Let out a yawn. Do it. It feels fantastic.
Now do a another one. Bigger this time. Really let a sound go.
It’s amazing how much sound we can make with such little effort or strain.
We were created to make sound, to send ideas with fluidity and ease. But most of us don’t. The messages we receive throughout our life craft what we call the “habitual voice”. Most of us, unaware, carry tension and pain in our instrument, the body. And that includes our voice.
Do you know what your true voice sounds like? For many actors, it’s a process of discovery. It takes time to work through the physical “kinks” (tension in the jaw, shoulders, back) and emotional barriers that inhibit the natural voice. Here are a few ways to begin working on your voice.
The breath is preparation for the ideas you send in your work.
We hear a lot about breathing from our diaphragm. I had a theater teacher in college who made me rehearse with a hand on my lower stomach so that I could feel my diaphragm moving in and out with proper breathing technique. (I have since found it easier in my work to think about my diaphragm moving down rather than in and out.)
But breathing is not just the lungs and diaphragm. It’s a full body effort. Your lungs need you ribcage to expand, your diaphragm to move downward, the pelvic floor and spine to support all your efforts. Are you holding tension in your shoulders, neck or butt? (Yup. That’s a thing. “Clenchers” is how I like the label them.) That will affect your breathing as well.
If you’re trying to get in touch with your breathing, start on the floor, laying semi-suspine. (Flat on your back, with your knees bent.) First, become aware of any tension in the body. As you breathe, willfully release it. Then keep one hand on your lower stomach and simply become aware of your breathing. Watch how effortlessly the diaphragm rises and falls when you’re on your back. Now move your hands to your sides. Allow the ribcage to expand and become wide as you breathe. Expand your breath capacity by letting out your air on a “SSSSS”. Then let your air out on an “MMMM”, but keep an “AH” behind your closed lips.
Stand up. Look at the wall across the room from you. Sigh or yawn. Imagine yourself waiting the wall in a long, straight brush stroke with your sound from the top of the wall to the bottom. Repeat.
2) Vocal Dexterity.
You need to release the tension in your jaw, neck, shoulders and tongue to be a versatile, spontaneous instrument for your vocal impulses. Let out a large yawn. Scrunch your face up and then release. Repeat. Massage your jaw, then using your palms, slowly slide your hands down your jawline, encouraging it open. (The trick is to relinquish control over your jaw and allow your hands to do the opening.) Grab your jaw with both hands and gently but quickly try to move the bottom jaw up and down. You’ll feel yourself wanting to take control of the jaw again. Release control and try again. This one takes practice. Flick your tongue in and out of your mouth quickly, using a “La La” sound.
Lastly, pull a Ron Burgundy and hit up some tongue twisters!
-Red Leather, Yellow Leather.
-The tip of the tongue, the lips and the teeth.
-The sixth sheik’s sixth sheep’s sick. (Still can’t say it.)
-Unique New York.
Now go get yourself a monologue and put some of these techniques to use. Read through the monologue slowly. Do a read where you over-enunciate, exploring the music of the writer’s work. Then do a take where you express only the vowel sounds. (The sentence “I don’t feel like I can trust you” becomes “I Ooo Eeeel I Aaaaa Uuuuh Ouuuu.”) Then do a fast, staccato run where you challenge yourself to speak the language as quickly (and cleanly) as possible.
Remember: Small voice, small emotion. Freeing your sound is the first step to freeing your emotional acting instrument.