Text Four Ways

4 ways meet in one placeThis post puts three previous posts back on the table. In my posts Intoning, Whispering the Text, and Singing A Text,  I laid out three approaches to working with a text (and proved that I am totally inconsistent when it comes to Post titles!). Each approach brings a certain characteristic to the text that you’re working on, and shines a light on how you work with it.

The idea for this post is a pretty simple one: combine these exercises for one super-exercise where you layer the learning from all the different ways of playing with the text. This is a classic exercise. I believe that I learned it, or something like it, from Patsy Rodenberg, who (I believe) learned it from Cicely Berry, who probably learned it from her teachers, people like Barbara Bunch. [In fact, I think I was first exposed to this exercise by teachers of mine that had worked with Patsy Rodenberg long before I ever had a chance to work with Patsy at a VASTA conference in 1995.]

So here’s the pattern:

  1. Speak the text out loud,
  2. Whisper the text,
  3. Speak the text out loud again, but seeing/feeling if there is any hold-over from the whispering,
  4. Intone the text,
  5. Speak the text out loud again, but seeing/feeling if there is any change due to the intoning,
  6. Sing the text,
  7. Speak the text out loud one last time, try to feel any hold over from the singing.

As you can imagine, doing the text 7 times takes some considerable time. It’s a great way to consolidate your learning, so that you’re solid on the text; if you’re not very comfortable with memorization, doing this process will help to integrate your memorization process so that you can embody the text you’ve learned. The most important part, I think, is to return to the “plain” speaking of the text in between each iteration of the text so as to monitor its effect on your appreciation of any effect it may have had on you. You want it to change you, so please don’t try to rigidly keep it the same!

When I go through this process with my students, they report that there is an accumulative effect, where each layer of the process encourages a greater, more expansive exploration of the text. By starting intimately with whispering, then growing to intoning and finally to singing, the text blossoms, and they find things within the text and themselves that are surprising. Also, most people probably don’t do their text 7 times in a row uninterrupted. The discipline and focus that it requires takes them to a new level, one that shows them what a little hard work can do.

As I often seem to do at the end of a blog post, I must say that this process can cross-over to many ways of learning. This *interleaving* of the text allows for exploration and consolidation of skills through a longer process than just doing a simple exercise. One could easily concoct many of these kinds of patterns of repetition that will allow you to see many different sides of a piece of text, and to help you enrich your connection to it. For instance, you might interleave speaking a text with moving in response to the text in a variety of ways. You could mouth the text, you could “fuff” the text, think the text while pulsing on a lip-trill, etc. So many options!

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.

1 Comment on “Text Four Ways

  1. I do many variations of this with my students. It’s great work. When I have them sing I break it down. First they get to just sing it any way they want. Then I ask them to sing it like an aria. And finally (I am usually using a poem with strong rhythm when I do this) I ask them to rap it. I have had them dance it. Dance it with sound (not words). And so on. Each pass reveals something and the collective work surprises them. I have tried it without the return to speaking between each pass and that sometimes works as it’s more surprising. However, becoming more conscious, rather than surprised, I think has greater value. Other thoughts from those who have tried this approach?