A Fitzmaurice Workshop Experience
As reported by Cynthia Blaise, Wayne State University
summer I had the privilege of participating in a voice workshop based
on the techniques and theories of, and taught in part by, Catherine Fitzmaurice.
Held at the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge Massachusetts, the
experience was a remarkable one. Because the outcome of this work has
been so beneficial for me, personally, and the experience itself so powerful,
I would like to attempt to describe it for those VASTA members who have
not, as yet discovered Fitzmaurice voice work.
one must experience the process in order to be fully appreciated, the
impact of the workshop is something I feel compelled to share, and appreciate
the opportunity to do so. You may be familiar with Fitzmaurice voice work
without having attended the workshops, perhaps through Ms. Fitzmaurices
article in The Vocal Vision, (Applause Books, 1997) entitled, Breathing
is Meaning. Her article provides background and explanation for
her process that has come to be known as, Destructuring/Restructuring.
a vital aspect of Fitzmaurices work, is not at all new to me. I
learned to tremor with Dudley Knight, (who learned this technique from
Fitzmaurice), as an MFA candidate at U.C.Irvine in 1984. A tremor is a
function of the autonomic nervous system. Anyone who has ever trembled
or shivered has experienced a tremor. Controlled tremors have a definite
impact on the human voice: breathing deepens, tension diminishes, and
resonance increases. Combined with Yoga positions adapted for voice work
by Fitzmaurice, the work provides quick and powerful results. I must emphasize
that this is a process that cannot be fully understood until you have
hit the mats and found yourself a tremor.
three years every day at UCI, the graduate company was taken through an
hour-long voice/speech warm up. As an actor, this training became forever
integrated into my personal process. To this day I do not perform without
having done my tremors. But at the time I learned this technique, I wasnt
particularly concerned with communicating the how and why of it. It worked
for me vocally and that was all I cared to know. When I began to teach
voice four years ago and nearly eight years after graduate school, I had
no questions about what technique I wanted to use. I was, however, uncertain
as to how to articulate the process. A Fitzmaurice workshop in Philadelphia
enabled me to update my understanding of the work and to learn about new
developments that allowed me to confidently teach the material. For me,
this was a new perspective. As a participant observing the teaching process
(rather than addressing my own vocal development), I recall finding it
fascinating to witness how participants responded to the newly discovered
wonders of breathing, as well as the unexpected releases they experienced.
years later, and still zealous about this work, I wanted to study further
with teachers more experienced than myself and establish a network with
other Fitzmaurice voice teachers. But mainly I wanted to experience the
luxury of addressing my own vocal needs for five straight days without
interruptions or distractions. I received everything I was looking for
and a great deal more. Now, more than ever, I have come to regard this
work as being beneficial to me, not just as a voice professional and an
actor, but also as a human being.
one of the workshop at the A.R.T. the energy in the room was generally
upbeat. I sensed positive anticipation, eager, open faces, and bodies
ready to learn. The group was comprised of about thirty people, including
many teachers, several students, a speech pathologist, and a midwife,
all drawn together by the desire to explore new and different approaches
to freeing the human voice. The first day focused on learning the positions
for the tremoring and adapted Yoga, exploring these, and discussing initial
reactions to how the work affected the breathing process. We went home
somewhat fatigued yet exhilarated by the excitement of having experienced
something vital and intriguing.
two began with highly charged chatter that was difficult to quell. However,
participants seemed well rested and eager to work. After a brief discussion,
(there were always questions and insights), the work began again. We reviewed
positions learned the previous day and acquired new ones. The day was
filled with discovery and release. Some participants dove into the work
while others chose to tiptoe, preferring caution to reckless abandon.
People experienced what they were prepared to experience and released
what they were willing to let go of. However, there was no denying that
something was happening on a grand scalesomething stimulating and
enticing, drawing us all into a heightened state of the here and
now. Faces had more color, eyes were brighter, tension was melting,
defenses falling, and brains were crackling. We transformed collectively
and I felt a kinship with these strangers.
moment of the entire workshop occurred during the end-of-day discussions.
