Volume 10, Issue 4
Table of Contents:
A Message from the President
Letter from the Editor
New Associate Introduction
VASTA MD Column
Engagement Commitee Update
Tech Corner: Vocal Warm Apps
Review and Reflection: Sayda Trujillo
Review and Reflection: Joel Trill
Núcleo de Investigación Vocal (NIV) en Montreal
Freelance Coaching Column
Designing the Belter accent for The Expanse
As I’m sure you’ve witnessed either by being there or seeing reports, the Montreal VASTA conference was not only tremendous fun, it was also highly productive with a range of topics, workshops, talks and presentations. We welcomed to VASTA new colleagues who attended as Conference Scholarship awardees. Marion Brenner and Ashley Rose Mercia received Teacher (junior or high school) scholarship awards. Joel Trill and Sayda Trujillo received Diversity/International scholarship awards. For photos, video, posts and more, go to Facebook pages VASTA & VASTAsVoices, and Twitter #vasta2015.
Plans for VASTA 2016 Chicago have been underway for some time, led by incoming Director of Conferences, Claudia Anderson. Scheduled for August 8-11, it promises to be another great Chicago event! Chicago 2016 will again be the shorter 4-day format, since it is scheduled back-to-back with the ATHE conference being held in the Windy City. The last piece of exciting conference news is that 2017 is planned for Singapore! Stay tuned for more information on our first Asia conference.
I want to let you know about a new organization that is dedicated to voice science and performance—the Pan-American Vocology Association (PAVA), which will hold its inaugural conference October 9 - 11, 2015, at the University of North Carolina in Greensboro, NC. A number of VASTA members plan to attend. I hope you will consider joining them so that VASTA has a substantial and ongoing presence in the organization. PAVA’s first conference is sure to be a stimulating event covering a diverse range of topics..
A warm welcome is in order for VASTA’s recently elected board members and incoming officers. Board members beginning their terms this year are Erika Bailey, John Graham, Michelle Lopez-Rios, and Ursula Meyer. New officers are Natasha Staley (Secretary), Claudia Anderson (Director of Annual Conferences), Cynthia DeCure (Diversity Committee Chair), Josh Moser (Newsletter Editor), and Lisa Nathans (Associate Newsletter Editor).
I also want to thank the dedicated VASTAns who served the organization and have completed their terms in office: Krista Scott, Judith Shahn, Judylee Vivier (Board); Melanie Julian (Secretary); Pamela Prather and Kristi Dana (Director and Associate Director of Conferences); and Keely Wolter (Newsletter Editor). I know that whether formally or informally, their service to VASTA and our mission will continue.
On another organizational topic—remember to do periodic check-ups on your contact and other information on the VASTA website. So many things can change: your phone number(s), mailing address, work, skills, resume. First, make sure your member contact information is correct by logging on to the VASTA website with your username and password. Can’t remember those? Just contact the Director of Membership, Thrasso Petras, who will assist you.
Other reminders. The hardcopy version of the VSR for a current year is mailed to members whose dues are paid by August 15 of that year. And of course, all current members have online access to full articles from the entire catalog of VSR. Just logon to the VASTA website and click the “Publications” tab, or go directly to the VSR webpage here and bookmark that page for future use.
Mark your calendars—it’s not too early to start planning for Chicago and Singapore!
And suddenly, it was autumn. I am excited to be serving the organization as the Editor for the Voice during the next year. This issue we will also be introducing new Associate Editor, Lisa Nathans, and have some excellent updates and articles for your enjoyment as we move into the fall season. Keely will continue to work on the Voice as the tech column editor, so if you have some excellent tech advice or gadget you love to use, email her your info for her to include in the next issue. Additionally, if you have an experience you'd like to share with the organization that would fit into the Freelance Coaching Column, or into the Diversity or International Columns, I encourage you to email your idea or short article to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or to Lisa or any of the column editors.
If you have just started an academic semester or quarter, best wishes for your classes.
See you in November!
Editor, The VASTA Voice
An issue that can plague all vocal performers is that of dry throat. Dryness in the throat and mouth is usually associated with “dry” secretions on the vocal folds, which limits the vibratory ability of the vocal folds and causes voice breaks and hoarseness. In order to function properly, the vocal folds need an appropriate amount of lubrication from secretions. If the secretions are too thick (as occurs with dryness), the cover overlying the vocal folds becomes heavy, making it difficult for the vocal folds to vibrate. The approach to treating dryness is first to identify the cause of the dryness. Once the cause is ascertained, eliminating the causal factors will usually help improve the dryness.
Causes of dryness in the throat can be broken down into 4 major categories: 1. Medications, 2. Dehydration, 3. Medical conditions, 4. Infection/Acute illness.
