Text: Beginnings and Endings

Peter Brook is known for having championed the idea of "beginning, middle, and end" in everything on stage, including the beginning, middle and end of the play, the scene, the beat, the moment, the speech, the sentence, the phrase, the word, the breath, the thought, the gesture, the action, etc. etc. etc. But many of us are unaware of our beginnings, middles and ends. We make our way through our work as performers, and as people, just doing. An awareness of how we start and end enables us to focus on transitions between parts of greater wholes, and in these transitions lies great interest and excitement for both the performer and the audience.

In this final step in the Advanced Voice Warm-up, we'll use beginnings and endings as a way to explore language. We'll use a poem to explore this idea, but you could apply the ideas of the step to a monologue from a play, a speech from a film, a bit of copy from a print ad in a magazine, or a long bit of narration from a novel.

As is often the case with voice work, we'll use a Shakespeare Sonnet today. They're great for this task as the have very clear beginnings, middles and endings, on many levels. You can use any sonnet you like, of course, but for here I'll use Sonnet 29.

 

When in disgrace with Fortune and men's eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon my self and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man's art, and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least,
Yet in these thoughts my self almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
(Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth) sings hymns at heaven's gate,
For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings,
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.
Shakespeare's Sonnet 29

 

This text features many elements that are like a long list. Begin by recognizing that this sonnet is one sentence. Explore this thought by trying to make it through the whole sonnet as a whole, focusing on its beginning, and its ending, which is summed up in the last two lines (or couplet.)

It might be easier to conceive of this great idea as a gathering of many smaller ideas, as a bunch of bullet points and parenthetical phrases:

 

When
(in disgrace with Fortune and men's eyes,)

  • I all alone beweep my outcast state,
  • And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
  • And look upon my self and curse my fate,
  • Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
  • Featured like him,
  • like him with friends possessed,
  • Desiring
  • this man's art,
  • and that man's scope,
  • With what I most enjoy contented least,
  • Yet…
    (in these thoughts my self almost despising,)
    …Haply I think on thee,
    and then my state…
    (Like to the lark at break of day arising From sullen earth)
    …sings hymns at heaven's gate,

    For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings, That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

     

    Read through this text in this new format out loud. I've broken the piece into many small parts, so that they link into larger chunks, and into the whole poem. The three largest chunks begin "WHEN…" and "YET…" and "FOR…" The first major thought marries the first 2 quatrains into an 8 line long chunk.

    Beginnings…

    To reinforce the beginnings of each of the subthoughts in the text, add a gesture to your reading for each major word that begins a thought, like this:

     

    When
    (in disgrace with Fortune and men's eyes,)

    • I all alone beweep my outcast state,
    • And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
    • And look upon my self and curse my fate,
    • Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
    • Featured like him,
    • like him with friends possessed,
    • Desiring
    • this man's art,
    • and that man's scope,
  • With what I most enjoy contented least,
  • Yet…
    (in these thoughts my self almost despising,)
    Haply I think on thee,
    and then my state…
    (Like to the lark at break of day arising From sullen earth)
    …sings hymns at heaven's gate,

    For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings, That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

     

    Of course, this is only one level of the exploration. We could dig deeper and look at the meter of the poetry, focusing on the counterpoint of the ideas in the phrases and the rhythmic flow of the pentameter (or poetic line.) You might explore a similar gesturing on the first word of each line of the sonnet and see where that takes you.

    …and Endings

    Choosing a single final word to each thought phrase is challenging, because sometime we need to stress more than one word to get the full gist of the line. For instance, in the first line we don't want to just "whallop" the word "eyes," as it is very important that the idea is about "men's eyes," as the character of the sonnet is disgraced in the eyes of men. With that in mind, try to work your way through the sonnet once more, this time explore the idea of that end of thought with a little self-hug: wrap your arms around your chest, and on the end of each thought phrase, give yourself a squeeze through the words. [We'll ignore single word lines for this time around. Try it out:

     

     

    When
    (in disgrace with Fortune and men's eyes,)

    • I all alone beweep my outcast state,
    • And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
    • And look upon my self and curse my fate,
    • Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
    • Featured like him,
    • like him with friends possessed,
    • Desiring
    • this man's art,
    • and that man's scope,
  • With what I most enjoy contented least,
  • Yet…
    (in these thoughts my self almost despising,)
    …Haply I think on thee,
    and then my state…
    (Like to the lark at break of day arising From sullen earth)
    …sings hymns at heaven's gate,

    For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings, That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

     

    This squeezing certainly needs to be explored with the ends of the lines as well, as that kind of ending needs to be valued at least as much as the ends of thought.

    Our final step is to work our way through the entire sonnet, trying to feel both beginning and endings of thoughts at once. I'll ask you to jump back up to the top, and read it in standard format again, this time trying to feel both the beginnings and ends of the thoughts as they appear to you. In this way, you can begin to notice the pattern that your reading of my division of the text may have had an impact on your work, or not. For what is most important is that you not copy some "right way" but that you greet the text afresh, letting your mind investigate the beginnings and endings of thoughts (and ultimately lines as well) with vigour, curiosity and relish.

     

    Next Step: Advanced Warm-up Conclusion

    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.

    Posted in advanced, Voice, Warm-ups Tagged with: , , ,