Volume 9, Issue 4
Table of Contents:
A Message from the President
Letter from the Editor
Reflections from the Conference: un calentamiento en Español
Reflections about Antonio’s Warmup in Spanish
Teaching and Learning: Ancestral Voices; Do You work with young people or dementia sufferers?
Standing and Speaking in the Presence of Discomfort
Technology Corner: Freeware to Make Production Coaching Easier
I am honored to begin serving as VASTA's President. I've been lucky to have learned a tremendous amount from Mandy Rees and Patty Raun over the past four years during their terms in the office, and am grateful for the opportunity of working with such exceptional leaders. Since VASTA is a volunteer organization, there are ongoing leadership transitions as people who have served the organization pass their responsibilities on to new people who take up the challenge of moving VASTA forward. This fall/winter season marks a number of leadership transitions. First, it is a great pleasure to welcome Betty Moulton as the new President Elect of VASTA. Betty is a former Board member and longtime VASTA member. Betty heads the voice pedagogy MFA program at the University of Alberta in Canada, and l look forward to the benefits of her astute counsel and generous spirit. Three accomplished VASTAns have completed their terms and are leaving the Board—Cynthia Bassham, Michael Barnes and Guy Molnar. Cynthia and Michael will continue to serve, but in new roles, with Cynthia as Director of Human Resources and Michael as Senior Technical Director. Adriano Cabral is now our Director of Technology. If you would like to serve VASTA in one of the many positions it takes to operate the organization, send a note to Cynthia at email@example.com. You can suggest areas in which you have expertise, or just let her know you'd like to serve, and you'll be contacted about positions as they come up. Our fantastic Treasurer, Antonio Ocampo-Guzman, having done a stellar job over a number of years, is stepping off the board at the start of 2015. I'm pleased to announce that Artemis Preeshl will take over responsibilities for this key position. Artemis teaches and directs at Loyola University New Orleans. Craig Ferre, another excellent past treasurer, is stepping down as ATHE Focus Group Representative, and Rene Pulliam is our new representative. And joining the Board this summer were Kim Bey, who chairs the Theatre department at Howard University in Washington, DC, and D'Arcy Smith who teaches at the University of Minnesota and is a resident voice coach at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis.
The conference this summer in London at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama was hugely successful--many thanks to Rena Cook and Jane Boston for organizing it, and to everyone at Central for their gracious hosting of the event. Attendance far exceeded our expectations, and voice specialists from around the world came together in a way that exemplified the recently crafted VASTA Vision—Share, Expand, Engage. If you haven't already done so, take a moment to read through the VASTA Vision charge, and also learn about one of the first initiatives created to work toward realizing Vision goals: a special Interdisciplinary Conference Grant. If you didn't get a chance to do so at the conference, you can now fill out the London conference online evaluation form. We are in the process of planning an exciting 2015 conference in Montreal, and your feedback is invaluable in helping us develop those plans. Pamela Prather is our marvelous Conference Director, and the dates are August 2-5, timed to immediately follow ATHE's Montreal conference. Start making your 2015 conference plans now! On a final note, please join me in extending a warm welcome and thanks to Betty, Kim, D'Arcy, Artemis, Adriano, Pamela, Rene and ALL the dedicated members who make VASTA such a remarkable organization and home for people in the voice and speech field. VASTA is YOU—THANK YOU!!
Hello again VASTAns,
How quickly time passes! As the autumnal weather starts to creep in, I am struck by just how eventful summer this summer has been. The London VASTA conference has come and gone, and I hope you all found it as renewing and inspiring as I did. For those who couldn’t attend, we’ve included several articles highlighting some of the goings-on. For anyone else who did attend and would like to contribute regarding their conference experience in future issues, please get in touch.
Would you like to get more involved in VASTA? Would you like to improve the VASTA Voice? I am creating two new columns, and am seeking two individuals to serve as column editors. The first is a technology column, and the other will be centered around freelance and non-academic coaching. If you have any interest in either of these topics and would like to try your hand at editing, send me an email and we’ll have a chat.
