has really impressed me – it is a very inclusive, rather than exclusive way to explore voice and accents, encompassing all the sounds that are humanly possible, and focusing on growing the actor’s awareness of how and where different sounds are made.

The impact of this is training is to make the actor or voice student much more aware of the range of choices available to them in articulation and resonance, in order to access different accents.  It’s both sensuous and precise, bold and detailed.  I loved it. I learnt new skills in voice, accent and dialect coaching and that I can pass on to my students, skills which also enhance my own speaking pleasure. 

If you haven’t encountered it yet, here is a link to a master KTS teacher, Erik Singer, using his skills of specificity and analysis to critique a range of accents in popular movies.  On the second time through – because I am sure you will want a second helping, take time to appreciate Erik’s own vocality.  He’s a great example of a well placed Standard General American accent, and of pleasurable precision in speech.

As Dudley Knight wrote ‘Complexity nourishes art.  Reduction of the complexity of speech choices reduces the art.’  Thankyou Dudley.  More about the SGA and other accents, the VASTA conference and voice, accent and dialect coaching in future blogs.

Ka kite anō