Medications are, by far, the most common cause of mucosal dryness (dry throat). Medications that commonly cause drying are: antihistamines (used to treat allergy), sleeping pills, blood pressure medications, diuretics (water pills), psychiatric medications (for depression, anxiety, mood disorders, etc.), asthma medications/inhalers. If one is experiencing issues with chronic or recurrent dryness that interferes with vocal performance and is taking one of these medications, the best treatment is to talk to the physician who has prescribed the medication and ask him/her if an alternative medication exists. If there is no alternative medication, the second best option is to increase the amount of water that one drinks during the day or to drink an electrolyte balanced drink, such as GatoradeTM or PropelTM, to help increase the water content of secretions. The goal in doing so is to drink enough water or balanced fluid so that your urine is always pale. If your urine is yellow, you are not drinking enough fluids. Those who are taking diuretics (water pills) such as furosemide, Lasix, hydrochlorothiazide, Dyazide, or Maxzide and those with heart, lung, or kidney disease, should consult their physicians prior to increasing the amount of fluid intake.
Dehydration causes dry mouth and throat because there is not enough water circulating in the body to make the secretions needed to lubricate the vocal folds the correct viscosity. Dehydration is caused by not drinking enough fluids to match the body’s need for water. This can occur with a rigorous exercise schedule. Caffeine causes the kidneys to excrete water, and can be dehydrating because of this effect. Not drinking any water at all forces the body to extract water from food sources and can result in dehydration. Juices, sodas, and fruit drinks are all osmotically dehydrating for the body and do not replenish water stores. As stated above, the best way to tell if your body is dehydrated is to monitor the color of the urine. Yellow urine indicates that your body is conserving as much water as possible because of dehydration. Pale urine is an indication that your body has all of the water it needs to function well.
There are numerous medical conditions that can cause dry mouth, all of which should be evaluated and treated by a physician. The most common medical condition that causes dry mouth is diabetes mellitus, which is a condition in which the body does not metabolize sugars normally. People with diabetes and dry mouth typically find some comfort from eating ice chips or drinking ice water. Once the diabetes is under control with medications or insulin, the dry mouth usually resolves. Reflux laryngitis typically causes a dry mouth and throat in the morning, when reflux material from the stomach has been sitting in the mouth for several hours from lying flat on the bed at night. Individuals who reflux during the day may also feel a dry throat periodically during the day. Treatment for dry mouth/throat related to reflux is to treat the reflux disease itself. Allergies can cause a sensation of dry throat. Many people have allergies to dust, mold, and other year round allergens without realizing it. For some, a throat tickle, dry cough, intermittent voice breaks, or dry throat may be the only symptom. Treatment is aimed at preventing the allergic reaction – either through avoidance of the allergens that are triggers or through medications. SingulairTM (montelukast) is an allergy medication that can be used to treat the allergy without worsening the issues related to dryness in the throat. The antihistamines that are commonly used to treat allergy are ClaritinTN (loratadine), AllegraTM (fexofenadine), ZyrtecTM (certirizine), XyzalTM (levocertirizine), and BendadrylTM (diphenhydramine). All of these have the potential side effect of some mucosal drying, making them difficult to use in those in which drying is an issue. Sometimes, taking the antihistamines at night helps to minimize the drying effect during the day. If dryness is a chronic problem, medical treatment should be sought to evaluate for conditions that may affect the salivary glands such as Sjogren’s syndrome and systemic lupus erythematosus.
Infections such as sinus infections, adenoid infections, tonsil infections, and laryngitis can cause dryness in the throat and mouth as well. Sometimes, sinus infections and adenoid infections can be chronic and have few outward symptoms. Dry throat and postnasal drainage can be typical symptoms and may be the only symptoms. In all cases, evaluation by an otolaryngologist is an important part of the diagnosis and treatment.
There is a lot of propaganda on the internet as well as a lot of folk remedies that are shared amongst performing artists regarding the treatment of dry throat. I will briefly comment on some of the most commonly touted. None of these remedies “cure” dry throat. They all coat the throat and in some cases stimulate the mouth and throat to produce saliva, which itself helps the dryness. However, if the saliva is not the right consistency (i.e. if the body is not hydrated), the sensation of dryness will persist or will be replaced by a sensation of thick secretions. Thus, although I’ll explain how the home remedies can help, I am still of the opinion that the best thing one can do for dry throat/dry mouth is to drink lots of water and/or balanced electrolyte drinks.
Honey in tea is one of the most common home remedies used. It is not recommended because the caffeine in tea causes more dehydration. Honey is a humectant that coats the throat and helps to retain moisture at the surface. Honey diluted in water alone (without the tea) would be a better choice to help with the sensation of dry throat.
Diluted aloe juice likely acts similarly to honey in coating the throat.