Editor, VASTA Voice
International Committee Update
I will keep this brief as we have some insightful thoughts from VASTA Treasurer Antonio Ocampo-Guzman and IC member Marcela Grandolpho about a VASTA Conference warm-up this year, taught in Spanish.
Participants from 16 countries attended the conference this year and we will continue to encourage a more inclusive involvement with a new $750 scholarship for an international conference participant next year. We welcome new members Ana Laan and Alexandra Whitham! And we always looking for increased involvement, so if you are interested, please get in touch.
Amy Mihyang Ginther
Chair of the International Committee
One of the highlights of my London Conference was meeting the indefatigable Amy Ginther. When she asked me to write something about my experience leading a warm-up in Spanish at the conference, I could not say no. So here it is.
Though I had volunteered for the warm-up, I was having some serious second thoughts about it. I was allotted the very first morning of the conference, and wondered if jet-lag would resolve in time. I hadn’t lead any warm-ups or even taught voice since 2012, and knew I was rusty. But, more to the point, I was scared: all those voice teachers in one room... breathing and sounding together... I didn’t know if I would be able to stomach it. But, then Cicely Berry said two remarkable things during her short talk at the opening ceremony: ‘voice work is always political’ and ‘sentimentality is the privilege of the rich.’ So, heeding her words, I resolved to get on with it, and considered leading the warm-up in Spanish to make a statement. I’m not sure a statement of what, but... it is my first language, and we keep saying that VASTA is an international association – we had over 16 countries represented at the conference. I was also finding a way to protect myself, undoubtedly... I decided to sleep on it and play it by ear.
I arrived early at Central the next morning, still quite jet-lagged but hoping to find the studio assigned for the warm-up and get myself ready. To my surprise, the first language I heard spoken in the building was Spanish. Not only that, it was my own Colombian Spanish. It turns out that most of the cleaners that work at Central are from the same region of Colombia as my grandfather! That was certainly a sign I could not deny.
So, I led the warm-up in Spanish. Well, most of it. The first fifteen minutes I led a sequence of exercises and asked participants to stand, filling the studio as I meandered around, speaking only in Spanish. I heightened my “desire to be understood” which polished my articulation and my overall body language. I knew several other Spanish speakers in the room, and I saw that others were listening intently to me and observing these others at the same time. That resulted in a rather lovely attentive energy in the room. After I asked the participants to release unto the floor, I quickly realized that I needed to resort to English from time to time just to make sure people were not completely lost. I concluded the warm-up with a sequence of games in which people engaged with each other – some old friends, some new acquaintances... all in Spanish.
To my surprise, I didn’t see anyone leaving the studio during the warm-up. In fact, I received several warm and thankful embraces, and some generous feedback. Some people told me they had experienced new sensations because of the new language and the surprise; another said that she was going to stop using the expression “language barrier” and experiment with the expression “language borders” because of her experience in the session. Somebody did question, rather patronizingly, why the warm-up had not been advertised as being in Spanish, and was not particularly convinced and/or content with my reply. Oh well. Voice teachers...
For me, the takeaway from the warm-up, supported by my witnessing the Identity Cabaret, is that I need to spell the word ‘international’ in a new way: ‘inter-national.’ Rather than using it to refer to experiences, members, or training done outside the United States, where VASTA is established, it could refer to experiences, members, trainings that we all do among the nations.
It was rewarding to conduct this improvisational and rather whimsical experiment at the Conference; more rewarding is the notion that further warm-ups in multiple languages are planned for future VASTA conferences.
During this VASTA Conference, Antonio Ocampo-Guzman led a warm up in Spanish. When I arrived there in the morning and he told me this would happen, I was intrigued and I confess my first thought was: people will not understand anything! But it never crossed my mind to leave the room. I was up for the challenge. Of course for me it was easier, since I am Brazilian, and Portuguese and Spanish have some similarities.
But when it started it was very clear to me that it was not only about language, it was not about a teacher trying to prove he can speak Spanish and people having to deal with it, it was about voice. The voice that reunites us was at that conference, the voice that made so many of us travel the world to get to Central, the voice that communicates beyond the barrier of language.
A good number of people left the room. I can understand why. They were probably thinking the same as I when Antonio first approached me. But I was wrong. Of course in some moments people got a little confused, but Antonio as the generous teacher he is, would then give instructions in English. He was focused on the student and the work being done with ease.
