Glancing through the Sunday paper over brunch this past weekend I was struck by an article about "Canada's Youngest Ventriloquist", Carolyn Walters. Walters recently passed away and this lovely spread honoured her life and contributions. The idea of persona when we are presenting had come up several times over the past few weeks in my teaching. I was enchanted to find yet another story, the life story of Carolyn Walters, reaffirming my belief that altering our view of persona can free us to present and interact with others in a state of confidence and ease that we may not usually possess in our daily lives.
You see as a child Ms. Walters was, according to a friend, a "desperately shy child with a pronounced stutter"-- until she brought her puppet to show and tell one day. To the amazement of her class, the puppet, Sandy, spoke without a stutter and told animated jokes with a sense of humour and confidence her classmates hadn't previously seen. The shy young girl and her puppet would later become TV personalities and spend a good amount of time in the public spotlight.
Although surprising, this story is not as unique as it may appear. The actor Danny Glover speaks flawlessly in his roles on camera but watch him in an interview and you will hear the stutter that has been with him his entire life. Some of the world's most famous actors, most notably Al Pacino, are said to be quite shy. What is it about the process of changing personas or roles that allows us to also shed our insecurities?
After a presentation skills workshop last week, one of my co-workers, a vivacious and outgoing woman with excellent communication skills, noted that during her last presentation she felt listless and timid. She wanted to know how to adapt a different persona, one that would enable her to still feel genuine and connect with others at the same time. I didn't give her a quick answer because I wanted to encourage her to take some time and experiment, to discover the persona herself.
As I watch my three year old play on his own during the day he has begun to act out the story of Little Red Riding Hood. He expands his body and deepens his voice, stomping around the house as he becomes the wolf. I hope he continues this play, sampling these personas, discovering which sounds and movements make him feel safe or powerful or playful. I know from my experience working with actors, teachers, businesspeople and more that experiencing these states of being can be just the trick to enjoying your time in the spotlight.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
With the growing popularity of yoga and pilates, participants in voice classes have a greater awareness of diaphragmatic breathing. However, it is important to note that different forms of exercise encourage different types of breathing.
The 'Ujjayi' breathing suggested in certain forms of yoga, where you contract muscles in the throat is inefficient for speech work since you are actually adding tension to the throat. The contraction of the abdominal wall in pilates, while extremely helpful to strengthen and support the back, can prevent the diaphragm from contracting fully and thus limit the breath supply needed for sound.
Fortunately, to guide us through these considerations, Joanna Cazden in her recent book, How to Take Care of your Voice, has included a chapter on exercise. Here she lists common types of exercises, their benefits for voice and speech work, as well as some of the precautions you may want to take before, during or after a session to prevent any vocal strain.
Lucky for us, there are excerpts of her book available online which includes the chapter on exercise.
So continue strengthening, relaxing and moving your body, just remember not to forget about your voice in the process.