Diluted apple cider vinegar, however, is acidic and is not recommended. The acid content is caustic to the vocal folds and causes inflammation. Because sour tasting foods stimulate the salivary glands to produce saliva, the vinegar will stimulate saliva production, but the cost is the astringency of the vinegar on the vocal folds.
XylimeltsTM contain xylitol, which is a sugar alcohol. It is sweet tasting, and the taste stimulates the salivary glands to produce saliva. Because the xylitol is an alcohol, it is somewhat caustic and irritating to the vocal folds and not recommended.
TherabreathTM contains both xylitol and sorbitol, both of which are sugar alcohols. It acts similarly to XylimeltsTM and the same recommendations apply.
BioteneTM contains multiple ingredients, including purified water, glycerin, xylitol, sorbitol, propulene glycol, poloxamer 407, sodium benzoate, hydroxyethyl Cellulose, methylparaben, propylparaben, flavor, sodium phosphate, disodium phosphate. The glycerin is a coating, similar to the honey and aloe mentioned above. The xylitol and sorbitol are both alcohols and are irritating to the vocal folds. They stimulate saliva production because of their taste. The sodium benzoate is a topical anesthetic, and decreases the sensation in the throat and larynx. This ingredient makes the BioteneTM dangerous for a performing artist, as the usual mechanisms that tell one where his/her vocal folds are in space and how he/she is placing them are altered, predisposing the vocal performer to vocal injury.
Slippery elm bark likely helps to stimulate saliva production because of its taste. It has some healing properties that are not well understood, and likely helps to decrease vocal fold inflammation. It may have an anesthetic effect also and should be used with caution in vocal performers because of the risk of injury. Slippery elm bark also interferes with the absorption of medications and should not be taken with other medications. It should never be taken in pregnancy because of the risk of spontaneous abortion. Thayers Dry MouthTM treatments contain slippery elm bark as the main ingredient.
Throat Coat Tea contains slippery elm bark, licorice root, marshmallow root, wild cherry bark, bitter fennel fruit, Saigon cinnamon bark, and sweet orange peel. Licorice is a multifaceted root with many substances that make up its constitution. There are some elements in licorice that can make reflux worse and some substances in it that interact with other medications and the function of the liver. Licorice has some pain-relieving properties, which can make it a dangerous substance for vocal performers because it increases the risk of vocal fold injury. Marshmallow produces a thick substance that coats throats. It also contains flavonoids that provide anti-inflammatory properties. Because of the issues related to analgesia and some of the reflux- inducing properties of whole licorice, this preparation is not recommended.
Thus, although there are a lot of preparations that are marketed to help with dry mouth and throat, the best treatment is increasing hydration by drinking lots of water, treating those medical conditions that contribute to dehydration, and limit the intake of medications that worsen it.
Tamara Meneghini, Co–chair Engagement Committee
On Monday, August 3 at the VASTA Annual Conference in Montreal, the Engagement Committee gathered for dinner and invited any interested VASTA members to join in the fun. Committee members present included Tamara Meneghini, Hilary Blair and Cynthia Bassham who were then joined by Ginny Kops, Artemis Preeshl, Mary McDonald-Lewis, Judd Johnson and Cheryl Moore-Brinkley.
Over a delicious dinner committee members shared the background and most recent committee activities including VASTA presence at KCACTF festivals, theatre festivals, and recent creation of VASTA bookmark (which was a big hit at the conference!). It was agreed by all present that we really want to continue to improve our connections with “each other” and bringing VASTA out into the community – more engagement! Exciting ideas for future “engagement” included a "VASTA video” and stretching our “outreach” to beyond the classroom/studio. The conversation focused on exploring ways to share VASTA with the world.
The meeting ended with the entire group agreeing that we could and will try to do more to share the organization in which we believe so strongly. The group plans to meet again soon via an online meeting service, to carry on the conversation and begin taking action.
In the words of Eddie Izzard, people are divided into two groups: those with techno fear, and those with techno joy. I fall decidedly into the latter category. When a client asks me for warm up exercises, rather than handing them a piece of paper, I tend to refer them to some of my favorite warm up apps. I love being led through warm ups, and I even tend to use these apps myself when I am on-the-go. Though warm up apps for the speaking voice seem to be in somewhat short supply, they are a great resource. The following are a few of my favorites.
Being in Voice
This is VASTA member Flloyd Kennedy’s app, and it is a steal at twice the price. The app provides a good deal of groundwork for beginners, and a handful of warm ups that range in length and intensity. I actually use this one often myself, and sometimes do the less intensive exercises in the car during my morning commute. Flloyd’s lovely voice leads you through each exercise and it is a great way to start your day!