When I was there I was reminded of so many experiences. I have travelled a lot and almost nobody speaks Portuguese, so I often have to find ways to break the language barrier. I have watched plays in Swiss German, in Danish, in Greek, and I understood so much from their body and their voices.
Even this week, I had a new experience. I was in class with a Russian teacher. The translator was late and the teacher decided to start. We managed to understand the exercise perfectly through his intonation, his breath, his facial expression and a few (very few) gestures. And part of this was because he was an acting teacher talking to acting teachers, as Antonio was a voice teacher leading us through a voice class.
I am not saying that I support people going to conferences speaking their own language regardless their audience. Of course, research presentations would need a translator. But I believe VASTA members and VASTA itself, to be a truly international organization, should be open to experiences like this. After all, we all know that communication happens mainly through the language’s sonority and the physical reactions accompanying it, and only partly through its semantic aspects.
In my third year of teaching at Ithaca College, I was planning my spring semester course, Dialects for the Stage. My first two stabs at this class had been successful enough, and with the help of Paul Meier’s terrific book Dialects for the Stage and Screen, I was confident my students were graduating from IC with a good foundation in the skills needed to successfully perform a dialect or accent on stage.
However, I was looking for a way to make the class more fun. What final project could I come up with that would require students to apply the skills they had learned throughout the semester and take ownership for this aspect of their future work in the theatre? I had tried a “Dialect Tea” at my house: assigning each student to arrive for the tea in a created character speaking with a dialect we had not worked on in class.
Ok...but not quite.
Next I had paired students and required each pair to teach the class an assigned dialect.
Again...reasonably successful, but nothing to light the house on fire.
As I pondered what this final project could be, I kept coming back to my interest in my own genealogy and the family stories that had been passed down to me from my grandparents. My favorite was the little girl in Dyer’s Neck, Maine who was hidden in the Dutch oven when an attack by Native Americans was imminent. She was the only survivor in the family, and I probably would not be here as “me” if her mother had not had the presence of mind to stash her in that hiding place.
In talking to my students at Ithaca College, I didn’t sense a lot of interest in or knowledge of their own family histories. I’m not sure if this is generational, or was simply a function of their age. I was always interested, but I’m a bit of a nerd. Perhaps my students were just cooler than I am (not hard to do). But I wanted to at least try to spark their interest in the stories of the people that came before them that had helped to make them who they are today.
I came up with the idea of a project called “Ancestral Voices”. Over their spring break, all students were asked to interview family members about their ancestry. Out of these stories they were required to choose an ancestor who spoke in a dialect not covered in regular class work and write a monologue in the voice of that ancestor. Poetic license was allowed: the goal was a dramatically compelling performance piece that would utilize not only their creativity, but most importantly the techniques we had spent the semester mastering. Two drafts were due before work started on the actual acting pieces. Feedback was offered by me and fellow students. Many times a small aspect of the story being told would prove to be the most interesting, and students would go away, rewrite, and bring another draft to share.
That first year proved to me that this was the project I had been looking for. The resulting monologues were at times incredibly moving, side-splittingly hilarious, or dramatically compelling: a Cuban grandmother and her sister who helped themselves to some freshly baked brownies in an absent family member’s kitchen, not realizing the brownies had an extra special ingredient; an Argentinian great-grandmother confronting her philandering husband in the middle of the night; a Jamaican great, great grandfather encouraging his son to stay in school; a young Russian girl hiding with her family under the kitchen floor as a pogrom was carried out above their heads.
My students were excited by the project, and colleagues who attended the final sharing remarked that it was some of the strongest acting work they had seen many of these students do. This assignment seemed to give students a unique sense of ownership both of the language they had created, and the stories that had come from their family histories. Subsequent years have brought more terrific stories: a young girl traveling around Cape Horn in the early 19th century as her family moved from Sweden to Hawaii to work in the pineapple fields; a Scottish warrior who fought in the time of Edward Bruce; and a young French Canadian teacher passionately arguing the stamp on her papers of “illiterate”, simply because she did not speak English.
