Rufus Norris has stuck to his values and made the National Theatre a place of entertainment rather than elitism. In spite of the jibes about cronyism (who doesn’t work better with their friends and partner around them) in three short years, he has brought about changes in the repertory that have made the National a place of real and diverse entertainment. Mosquitoes, Everyman, My Country, The Threepenny Opera. He has brought in productions that challenge audiences. Follies directed by Dominic Cooke – the best production of the musical that I’ve seen. When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other directed by Katie Mitchell. Simon Godwin, an Associate Director, brought Anthony and Cleopatra into a new dimension. Seemingly spontaneous, the whole of the movement of the production signalling ever present love and death and the unrelenting changes from youth to age, from victor to vanquished. The verse was timeless and the beauty of Enobarbus’ speech
“For her own person,
It beggar’d all description; she did lie
In her pavilion, – cloth of gold tissue, –
O’er-picturing that Venus where we see
The fancy outwork nature; “
blended into the whole as did Cleopatra’s
“His legs bestrid the ocean; his rear’d arm
Created the world: his voice was propertied
As all the tuned sphere’s, and that to friends; ..”
Anthony’s voice work, played by Ralph Fiennes was truly wonderful, I suspect that was down to his personal voice coach. So what if some of the accents were slightly wonky and some of the soldier’s work slightly hurried. In the end it made for a wonderful ensemble production. When Dame Judi Dench played Cleopatra last at the National opposite Sir Anthony Hopkin’s Anthony, the essence of the play was lost among the stars.
This podcast centres around ancient biological rules (voices included) that tell us who’s in charge. I suspect it has been inspired by Donald Trump’s voice which has the ring of “listen to me, I’m the boss” about it. This is in his unaltered pitch and rhythm throughout. He may pause when he’s questioned, he may even allow a smile, but he’ll come back with the same unvarying loudness, pitch and rhythm. The pace is medium to slow throughout, mainly because of the mouth movements he uses to form his words. This could be because of the Scots accent of his mother. Whatever the reason the outcome is the same – it allows us to hear him clearly and feel that he is being considerate to his listeners. This inspires the listener to believe the speaker is solid, safe and not someone who can be trifled with.
Preferred voices may not lead us to the most skilled leaders. Hitler was a great, inspiring orator, but when you see and hear images of him delivering speeches, you realise that he was offering a roaring authoritarian strength to people who were weakened and looking for direction. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is a another great authoritarian orator who gathers crowds to listen to his speeches.
Great speakers in English, who inspire, persuade and uplift us, are thin on the ground. The last great speaker that I can think of was Nelson Mandela. When you listen to his speeches, the words, the variety in his voice, his ability to frighten or move people was second to none. The key here is the variety in his voice. He was a transforming speaker. When you listen to a politician decide if they really know what they’re talking about? Do they always sound the same? When they offer compassion is there a cadence or a real breathing into the words of compassion. Do they pause because they’re considering the weight of their words or because they haven’t been briefed on the subject? Could they deliver a speech outlining their beliefs? Are there different levels (pitch and loudness) in their voice and do these levels match what they’re talking about? Is there real strength in the sound of their voice or is it just conviction made loud? Someone pointed out to me last month that Nigel Farage looked and sounded terrific on U-tube. His voice has some variety in loudness and intonation, but it always has the same repeated rhythms. When he’s asked to listen to a question which he’s not prepared for, he sometimes appears petulant and pleads that he is being unfairly vilified. The key to people’s voices is to really listen deeply to them and if they are on film to watch and see if their expressions meet what they are saying.
In the Hidden Brain podcast, Casey Klofstad says that voice pitch influences perception to lead, in both men and women. I think that it is the confident voice that influences us most. The legend of Margaret Thatcher and how she lowered her voice pitch is true, but she didn’t have many voice coaching sessions and once she discovered that it made her sound and feel confident, she went with it.
My thanks to Paul Carroll for bringing this podcast hosted by Shankar Vedantam from Hidden Brain, to my attention. You can listen to the whole podcast by clicking on the left picture below.
Daniel Dresner’s a life coach, an actor and a tutor and he puts the cream of what he’s learned from all three of these professions into his book: A Life-Coaching Approach to Screen Acting.
It’s a good example of the exhilaration of playing like a child, while being aware of the sense of order and discipline of an adult.
For me, the later chapters on practical things are most useful, like line learning “do not colour the text…..learn your lines like data in a monotone robotic voice with either no inflections or a variance every time you repeat them…..if you believe in what you’re saying there’s no wrong way to say them.”
His approach as a life-coach is extremely useful for actors. There is a chapter on Saboteurs and Limiting beliefs, which seems to have been influenced by NLP training. His breadth of knowledge is wide and more enjoyable for the bon mots from Lee Strasberg, Stella Adler and Sanford Meisner: “The text is like a canoe, and the river on which it sits is the emotion.”