Activate Your Voice is an app created by Elaine Clark, the founder of VoiceOne. This app is aimed primarily at voice over artists, and thus the focus is not as whole body inclusive. You are lead through the warm up by text prompts on the screen and a voice demonstrates the exercises. Overall, this app provides a very clean user experience and the means to develop useful skills, particularly in articulation.
The Art of Screaming
This is the most I have spent on an app. Ever. In my entire techno-joyful life. It was absolutely worth it. This app is just so much fun! The Art of Screaming started out as a dvd set and is aimed at hard rock and metal singers. It is designed to build strength and stamina, and focuses on making a lot of not-so-beautiful sounds. Each exercise consists of a video tutorial with a student modeling the behaviors. There is a heavy focus on breath and posture, which I love, and you can design your own warm up by selecting only the exercises you need.
Did I leave out your favorite warm up app? Let me know. Send me an email here, or write a blurb about it to be included in a future tech column.
I am thrilled to be the new Diversity Chair and report that the Diversity Committee had a very successful meeting in Montreal. We discussed issues of identity, power, language, and visibility and made recommendations to the Board about a main presenter on diversity at a future conference. The second annual Identity Cabaret was incredibly successful. The evening was filled with songs, poetry and monologues and much more that reflects the identities and wonderful talents of our membership. All present will agree that the finale was one to remember. A special thank you to Judy Shahn who expertly coordinated the evening and emceed the cabaret. She has graciously agreed to do it again in 2016 in Chicago. Bravo!
I would like to congratulate Sayda Trujillo and Joel Trill as the recipients of the 2015 VASTA Conference Diversity/International Scholarships. They have shared their individual reflections of the conference and you can read each of the reflections below.
Finally, the VASTA Diversity Committee is on Facebook. Ask to join the group. It is a forum to continue the conversations of Diversity throughout the year. I am honored to be the new Diversity chair and look forward to continuing the work that Michelle Lopez-Rios began and further expand the conversation and initiatives that can assist our members.
Chair of the Diversity Committee
Diversity Committee Meeting at VASTA, Montreal, 2015. Photo by Judd Johnson.
“The word was born
in the blood,
it grew in the dark body, pulsing
and took flight with the lips and the mouth.” – Pablo Neruda
The workshop and conversation with master presenter Judith Koltai was for me one of the highlight experiences. I was moved and inspired by her ease, effortlessness, and generosity sharing her knowledge and experience. Familiar concepts embodied. She transformed the space by being with her breath, letting her tempo be, not behind and not ahead, just there with us. We gathered around like children and she read to us without force, without a plan to feed us something. And the words landed with me. It was powerful, and such perfect timing to meet with her before all the workshops and presentations began. I paused with a sigh of presence. And I was like a kid again, tender and hopeful and curious. That’s how my VASTA experience began.
I attended everything that schedule allowed, knowing that I was always missing something else with the rich and packed program. I divided my time between presentations and workshops. I wanted to be a part of as many workshops as possible because as a teacher, it is not often I get to be led and given the space to listen as a student. I wanted to listen and learn from other voices. The Richardson/Ginther/Vasquez presentation on “Cultural Inclusivity in Voice Pedagogy” was impactful and important. It offered questions and perspectives that resonated with me and that I could take back and continue to deepen and consider in my work as a voice teacher. "How are we treating differences?" they asked. At the core of their presentation was a manifesto to create a new narrative, one that departs from “I belong. I’m enough.” They asked us – voice teachers, mentors, leaders, practitioners – to ask the hard questions like, “What are my prejudices?" We must have the courage to use our voice especially to ask the hard questions.
I returned home full of gratitude for having the opportunity to attend VASTA for the first time as one of the Diversity Scholarship recipients. I reunited with mentors and colleagues, and met new ones. There was the power of community, a sense that I was part of a circle of voices, alive. A confirmation that our work matters, that there isn’t one way. It was a huge gift to be a part of VASTA Montreal, and I look forward to next year.
Sayda Trujillo – Los Angeles
I was delighted to see that VASTA's diversity scholarship application indicated it is a forward thinking, inclusive and diverse association, and the financial provision associated with the scholarship award was a clear sign of VASTA’s commitment to reach out geographically and metaphorically to those of us who consider ourselves representatives of difference, in an otherwise established and highly skilled field of expertise. On reflection, the richness of my experience at the 2015 conference eclipsed the initial expectations I had based on my joyous receipt of the scholarship provision.
Montreal in itself is a vibrant, lively and bubbling city, a fitting choice of venue for the hearty welcome I received at the VASTA registration table on arrival at the Fairmont Hotel. The energised drinks reception on the opening night was daunting for only a second, until a friendly delegate, Judith Shahn, warmly introduced herself and others to me. I felt immediately a part of something that was both established and inviting. The evening feature performance “Something” with Thug by character clowns Mump and Smoot was a side-splitter. The integration of their unique ‘Ummonian’ language was a creative nod to the possibilities of vocal play and physical dexterity in theatre. The passionate and candid opening address by bilingual voice, speech, dialect, and communications specialist, François Grisé, set the scene for a conference brimming with boldness and creativity.