Two years later, we decided to share the monologues on graduation weekend, and it has become a tradition for families to attend this short performance immediately before our department’s award ceremony for graduating seniors. As a teacher, it is rewarding to see the effect this project has on mothers and fathers, grandparents, aunts and uncles, as they watch these young people portray, in many cases, loved ones that they never had the chance to meet.
This year our BFA Acting student graduating with the highest GPA was the first person in her family ever to graduate from college. She chose to portray her Polish grandfather on the morning of her birth, describing her as being “the size of a good meatloaf” and wishing for her a good life pursuing her dreams. I had a good vantage point to watch her father as she performed, and the look on his face reminded me of one of the wonderful fringe benefits of this project that has become an integral part of the traditions of the Department of Theatre Arts at Ithaca College.
Lecturer in Drama, Theatre and Performance at Queen Mary University of London
I would like to hear from voice teachers who are working in applied contexts, particularly with dementia sufferers and with young people. How does your work benefit these groups? Does it help them to 'have' a voice in terms of their health, but also in social and political ways? My research and academic work is about the under-recognized work of voice practitioners. Following my forthcoming book on Voice and New Writing, 1997-2007, which includes a chapter about the work of practitioners such as Cicely Berry, Kristin Linklater and Patsy Rodenburg, I'd like to look at the work done in applied fields, and to explore its implications. I'd like to hear about any practice (especially based in the UK) or publications- your own or of colleagues. Please do email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Diversity Committee Update
First, a quick update and exciting news from the committee...then a fantastic and more in-depth read from contributor Amy Mihyang-Ginther.
We welcome Alicia Richardson, Veera Asher & Hazel O'Dell!!!!
Alicia Richardson received the first Diversity Scholarship and was able to attend the conference. The board has approved TWO $750 scholarships for next year!
The Identity Cabaret was a wonderful success and we hope to see the event continue next year in Montreal! Fran Bennett emceed and introduced works by Micha Espinosa, Joanna Cazden, Rebecca Root, Gwendolyn Schwinke, Amy Mihyang Ginther, Judy Shahn, Michelle Lopez-Rios, Heather Lyles, David Alan Stern & Foster Johns.
We are working on the diversity bibliography, resources, and ways to share information. (A closed group on Facebook is on the way).
As always please contact me if you are interested in joining us in any way.
Chair of the Diversity Committee
This 2014 VASTA conference in London both highlighted the brilliance of our diverse voices and the progress we still must make.
The Identity Cabaret was incredibly successful, as many of us shared stories and truths about ourselves with the conference that were powerful and resonant (you can check out videos of Rebecca Root’s and mine here and here!). Hazel Holder's presentation about her "oversized and uncontrollable" tongue (which was attributed to her African descent) that got her kicked out of drama school failed to leave anyone in the Embassy Theatre unmoved. But as Cis Berry opened the conference with the reminder that "Sentimentality is the privilege of the rich," I invite us all to move beyond feeling moved and see these performances as a call to action.
When one person raised the point that the "Re-inventing Traditions" panel was not racially diverse, I sensed a collective held breath and tensing of muscles amongst the 200 or so voice practitioners in the Embassy. The wave of discomfort that entered the room was palpable. Some people left. Others told me they were glad they didn't show up at all or wish they hadn't gone. It is significant to connect with others’ experiences of oppression or conflict in relation to their identity, but it is much more challenging to examine our own role in benefiting from or perpetuating oppressive structures that still very much exist in theatre, education, and even conferences.
As I mentioned in my research panel, although it may be uncomfortable to talk about privilege, racism, and oppression, it is far, far, worse to be the victim of such things. Hazel getting kicked out of drama school is a concrete result of such structures but it is important to acknowledge that these actions and beliefs have not gone away. My experience as a voice student, conversations with colleagues of color, and events at this past VASTA conference illustrate that oppressive structures and mindsets have simply become more insidious.
If we are to make any progress and create an empowered space for our students and clients, we must be able to dialogue openly about these issues. Is it not a vital part of the learning process, for those both teaching and learning, as my acting mentor would say, "to stand in the presence of discomfort"?
Remember that just because we may be in theatre, education, or the therapeutic arts, we arenot automatically progressive or an ally in social justice.
