Vol. 13 No.3


Fall 1999 p. 5



A Fitzmaurice Workshop Experience

June 22-26,1999
As reported by Cynthia Blaise, Wayne State University

This 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.

Although 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. Fitzmaurice’s 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.”

“Tremoring,” a vital aspect of Fitzmaurice’s 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.

For 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 wasn’t 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.

Four 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.

On day 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.

Day 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 scale—something 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.

My favorite 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.

As the 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.

As I 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. I’ve 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. Lowen’s and Dr. Pierrakos’ work as an effective way to address voice work with actors. I have begun to wonder if it shouldn’t 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, one’s 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 public—it’s healthy. My students and I left Cambridge feeling refreshed. Additionally, we felt we had experienced significant vocal growth and heightened self-awareness.

I have 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 can’t guarantee the work to be ‘life changing,’ but I assure you it is powerful.

I may 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 doesn’t 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.




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