The early morning warm-ups, initially led by revered practitioner David Smukler, were an opportunity to wallow in physical and vocal awakening with peers in the ‘city of saints’. I even plucked up the courage to lead some of my colleagues through a section of physical warmup on the second conference day, which, as a new voice practitioner, required a lot of easy breathing and self-affirmation. As a believer in collective participant introductions, I was encouraged by the ‘One ring many Voices’ activity on day one, which facilitated a process of collectively acknowledging and reviewing the variety of persons, attitudes and associations coming together under VASTA’s international umbrella, bolstering the conference’s credentials as a fresh thinking non-complacent shared environment in my eyes.
The programme for the conference was jammed full with engaging and informative workshops and panel sessions. Particular personal highlights were the various accent & dialect workshops, one co-led by Philip Thompson of Knight Thompson Speech Work and Cynthia Bassham. Judith Koltai’s masterclass also proved superb. My confidence in acquiring Inuit Throat singing technique was slightly diminished due to the frequent buckets of water I had to consume during the workshop. However, little could surpass the fun and ritual humiliation of playing Inuit games with the workshop leaders Lynda Brown and Heidi Langille and their children. The session led by Alicia Richardson, Amy Ginther, and Alison Vasquez, on "Cultural Inclusivity in Voice Pedagogy" had me on the edge of my seat, as the pedagogical considerations arising from the presentation were directly relevant to my emerging teaching practice.
Would I suggest others apply for future VASTA scholarships? Yes! Would I enthuse over the outstanding opportunities to share practice and network with other voice and speech professionals? Yes! Will I be at the 2016 Chicago Conference? A resounding yes!
Joel Trill – London
Amy Mihyang Ginther
Like many US nationals, I often forget the beautiful nuances found in Canadian language and culture. During his keynote address at the VASTA conference in Montreal, François Grisé reminded us of this, saying, "Every time I utter a word in English, I still speak French inside." His heartfelt and thoughtful remarks about the plurality of self was powerful and reminded me of how so many of us negotiate our identity in relationship to our voice and our speech.
This month, I am excited to introduce the thoughts of two voice practitioners of our Chilean delegation, Daniela Molina, who attended this year, and Luis Aros, Head of Núcleo de Investigación Vocal and VASTA International Committee member. Our committee is growing! If you would like to get involved, feel free to contact me at email@example.com.
When I received the invitation to be part of the adventure of VASTA, I could not imagine what it would mean. I was so excited to be part of the Chilean delegation, and feel by myself what it means to be part of a vocal global community.
From the first moment we arrived, we felt like we were at home. Les Cirques du Voix wasn’t a “voice people” conference, it was a family meeting where language was never a boundary. It was an invitation to discover new ways to face vocal pedagogies. There were just people with the same passion: the voice. Also, the incredible experience to work together with Annie in the workshop The Language of Sound allowed us to see that voice does not have borders when we are only children playing.
Currently I live and work in France, from where I'm trying to bridge traditions between South America and European vocal traditions. Thereby the experience of VASTA conference 2015 enhanced not only my personal experience, but also my own research in order to expand and give visibility to Chilean voice studies.
Member of Núcleo de Investigación Vocal
Chile seems to be so far away, a kind of island in South America. From this position one of our goals as NIV, is to break our isolation in order to enter into a global community. Being part of VASTA conference 2015 was a high point and a great stimulus to continue developing our work.
The empty space, in the macro map, of South American voice studies appears a tentative territory to develop further research. Chilean vocal tradition has duplicated external models or codes, because of Chile's quality of ex-colony and its' socio-political history, resulting in a young country still looking for its' own identity. Thus, being part of Le Cirque du Voix is a big step in the development of our own methodologies in terms of vocal pedagogy.
I strongly believe that the vision of a homogenous nation has been replaced by a vision of the world as a space continually reshaped by socio-cultural and demographic factors. In fact, this dynamic of intersection has triggered a continuous identity, language and vocality negotiation, creating a hybridism of voices. Therefore in this context, professional voice methodologies must strive to reflect the current make up of our society, embrace the true meaning of living in a multicultural age, and commit to enhance learning, while affirming and creating cultural identities.
It has been a pleasure to be part of VASTA conference 2015. This meant giving visibility to voice studies in Chile in a global context and giving visibility to all language and nationalities.