Despite all of the amazing exchanges and experiences that happened at the conference this year, my heart still hurt after being told that a White voice teacher remarked after my research panel (where I introduced the concept of epistemological racism), "It's so nice to see someone talk about race and for them not to get irrationally angry about it." This was meant as a compliment, but I now want to acknowledge and make space for irrationality, rage, yelling, grief, and frustration alongside humorous anecdotes and academic definitions. If you have experienced oppression as a woman, LGBT, non-Native English speaker, person of color, you absolutely have the right to be irrationally angry - because nothing about oppression is rational. We potentially silence others by demanding a rational, articulate response because we want to avoid feeling uncomfortable about our role or complicity in an oppressive system or society.
As voice teachers, let us not be in the business of silencing others.
I am particularly thoughtful and sensitive about this as we watch the events unfold in Ferguson, MO. There has been some fascinating discussions on how Black Americans are silenced or choose to remain silent about such things within our social and professional circles. A particular tweet captured this intersection:
"Only the privileged demand calm discussion."
I am hopeful we can acknowledge our training alone is not enough to prevent our privileged identity (whether it’s male, cis, White, middle-class) from silencing others. I want the person who remarked about my panel to know that I am angry, and that is a legitimate response to things that have happened to me and many of my students and colleagues. But because I want a dialogue to begin, because I want to be listened to, and because as a woman of color- my professional success depends others feeling connected to and not alienated by me, I restricted my voice in my research panel. This is not dissimilar to what I am carefully doing in penning this article.
To be clear, there are incredible people who I have met in our organization, of all backgrounds, who have stood with me in solidarity. They have signaled to me that I can express myself candidly and without repercussion because they are strong and humble enough to hear it. This is a process, not a point of arrival, so are things we all can continue to work on (including myself).
Acknowledge that oppressive structure exist and seek to examine and undo them. Remember when someone speaks out about injustice, it is not a personal attack towards you. Be honest with ourselves about how truly diverse our daily consumption is: whether it’s voice books, media, plays we see, curriculum, and articles we read. Be curious and honest when engaging in a conversation that makes you uncomfortable. Ask questions and listen while taking care not to make people feel like they are representing their entire demographic. Remember that just because we are in theatre or education, we are not automatically progressive or an ally in social justice.
Let us all stand in the presence of discomfort. This will create space for more of us to speak and for more of our students to speak. It will shift narratives, change voices, and change lives.
Freeware to Make Production Coaching Easier
At the VASTA conference in London last month, I chaired a panel called “Innovations in Production Coaching“ to share some new and exciting innovations my Knight-Thompson Speechwork colleagues and I have been utilizing to streamline our work on theatrical productions. Production coaching can be time-consuming and labor-intensive, as we all know. When I accepted my position at CSU Long Beach, I knew I would be coaching grads and undergrads in several productions per semester. I had become accustomed to taking notes in the form Phil Thompson had taught me: in an Excel spreadsheet, with each line of the play numbered, each character name repeated for every line of text and a comment column with shortcut commands built in so I could take line-specific notes very quickly. And with the use of my IPA palette, I could also insert IPA transcriptions quickly, without missing the next line being spoken on the stage. I could sort the script by “Comment” and then “Character Name”, and email the actors their individual notes before they were out of costume.
The problem with this form is that the script set-up is arduous! I asked the chair of my department for student help in setting up my scripts. Katie Speer, a current undergrad at CSULB, didn’t want to go through the long steps of setting up the scripts either. She instead had a talk with her father Dave, a software engineer, and they decided to create a piece of software to automate the process. We are on the second iteration of the program, getting ready to go into beta testing. When the program is complete and can be utilized across platforms and without extra software to download, we will be offering it to the VASTA community as freeware. Hoping to help make your life easier. So stay tuned for that!
Hello again VASTAns,
Welcome back to the Member News column! I hope you're all recovering well from your hectic summers as we charge forward into fall. Since we have recently instated some changes with this section, we wanted to reiterate them for you all, and include another update as well. We have decided to make the member news section a regular column, and additionally have decided to make each newsletter focus on the member news of one or two particular regions, which will be included as part of the column heading.
