Jawless Text

This exercise seeks to challenge you to integrate some of the feeling you've gotten from the warm-up up to this point into your acting. In particular, the focus is on letting your jaw stay out of the way, and encourage your tongue to do the work. For this step in the warm-up, you'll need a piece of text, preferrably a memorized text, to apply the work to.

I will be using a passage of Cassius' from Julius Caesar: "Why man, he doth bestride the narrow world | Like a Colossus…" (The picture at left is an artist’s rendering of the Colossus at Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the World.) I'll be using a First Folio edition to discuss the text, but that's not important. It's merely what I have on hand. Here's the speech:

Why man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus, and we petty men
Walke under his huge legges, and peepe about
To finde our selves dishonourable Graves .
Men at sometime, are Masters of their Fates .
The fault (deere Brutus) is not in our Starres,
But in our Selves, that we are underlings .
Brutus and Cæsar : What should be in that Cæsar?
Why should that name be sounded more then yours :
Write them together : Yours, is as faire a Name :
Sound them, it doth become the mouth aswell :
Weigh them, it is as heavy : Conjure with 'em,
Brutus will start a Spirit as soone as Cæsar,
Now in the names of all the Gods at once,
Upon what meate doth this our Cæsar feede,
That he is growne so great? Age, thou art sham'd .
Rome, thou hast lost the breed of Noble Bloods .
When went there by an Age, since the great Flood,
But it was fam'd with more then with one man?
When could they say (till now) that talk'd of Rome,
That her wide Walkes incompast but one man?
Now it is Rome indeed, and Roome enough
When there is in it but one onely man .
O! you and I, have heard our Fathers say,
There was a Brutus once, that would have brook'd
Th'eternall Divell to keepe his State in Rome,
As easily as a King .

Clearly, from the title of this posting, you can guess what we're going to do. We're going to try to speak the text, as intelligibly as possible, without using our jaws, or at least as little as possible. The challenge, of course, is in the "intelligibly" part. Speaking aloud is hard enough as it is; immobilizing your jaw in the midst of it is madness, surely.

Agreed, it will be difficult, but the point is not to keep this strategy as a lifelong habit. No. The idea is merely to experiment with the feeling of having the jaw dropped. You may find that you can have more space in your mouth without too much effort.

Voweling the Text

To begin, let's focus on the vowels of the text by "voweling the text," at least a little, as the vowels are the most open part of any utterance. Vowels can be made with the tongue alone, so we can let the jaw hang while the tongue does its dance inside the mouth to articulate the vowels. Speaking a text with vowels only sounds rather strange, and for many people it is a mental gymnastics routine that they find frustratingly hard to do. Go slowly, and be sure to let the sound flow from one vowel to the next without any breaks. So, in the text above, I would "chunk" the text up into little bits of two or three words, and flow my way through the vowels, like this:

 

Text: Why Man
Vowels: eye a
IPA: [aɪ ˈæ ]

He doth bestride
Ee uh uh Eye
[ iː ˌʌ ə ˈaɪ ]

the narrow world
uh air owe ur
[ ə ˈɛə oʊ ˈɜː ]

like a collossus
eye uh uh ah uh
[ˌaɪ ə ə ˈɒ ə]

 

This then should be done to the whole text, chunk by chunk. Once you've worked your way through the whole text, try to put it together, flowing all the vowels of a thought onto a single breath, like this…

 

Text: Why man he doth bestride the narrow world like a collossus…
Vowels: eye a Ee uh uh Eye uh air owe ur eye uh uh ah uh
IPA: [aɪ ˈæ iː ˌʌ ə ˈaɪː ə ˈɛə oʊ ˈɜː ˌaɪ ə ə ˈɒ ə ]

 

Now try to work your way, slowly, through your entire text, voweling it instead of speaking it. Think the thoughts! Speak this gibberish THINKING the words, but only saying the vowels, letting it flow out, relishing the important word-vowels, and skipping lightly over the less important ones.

Back to the Jaw

We need to try that now with an awareness of the jaw. If you need to do a little jaw shake to remember what a released jaw feels like, do that first. Think of your jaw as being very heavy, as if it was made of lead or concrete, and it was dropping toward the ground. With your imagination focused on a heavy jaw, energize your tongue and lips to articulate the vowels of your text in an focused, precise manner so that the vowels are specific, and never muddy. Remember to flow through the words, as if you were speaking clearly and intelligibly, communicating the feelings behind this text.

Adding Back the Consonants

The final step here is to speak the text "normally," that is, with the consonants back in. Some of the consonants will force you to close your mouth, ie move your jaw, more than others, especially /s/ sounds. For lip consonants ( like /p, b, m/ ), try to leave your jaw open while your lips stretch over your teeth to close, which is tricky to do. It is possible to sound fairly normal while doing this, with practice. The goal here is to practice letting the jaw go, so you can more easily create more space in the mouth for sound. Opening your mouth creates a shape like a megaphone, which amplifies the sound of your voice with less effort. Once you've made it through your whole text with a released jaw, try it again, but this time, merely focus on the text, its ideas and emotions and what it does to you. Is there any carryover from the jaw dropping into this exploration? Usually there is a subtle shift that occurs, where the idea of a heavier jaw becomes more part of the range of possibilities available to you.

  • This post is also available in a condensed form, so once you understand the idea of jawless text and voweling, you can add it to your warm-up playlist.

Next Step: Conclusion to the Intermediate Warm-Up Series

Eric Armstrong is the voiceguy. Eric is a dialect, voice, speech and text coach based in Toronto, Canada, where he normally teaches full-time at York University’s Dept. of Theatre. Eric has been teaching voice for the actor full-time since 1994, and has taught in Canada and the US, at the University of Windsor, Brandeis University, Roosevelt University, Canada's National Voice Intensive and York University. He has worked for nationally and internationally recognized companies such as Crow’s Theatre, Volcano, SoulPepper, & Canadian Stage in Toronto, and The Court Theatre and Steppenwolf in Chicago. Eric holds a BFA from Concordia University (Montreal) in Theatre Performance, and an MFA from York University (Toronto) in Acting. His mentors were David Smukler (York, Canada’s National Voice Intensive) and Andrew Wade (Royal Shakespeare Company). He has also studied at the Drama Studio, London, and Il Stage Internazzionale di Commedia dell’Arte in Reggio Emilia, Italy. He’s a long time member of the Voice and Speech Trainers Association, where he has served on the board, as a conference planner, photo editor for the Voice and Speech Review, Founding Director of Technology and Internet Services, and has written numerous peer-reviewed articles, essays and reviews for the VASTA Newsletter, the VASTA Voice, and The Voice and Speech Review.

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