Head of Núcleo de Investigación Vocal
Universidad de Chile
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Eric Armstrong teaches voice, speech, dialects/accents, and Shakespeare text in the MFA and BFA programs at York University in Toronto, Canada. He has also taught the phonetics, speech and accent pedagogy seminars in York’s now-closed Voice Teacher Diploma program. He has taught full-time at university programs for twenty years at York University, The University of Windsor, Brandeis University in Boston and Roosevelt University in Chicago. His professional practice focuses primarily on accent coaching/design, with numerous credits working on award-winning productions for regional theatres, television and film. As a former director and board member, he is thoroughly committed to VASTA. Eric has presented countless times at the annual VASTA conference and has published several articles and reviews in the Voice and Speech Review. His broad research/creative interests lie in the intersection of teaching and technology, and he has used web-based technologies extensively to support his work. His blog on voice training for the actor is voiceguy.ca and he cohosted, with Phil Thompson, the podcast Glossonomia, conversations on the sounds of speech.
Getting the GigDuring 2014-15, I had the great good fortune of having a sabbatical from my usual teaching job in the School of the Arts, Media, Performance and Design’s Dept. of Theatre at York University in Toronto. In mid-September, my agent was approached about the possibility of me working on a new show that would require some unusual skills. The show, a science fiction series based on The Expanse series of novels by James S. A. Corey that was to shoot in Toronto that Fall/winter, would feature a “constructed language,” or conlang, for a portion of the cast and the producers wanted to know what I might be able to bring to the table. Such languages are fairly common nowadays, with conlangs being invented for books like The Lord of the Rings (Elven), films like Avatar (Na’vi), and TV shows such as Game of Thrones (Dothraki). I was a little nervous at first, and wanted to be reassured that the producers were working with a linguist to invent the language, and I would not be expected to create something I was thoroughly unqualified to do. I wanted to be clear that my work would be to meet with the actors in order to teach them how to pronounce the language, and how to speak English with an appropriate accent. After a couple of emails back and forth, I met with the team of producers at the Pinewood Toronto Studios to discuss the gig.
The Expanse is based on a series of novels by James S.A. Corey, the nom-de-plume of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck.
The Expanse is set in the future, where humanity has colonized parts of our solar system, with communities on Earth, Luna (the moon), Mars, and on stations in the Asteroid Belt and Outer Planets. The characters who would speak the conlang on the show would be from this last area, members of the working class group known as “Belters,” who came from an extremely culturally diverse pool. Belters would speak “Belter” language, which would be unintelligible to outsiders. This language would be a Creole, made from a mosaic of source languages that included English as its “superstrate” language, but also “substrate” languages such as German, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, Arabic, Portuguese, Hebrew, Zulu, and Japanese, among others. As you may know, when languages of this nature evolve naturally, the first generation speaks what is called a Pidgin, while subsequent generations further develop and deepen the language into a Creole. This is what Belter was to be. Inventor Nick Farmer, an autodidact hyperpolyglot who works in the financial services field and speaks 14 languages, created a series of rules for the language, a grammar and phonology, that allowed him to draw words from any of the substrate languages and transform them into Belter words. In some ways, the phonology worked as a kind of filter, which would pull the phones of a source word apart, and then rebuild it with those that were part of the limited range of phones permitted within the new creole.
Once I had convinced the producers that I had something important to share with them, the next phase was to work with materials that Nick Farmer had created so that I could define for the producers how Belter would sound. They were concerned that the conlang might be too inaccessible, so that they might have to subtitle much of the show, just as Dothraki is subtitled on Game of Thrones. The network, SyFy, I was told, were clear that they didn’t want the audience to have to read the show. Luckily, a Creole has advantages that a straight out language does not. Creole speakers can exclude non-speakers by speaking full-blown Belter, but they can also mix English into Belter, to the point where Belter becomes much more comprehensible. At the extreme opposite end of the spectrum, educated Belters can speak Standard English with a Belter accent, varying from a strong accent to one that is very mild. Nick was tasked with translating portions of each script into three variations, ranging from “strong” to “medium” to “light” Belter, and the producers, in consultation with the actors and myself, would decide what would be the right choice for that character and that scene.
You can hear one, Belter with Chinese influences, in this mp3.
Coaching the ActorsThe producers had me meet with the first batch of actors in one-on-one sessions in preparation for the first pair of episodes they were “block shooting” together, and ultimately this became the structure for our sessions throughout the entire season. Each session tended to have 3 parts. Typically, I would meet with the actor first, explaining a lot about how Belter had been conceived, and why the language worked in the manner it did. Then I would model a bit of the sound of Belter for the actor, as they had never heard it spoken. Usually around this time, the lead writer/producer on the show, Mark Fergus, screenwriter of the original Iron Man film, would show up. Mark, the actor, and I would discuss the “level” of the Belter that they would use, and once those choices were made, Mark would leave and I would work through the scenes with the actor on a line-by-line, sometimes word-by-word basis. I would always encourage the actor to record the session with their smart phone, and then, at the end of the session, I would offer to record their lines in Belter as a reference. As it was unlikely that I would be on set with them, it was important that they be able to return to the sound of the accent quickly and efficiently. For actors who didn’t want to hear me doing their lines, I could refer them to the North Wind and the Sun recordings as something to key them into the accent. I found all the actors working on the Belter accent highly motivated to do well with it, not just because of their innate professionalism, but also because they were part of something larger, a new sound that they were helping to define.