Fear not! You don't need to remember which newsletter is yours. Either Keely or myself will be emailing all members of your region in the month prior to the newsletter release to acquire your member news. This not only focuses each issue, it allows you to have a friendly yearly email reminder from us when to send in your yearly member news update. This also means that you only have to worry about typing up your update for us once a year.
So if you have anything you'd like to share from your year - the shows you've been working on, a new teaching job, exciting news about a student, a new workshop or methodology you've studied, or an upcoming publication, please watch for our email. You can click reply to submit your entry, as a word document, to editor Keely Wolter at email@example.com
The preferred format for these entries is 12 pt font with your name in all caps and location/primary employer in parentheses immediately following the name. Please follow standard MLA format for the stylization of titles of publications (Italicize books, play titles, film titles. Quotations around article titles.) We also want to see your lovely faces, so please feel free to submit a photo along with your news or indicate if we should use the photo on your vasta.org member profile. Please see one of the entries below for examples.
Looking forward to hearing from you,
Associate Editor, VASTA Voice
ERIC ARMSTRONG (Toronto, ON Canada)
Eric completed his 3-year term as the Graduate Program Director for MFAs at York University in July '14, and is now on sabbatical until July 2015! He leaves his teaching in the capable hands of VASTA member Laurel Paetz. Recent production work includes coaching on motion capture for the next Assassin’s Creed videogame, language coaching (French and Haitian Creole) on the TV show 12 Monkeys, ADR work with Sean Bean (aka "Eddard Stark/Boromir"!) on his show Legends, theatre accent coaching for 12 Angry Men and The Gigli Concert at SoulPepper Theatre, and YukonStyle for Canadian Stage. On his sabbatical he plans to do further work on a new edition of his IPA workbook, Introducing the IPA. Eric had a great time at the 2014 VASTA conference in London UK, appearing on 3 panels and reconnecting with friends and colleagues new and old. Eric and family brought home a new Labrador puppy, Ember, this summer.
YOLANDA D. HEMAN-ACKAH, MD (Bala Cynwyd, PA)
Yolanda continues to serve as national medical adviser for VASTA. She is writing a medical column for the VASTA voice, which is aimed at teaching the VASTA community about medical problems that can affect the voice and vocal performance. She opened the Philadelphia Voice Center in 2011 in the Philadelphia area, where she specializes in professional voice care and the medical and surgical management of voice disorders. Her book, The Voice: A Medical Guide for Achieving and Maintaining a Healthy Voice, was published and released in May 2013. It is the first guide for vocal health written by a medical doctor specifically for professional voice users. It can be purchased online at www.sciandmed.com/voice. She continues to hold faculty positions at Thomas Jefferson University and Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia.
MARYA LOWRY (Brandeis U., Actors’ Shakespeare Project, Boston) spent two perfect months playing Lyubov Ranevskaya in The Cherry Orchard for Actors’ Shakespeare Project. Around the country, recent workshops in Ecstatic Voice and Lament, Roy Hart Voice and Vocal Extremes include: the MICHA Conference in CT, the One Voice Integrative Studies Program, NYC, the U of Colorado/Colorado Springs, Boston Conservatory’s MFA actors, and in Chicago, she teamed up with Phil Timberlake for a Roy Hart Weekend Intensive. For ASP’s Youth Program, Cambridge, she taught "Rock Thy Brain: Shakespeare– Flesh, Blood and Bones” worksop. She is continuing to teach small group and private Roy Hart voice lessons in Boston and NYC. This fall a Boston area Roy Hart/Ecstatic Voice workshop is in the works– time and place TBA and in Winter: an invitational 4 day Voice Retreat is in the planing stages and an open one day worksop for The Pearl Theatre Conservatory in NYC. Stay tuned. Lastly, this fall, she will teach lamentation workshops to the cast of The Trojan Women at Boston College and coach the choral segments.
VASTA Board of Directors & Officers
Tara McAllister Viel
Michael J. Barnes
Dr. Yolanda Heman-Ackah
Joanna Battles & Tamara Meneghini
Amy Mihyang Ginther
©2010, Voice and Speech Trainers Association