Sunday, July 29, 2012

Vocal Variety

This summer I have been working as a company member of  the Old Lyric Repertory Theater in Logan, UT. I am in three of their four main stage productions. The season includes, Steel Magnolias, Private Lives, Big River and Lend Me A Tenor. Big River is my show off and is the only musical out of the four. Initially I thought since I wasn't doing the musical that vocally this season would be a breeze! Boy was I wrong.

The first show, Steel Magnolias proved to be a challenge because I am using a dialect that is specific to a region in Louisiana. It is similar to a Texan accent but has more variety in pitch. I am playing M'Lynn who is typically cast as a woman who is in her 50's. Barely turning 40 this year I got it in my head that I had to lower the pitch in my speaking range for this character. (I probably had my mother's own tenor pitch ringing in my subconscious.) Then to top it off I have a very emotional scene at the end where I yell and cry.

Early on in rehearsals I found that my voice was taking a beating. After one particularly grueling rehearsal where we worked and worked the emotional scene, the dialect coach came up to me and sincerely expressed his concern about my vocal health. He challenged me to find alternatives to what I was presently doing or I would most likely lose my voice. I knew he was right and had my own concerns before he even spoke to me.

I realized that most of my issues stemmed from having a lot of muscular tension as I went through this last scene. I was portraying anger, hurt and loss. Tears and guttural crying where all part of this very complex scene and naturally my body was reverting to muscle memory from when I actually had felt these emotions in my "real life". My challenge was to be able to get to that place emotionally without using as much muscle tension in my body.

It is amazing that once I was aware of that tension I could start to find variety in the scene where I could relax. And because of my vocal training I started to work with placement. Instead of staying in that lower register of my voice all the time (which sounded more Texan anyway) I played with pitches. This seemed to ease things up and helped with the true color of the dialect that the director wanted. I also worked with volume in terms of how I projected my voice to the audience. Luckily the Lyric Theater has good acoustics and I was able to back off and have some quiet, introspective moments as well.

Now when I perform that scene I feel like I have control. I am grateful for my vocal training and for the kind words of a concerned dialect coach. The key indeed was realizing I had too much muscular tension and ultimately finding appropriate vocal variety.