Occasionally Mark Fergus or a director would come to the session to tell me about an actor before they arrived. Often this was when an actor had come to the auditions and brought something to the role that they were eager to not lose in the process of learning the accent. As none of the actors auditioning had ever heard Belter before, they just had to make a guess as to what it would sound like. Frequently this meant that they brought some aspect of their own cultural background to the role. In discussion with the producers, we felt it was important to incorporate some of these qualities into the variety of Belter accents that we developed. This allowed the actors to bring a personal element to the role, and we justified it as “regional accents” within the Outer Planets. Who’s to say that Ceres didn’t have a very large influx of Greek refugees, who greatly affected the accent there? Two hundred years into the future, families and communities would continue to speak many different first languages, even if Belter became the lingua franca of those living in the asteroid belt.
Also, we had a number of British actors, such as Jared Harris, who were playing fairly large Belter roles on the show. This meant that, though Belter was already non-rhotic, I was required to come up with a version of Belter that melded Belter with UK English, rather than American English. Generally, as Belter had its roots in a working class culture, we worked from a meld of Estuary/Cockney/multicultural London English and Belter for these cases. Again, we justified this as merely another regional variant of Belter.
ADR and the Loop GroupOnce principal photography wrapped, the show moved into the post-production phase, and ADR, Automated dialogue replacement, and the addition of ambient voice over, background dialogue. The post-production director, Nelson Ferreira and I spoke at length on the phone, and he negotiated with the production team to bring me in to teach the loop group, and the actors who would be adding additional voices to the mix so that they could all learn Belter accent. I encouraged Nelson to cast a very diverse group of voice over talent for his group, and the team I met with covered a very wide range of ethnicities, including Asian, South Asian, Caribbean, African, Latino and European backgrounds. One of the great advantages of working in Toronto is the remarkable diversity we have here, and all these actors were encouraged to bring non-English accents and languages to be part of the sound of the Belt and Outer Planets.
What lies ahead?
December 14 and 15 will be the two-night premiere of The Expanse (on SyFy in the US, Space Channel in Canada; check your local listings elsewhere), and it will continue on Tuesday nights thereafter. Who knows what the critical response to our invented creole and accent will be? In spite of working hard to avoid sounding like any one thing, will there be enough consistency that it becomes clear to our audience what we’re going for? Considering the negative response that made-up accents in films like Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace received, I’m cautiously awaiting what the critics have to say.
I have returned to my full-time teaching back at York. I don’t expect that I’ll be teaching a unit on Belter accent any time soon, but it certainly gave me a different perspective on the needs of actors, and the kind of coaching needed in the profession. In May, Alcon Entertainment confirmed that there would be a second season; my hope is that somehow the 2nd ADs and I will be able to find a way to schedule coaching sessions with me and the actors around my teaching. This is a gig I’m not eager to pass on to one of the many talented coaches based in Toronto!
Below is the membership news column with lots of updates from your fellow VASTA members! This column has always been a personal favorite of mine, as it has helped me feel connected to the greater VASTA Community. For any of you VASTA members currently living in Los Angeles that would like to meet up in person to talk about your own voice and speech news, as someone new to Hollywood, I'd love to meet up and have a cup of coffee!
Associate Editor, The VASTA Voice
BARRY KUR (Professor Emeritus, Penn State School of Theatre) presented master classes of Lessac Kinesensics for his undergraduate alma mater, SUNY Oswego, August 28 and 29. Beginning September 26, he will be teaching master classes in Lessac Kinesensics and Shakespeare Scene Study at the University of Rijeka, Croatia for a three week residency in the professional actor training program.
MARYA LOWRY (Boston, MA) Voice Workshops 2015: Women’s Weekend Ecstatic Voice and Lament Retreat, NYC Weekend Roy Hart Voice Workshop; short workshops for Pearl Theatre, NYC and Yale MFAs and most recently co-taught a sold-out Boston Roy Hart Voice weekend workshop with Phil Timberlake. Voice coach for the solo show Rhonda Badonda– the Girl with a Pain in Her Brain (Vancouver and NY Fringe). Acting Boston: The New Electric Ballroom, Gloucester Stage Company, Henry VI Part 2, Tina Packer, director for Actors’ Shakespeare Project and Ariadne auf Naxos for Musicians of the Old Post Road.
