MY WORK­ING LIFE

Prof Lyn Darn­ley was head of voice and artist de­vel­op­ment at the Royal Shake­speare Com­pany. Now she trains peo­ple of all walks of life – in­clud­ing in the UAE – in how to get their voices heard

Friday - - Contents -

Find your voice with Pro­fes­sor Lyn Darn­ley.

What got you in­ter­ested in voice coach­ing? From the mo­ment I be­came an ac­tor, I de­vel­oped an in­ter­est in train­ing my voice. I went to drama school and trained for three years and once I was per­form­ing, I started teach­ing. When I had chil­dren, I gave up act­ing and went into full-time teach­ing.

What does a voice coach do? I work with pro­fes­sional ac­tors and ac­torsin-train­ing who may be work­ing on a pro­duc­tion. I work on de­vel­op­ing their voice, to re­lease their nat­u­ral voice, so they can use their vo­cal qual­ity as a tool for char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion.

Do you work only with ac­tors? Oh no. I work with a lot of univer­sity groups who visit Strat­ford Upon Avon where I live. I also work with peo­ple in­ter­ested in im­prov­ing their pre­sen­ta­tion skills, busi­ness peo­ple who are pre­par­ing to make pre­sen­ta­tions, with Toast­mas­ters, in fact, any­one who is in­ter­ested in de­vel­op­ing their voice and com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills.

Is there a dan­ger that the peo­ple you train might end up with the same kind of voice? No, not at all. What’s im­por­tant is that ac­tors start from their own point. What makes peo­ple in­ter­est­ing is when they are able to con­vey some­thing of them­selves in their own in­di­vid­ual vo­cal qual­i­ties. That’s what makes a good com­mu­ni­ca­tor. Not some­one who sounds like they’ve been trained like a ro­bot.

How do you hone a per­son’s vo­cal qual­i­ties? We do that through a lot of phys­i­cal ex­er­cises. The voice, you see, is em­bod­ied and part of the whole body and not just re­lated to the mouth or the vo­cal cords. It’s so im­por­tant that ac­tors don’t speak just from their head. They need to find a con­nec­tion with the ground, a con­nec­tion with their feet on the ground so their breath­ing comes from low in their body not as a re­sult of stress in the up­per chest, which can pro­duce a thin, pip­ing voice.

Does that in­volve re­lax­ation tech­niques? Ab­so­lutely. In to­day’s world we are con­stantly crunched over our com­put­ers or phones, so [we] lose the nat­u­ral open­ness that we need for the pro­duc­tion of a free and res­o­nant sound. If you are speak­ing stand­ing up, one of the first things you should be do­ing is have the whole body grounded – weight bal­anced on both feet. We of­ten tend to make our­selves nar­rower and smaller rather than own­ing and en­joy­ing our abil­ity to hold the whole space. It’s im­por­tant that we are con­fi­dent in ex­press­ing our own thoughts, that we don’t feel in­tim­i­dated and that we have the courage to speak and to ex­press our­selves.

What do you look for when you start train­ing an ac­tor? Well, the first thing I’d do is watch them per­form and then work from them and from their needs. I’d look at the piece or role they are per­form­ing and ask them what their needs are. But I’ll be look­ing for a re­laxed jaw, breath­ing that is slow and if they are trust­ing and en­joy­ing the qual­ity of their voice. They need to be com­fort­able with their bod­ies and re­laxed enough to pro­duce their nat­u­ral voice.

What if some­one has a squeaky voice? Would you work on chang­ing it? No, but I’d work on it. I’d en­cour­age them to dis­cover the res­o­nance in their own body. If a per­son has a very squeaky voice, chances are they are very tense. So you look at their pos­ture, find out where their ten­sions lie and you go about re­leas­ing those ten­sions. For in­stance, the mouth space is so im­por­tant. The jaw needs to be re­laxed. Some peo­ple have never ex­plored their chest res­o­nance. It’s im­por­tant to cre­ate a good solid breath stream that al­lows that to hap­pen.

Can you tell us about some of the peo­ple who you voice trained? I don’t like to talk about the peo­ple I’ve trained. It’s like a doc­tor and his pa­tients; there is a cer­tain con­fi­den­tial­ity. Let me say that I’ve worked on pro­duc­tions with peo­ple such as [award-win­ning ac­tors] Sir Ian McKellen, Dame Judi Dench and Jude Law.

I’ve heard you in­struct ac­tors to kick a tin can around the room while recit­ing lines. Those tech­niques used to be un­ortho­dox ear­lier, but now they are main­stream. Apart from that, we also get ac­tors to look out of a win­dow and draw what they are see­ing as they are speak­ing lines; or ask them to push against things or lift heavy things when speak­ing. Cre­at­ing re­sis­tance in the body can of­ten free the voice. We do a lot of stretch­ing, walk­ing, sit­ting. We make siren noises, funny noises, gur­gle and bab­ble like ba­bies. It’s very ex­ploratory.

Doesn’t the mind have a huge role to play? It’s in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant. You need to have the courage of your con­vic­tions. You need to be­lieve in what you are say­ing. You’ve got to want to ex­press what you know and what you are pas­sion­ate about to the au­di­ence.

Tell us your most un­for­get­table mo­ment? There are so many, but they are not re­lated to stars and celebri­ties. I’m not re­ally a starry per­son. The most re­ward­ing work I did was at the RSC un­der the artis­tic di­rec­tor­ship of Michael Boyd. He es­tab­lished the artis­tic de­vel­op­ment pro­gramme and for me that was the most ful­fill­ing thing. To head up the pro­gramme was my most mem­o­rable mo­ment.

‘We make siren noises, funny noises, gur­gle and bab­ble like ba­bies,’ says Lyn of her vo­cal work­shops

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