These exchanges were always insightful, and it was beneficial to hear
the questions and perspectives of other teachers and students. But the
greatest contribution came from a student who happened to be one of my
own. This big burly MFA candidate at Wayne State told the group that he
felt huge chunks falling away as he referred to the tension
that had trapped him for years. I was so happy for his achieving such
a breakthrough that I nearly cried. It was akin to watching my son score
his first goal on the soccer field, on the last day of the season. Throughout
the week he continued in this path of a newly discovered freedom. I was
delighted to hear him explore his falsetto sounds, and as his voice became
freer, so did his character range. He attempted voices and postures which
were surprising, to say the least, from this hulking man.
I also noted that my other two students in attendance made impressive
progress. We exchanged many smiles and nods with each other, acknowledging
our mutual appreciation for this opportunity, and a heightened understanding
for the work. Without
prior knowledge of the other participants respective struggles with
vocal development, I cannot specifically attest to their growth. But my
sense is that similar releases were going on all around me and many of
those individuals experienced positive changes of one sort or another.
week unfolded we continued to explore breath, resonance, tension and release,
support (an especially important component of Fitzmaurice voice work),
speech, text, singing, and acting. The master and associate Fitzmaurice-certified
instructors in attendance were patient, nurturing, and supportive. In
addition, they shared their own expertise and perspectives. The room for
individuality that this method affords will allow voice teachers to see
that this material integrates beautifully with other vocal training theories.
Fitzmaurice herself fielded questions, the answers to which demonstrated
a keen awareness of human anatomy and human nature, as well as the needs
of the performer, coupling this with logic, common sense and over thirty
years of research and teaching experience. She makes the work sound quite
natural and accessible, and it is.
age, I find that I am (sadly) becoming more conservative and perhaps somewhat
anesthetized to the energy around me. However, I left this week of work
feeling more aware, more energized and more balanced than I have in several
years. Could it be that five days devoted to whole body breathing has
been a bit of a wake up call to me? Yes, I have continued
to tremor throughout the years since college, but only as needed for performance.
Ive been more focused on observing the progress of my students.
By the end of the five days, I was reminded of something that had occurred
to me in the past, which seems to have made a greater impression on me
at this stage of my life. This whole body breathing business
may not be just for performers. Dr. Alexander Lowen and Dr. Pierrakos
explored the Reichian concept of tremors in order to address the needs
of patients who suffered from severe depression. Briefly, as the body
responds to the tremor, long-held tensions start to release. The body
begins to experience freedom: consequently, the voice becomes free as
well. Fitzmaurice has extensively explored and then adapted Dr. Lowens
and Dr. Pierrakos work as an effective way to address voice work
with actors. I have begun to wonder if it shouldnt be prescribed
for anyone who feels a bit disconnected. Indeed, this work does open up
the body. The decrease in upper body tension and the involvement of the
entire torso in the breathing process has a way of connecting the whole
body, upper half with lower. In addition, ones resonance and range
of respiration are increased. Personally, I feel more connected to center;
I feel more aligned, and I am walking with a greater sense of freedom
and energy. This is good news for performers and for the general publicits
healthy. My students and I left Cambridge feeling refreshed. Additionally,
we felt we had experienced significant vocal growth and heightened self-awareness.
read the accounts of those that attended a Roy Hart workshop and found
it to be life changing. I have found Alexander work to be
significantly effective. I was privileged to work with Grotowski in graduate
school and found that experience to be highly rewarding. There are many
wonderful lessons to be learned in various vocal workshops and classes,
emphasizing a variety of approaches to the study of voice for the actor.
But Fitzmaurice voice work improves the quality of my life in the theatre
and on the planet. I strongly encourage and personally invite any and
all of you to come out and experience some of the joy and release that
can be found in a Fitzmaurice Workshop. I cant guarantee the work
to be life changing, but I assure you it is powerful.
have made it sound like, New Age Voice Training, but it is
also classically sourced, and there is nothing strange about the results.
Watch a baby breathe: this is what Fitzmaurice is helping clients to re-discover.
Even if it doesnt alter your
philosophy on teaching voice, it may simply make you feel incredible.
Workshops are typically held two times a year in various locations and
are always advertised in the VASTA Newsletter and on VASTAVOX. The cost
is reasonable and the people tend to be quite wonderful. I hope to see
you at the next one.