ANTONIO OCAMPO-GUZMAN (Boston, MA) finished his term as VASTA’s Treasurer on December 31, 2014. The Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México will publish the third edition (and first digital edition) of his adaptation of Linklater’s work into Spanish this fall. Antonio is about to direct his own translation of Federico García Lorca’s The House of Bernarda Alba at Northeastern University, where he is an Associate Professor of Theatre. He spent part of the summer in Mexico City, during CEUVOZ’s 8th Voice & Word Conference; last fall he participated in CEUVOZ’s 1st Ibero-American Voice & Word Conference. Last spring, Antonio spent five weeks leading a study abroad program for Northeastern students in London, collaborating with fellow VASTA member, Sarah Blumenau. He hopes this program will continue again in 2016.
NATALIE McMANUS, MA, CCC-SLP, DLT (Potomac, MD) continues seeing private clients for work on voice and speech and presentation skills through her company, Professionally Speaking, LLC. She is also an adjunct teacher of voice and speech, as well as theatre skills, at Landon School in Bethesda, MD. She volunteers as a reader for The Washington Ear, a news service for the blind in Silver Spring, MD, and is on the board of directors for a new theatre company, Peace Mountain Theatre Company, in Potomac, MD. This past year she performed in several area productions – as Ruth in Collected Stories, as Miss Maudie in To Kill a Mockingbird, and is currently in rehearsal as Sue Bayliss in All My Sons, which opens in October.
ERIC ARMSTRONG (Toronto, Canada) has just finished his sabbatical, and is excited to get back to his full-time teaching at York University. After a busy year, it will nice to be grounded in the routine of the department. Highlights of the year include accent coaching on The Heart of Robin Hood for RMTC and Mirvish Productions, accent and voice coaching on the solo show The Art of Building a Bunker for Factory Theatre,
accent and language coaching episodes of 12 Monkeys (SyFy), Hemlock Grove (Netflix), Damien (20th Century/Fox) and The Man in the High Castle (Amazon). His largest project of the year was coaching/creating the Belter accent on SyFy’s The Expanse—see the article in this edition of the VASTAVoice. In May, Eric coached voice-over tracks for Ubisoft’s next video game Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate. The highest profile gig of his sabbatical was coaching Eric Bana’s US accent in Ricky Gervais’ film Special Correspondents for Netflix, along with America Ferrera, Kelly Macdonald, and Raúl Castillo. Eric was very pleased to be able to travel to the Actor Training in a Shifting World symposium, held at the University of Victoria this March. Though he missed the VASTA conference in Montreal, he did manage to edit a new edition of his workbook, Introducing the IPA. Perhaps the best moment of the year was organizing a retirement party for mentor David Smukler, with 150+ York alumni from the past 35 years.
KAREN RYKER (Woodstock, CT) is very happily retired. She loved my students, colleagues, and the work, but she loves this phase as well. What a joy! Traveling LOTS - Alaska, Australia, New Zealand, France, Hawaii in the past year .... travel while she is able. She’s working on Sarah's Audiobook of her book, "Don't Think It Hasn't Been Fun: The Story of the Burke Family Singers". We ran into some blocks, but are back on track and hoping to complete it this year. It will be a gem....including musical interludes. She misses her VASTA colleagues.
WALTON WILSON is beginning his second year as chair of the Acting program at Yale School of Drama. This fall, he is serving as voice and text coach on Suzan-Lori Parks’ Fucking A (directed by Joan MacIntosh) at YSD and on the world premiere of Jiehae Park’s peerless (directed by Margot Bordelon) at Yale Repertory Theatre. He is also continuing his long-term collaboration with Double Edge Theatre in Ashfield, MA on their company-created production of Cada Luna Azul. In January, he is scheduled to teach a week-long workshop at the Shanghai Theatre Academy.
LYNN WATSON (Baltimore, MD) co-authored two articles with Sadhana Nayak. “Fitzmaurice Voicework Pilot Study” is “in press” with the Journal of Voice and was published online in May 2015. “Fitzmaurice Voicework: Theory, Practice, and Related Research” was published last year in the Voice and Speech Review. Current and recent voice and dialects projects include Pride and Prejudice at Center Stage in Baltimore; Ironbound by Martyna Majok at Round House Theatre, part of the Washington, DC area Women's Voices Theater Festival; Fiddler on the Roof at Arena Stage; and The Widow Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre.
VASTA Board of Directors & Officers
Tara McAllister Viel
Michael J. Barnes
Janet B. Rodgers
Joanna Battles & Tamara Meneghini
Amy Mihyang Ginther
©2010, Voice and Speech Trainers Association