I used to be an actor many years ago in both Minneapolis and New York City. During the time in Minneapolis, I attended a voice workshop. The workshop was run by a member of the Roy Hart Theater Group, located in a mountainous area outside of Montpelier, France. This was no ordinary voice workshop, actually I have no idea what an ordinary voice workshop would even be like. All I know is the experience I had in only a few hours time had an impact on not only acting, but my life. This is where I discovered a voice I never knew I had, and compelled me a few months later to hop on a plane to attend a week long voice workshop at their artistic center in France.
As you know explaining and experiencing are two very different things. I will try to paint the experience as best I can with words. Picture eight actors standing in a circle. The Roy Hart teacher sitting behind a piano off to the side instructing us to to raise our voices and match the high notes he played on the piano. The notes are so high there is a strain and a break in our voices. He then works his way down the scales having us match the notes all the way down to the lowest. A different kind of voice strain and break in the voice. He works his way back up the scales, as do we with our voices. Then back down doing repeating this a number of times.
Suddenly, out of the blue the teacher chooses me out of the line up of eight. I have no idea why, but I go with it. He continues going up and down the scales as I follow along with my out of key voice. He keeps my voice in the high range pushing the limits and my breaking voice. (This is not quite singing by the way, and it doesn’t matter if the notes are exact. We are “exploring sound and discovering voice” is how he put it.)
Then for some reason I do not quite understand at first, he asks that I sing the following, “Who took my vodka?” He plays around with the range of notes again asking me to repeat over and over the same phrase, “Who took my vodka.” He finds a place where my voice matches the notes he is playing and asks that I stay in that range and continue to repeat the phrase over and over.
Suddenly without warning or planning, the phrase I am repeating is now in a Russian accent and I spontaneously find myself running around the circle of seven actors asking each of them “Who took my vodka?” while the teacher continues to play the same notes over and over. I am lost in the character, I am the character, a Russian in search of vodka.
As he slowed down the piano playing the Russian character recedes and I am back to being myself. When it came to an end the room burst with applause at the reality of what they had witnessed. I was shaken to the core having been fully committed to the Russian character.
Afterward, I came to learn that the teacher looks for students whose movement and voice are “ready.” He intuitively chooses those who are in the process of discovery and proceeds to explore with the individual on a deeper level the notes and phrases that come to him. Apparently, he saw a Russian in me, and he was right!
After the workshop I spoke with the teacher and he suggested I consider coming to France to explore in-depth voice and character. Of course I did and it was an incredibly magical experience that I will share in detail in a future post.
I am no longer an actor, but that workshop experience and all the work I put into being an actor continues to inform my life today, including my teaching and writing.
A performance from a Roy Hart Theater member