The Path to Granny’s House

[I called my late grandmother, Jill Cragg, Granny, never Grandma. She was a wonderful person in every way. ]

This week, I’ve been working in my voice class on Shakespeare Sonnets. We’re nearing the end of dune unit, and so I am doing a lot of coaching on the pieces, one-on-one with the students. Coaching in this manner is one of my favorite things to do, it is literally a thrill, one of the best parts of the day.

I frequently use metaphors when coaching text, the more idiosyncratic the better. Quirky, and unapologetically so. Here’s the story of one of them.

A student is working on the text, speaking clearly, working to understand each word. But the sentence doesn’t feel right. They’re not actually engaged in the process of talking to someone, really. Perhaps, because the sentence is convoluted, confusing, and the words are unfamiliar (even though they have done their research can tell me what they mean), they’re focused more on sharing that meaning than they are  on communicating.  And that’s a problem. Because of the way they memorized the text, as they begin their first thought, they are thinking merely about the first words, and not about where they are heading. Their journey with the text is a hopscotch of one small text chunk at a time, not a race to the finish line.

I argue that they need to be looking to the horizon. The words at the start of the sentence are only a means to get to the heart of their sentence, which in Shakespeare often lies at the end of the sentence. They need a mental map of where they are heading.

Of course they need to know all their actor homework, their objective, who they are talking to, what they want them to do, what obstacles lie before them, etc. Of course.  Those are a given. But the words have to spring from a sense of a destination, or a very least a waypoint along the route to that destination.

And so the image of Little Red Riding Hood pops into my head, heading to Granny’s cottage in the woods. There is a lot to pass on the way, but Li’l Red has the image of where she is headed clearly anchored in her mind. It needs to be there before she leaves ( it needed to be there when she packed her basket, didn’t it?). So too does the actor need this destination anchored in their mind. They need to memorize it, too, so that when they go to start they have that in mind, and not just the first words.

So Granny has become a regular metaphor in my class, beginning with the end in mind. It’s not fancy, it’s not complicated, but it gets the job done.

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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2 comments on “The Path to Granny’s House
  1. Jill says:

    Awesome Eric!
    I think this metaphor speaks wonders.

  2. Risa Duff says:

    I love this use of metaphor. The actor can only see the units and objectives as they go along, but they need to visualize the destination. Thank you!