Daniel’s a successful acting coach and having seen him in action I feel admiration for the tenacity he has in helping actors achieve their goals. A Life-Coaching Approach to Screen Acting, will be a book to keep for reference throughout your career.
Nothing beats a study day when it’s diverse (sometimes challenging, sometimes mind changing) never boring – on a subject that absorbs you – and – there’s no exam afterwards!
These are the sort of study days that the British Voice Association run.
If you’ve ever marvelled at the strength of a singer’s voice above the music – as true for songwriter singers like Adele as well as opera singers like Lenneke Ruiten then you understand why the BVA gave the study day: “Glottal Start – Laryngeal science into practice”. There were presentations on “Advances in the Understanding of Laryngeal Anatomy” by Prof Jose R Sanudo, “New Insights in the reinnervation of the larynx” by Prof Teresa Vazquez, “Laryngeal physiology – truths and untruths” by Prof Stephen McHanwell, “Pathology of the larynx; how should this affect treatment?” by Dr Justin Weir
and “Modern techniques in Laryngeal Examination: optical ‘biopsy’ by Dr Taran Tatla. All of this, while technically and medically centred will feed into a collective knowledge of the voice and speech exercises that you give for recovering voices and for healthy voice maintenance. The added benefits of a BVA day include knowing who to refer clients to if you detect any sign of something irregular, like a polyp or cyst on the vocal folds.
The final submissions for the Van Lawrence prize included a look at vocal tract resonance with Dean Adams. Dean gave examples of how ‘tube’ length from larynx position to lip potrusion affects resonance and voice classification – “sometimes vocal folds and resonance fight each other”. A great presentation from an independent, highly skilled music practitioner, who clearly enjoys hearing great tone. Anna White, who’s specialist area is “Pre and Post Operative Voice Therapy”, showed what a massive difference voice therapy can make to a patient’s confidence and vocal recovery. I have helped clients with pre and post operative exercises. Very occasionally, actor trained clients get impatient to use their voice to the full again after an operation and pre-operative exercises also help them to recognise and work with the healing process.
I didn’t see the original production of Red at the Donmar in 2009 and I never went for Rothko’s art before I saw Red, but now I can’t wait to see Rothko’s art again. In John Logan’s play, directed by Michael Grandage, we get a flow of speech and action between Rothko, played by Alfred Molina and his assistant Ken played by Alfred Enoch, which is a work of art in itself, creating a rhythmic expression of the thoughts and painting of Rothko. There is a whole world within the studio which is the set of the play. The action, which runs over 2 years is centred around the commission Rothko has accepted to create a series of pictures, the Seagram Murals, for the walls of the new Four Season’s restaurant. I think the part I loved the most was Rothko saying how a painting needs to be looked at – that contemplation was of equal importance to the deed of putting on the paint. He hopes that people will be kind to his paintings once they’re hung. Ken offers the energy of the young of the new and of change. While Rothko accepts and encourages this, he is at pains to guide his young assistant into an appreciation of what makes art truly great. He gives Rembrandt as an example and he describes the glowing light of a Caravaggio painting that he saw in a dark corner of a chapel. He finds his art in light and dark – in the spirit of the picture and he cannot come to terms with the concept of pop art and the everyday images of Warhol’s work. The writing is strong and Molina embodies the life in Rothko. From the outside we see his struggle and all human struggle to be receptive and alive and creative when all the time we are aware of inevitable death.
The Father is to be made into a film starring Anthony Hopkins with the writer Florian Zeller as director. Anyone who saw the original stage play would celebrate that it’s being made into a film. How much of the success of the play was down to the translation by playwright Christopher Hampton and his working relationship with Florian Zeller, is unknown, but I would think it’s 80%. Any actor who’s laboured under the words of a bad translation knows the value of a clean well transposed/translated & adapted script. Scripts that are translated, to sound stilted and remote – giving signals of “look how intellectual we are” to a puzzled audience were blown away all those years ago by Dorothy Parker in the New Yorker.
Richard Eyre’s adaptation of a translation of Ghosts by Henrik Ibsen was in the bone, crystal clear. Ibsen, perhaps because there weren’t many translators into English from his Norwegian influenced Danish, in the mid 1800s, was uneasily translated right up until the1970s.
In a letter written in 1872, Henrik Ibsen said that the translation of his plays was: “not simply a matter of translating the meaning but also, to a certain extent, of re-creating the style and the images and ultimately adapting the entire form of expression to the structure and demands of the language into which one is translating.”
For a long time I’ve been interested in the adaptation of a couple of plays of Camus and was fortunate enough to meet an expert in Theatre Translation – Dr John Whittaker at a CIOL event, who sent me information on the background to Cross Purpose (The Misunderstanding) and a link to La Société pour l’étude de Camusienne, which gives a background to the impetus behind Camus’ plays.
It is quite rare for a living playright to offer their work to a translator without first knowing them. It happened to a student of mine a few years back, who was asked by the literary department of the National Theatre to translate a play from the original French. It was a success and a good experience for her, – she is a very good in-depth listener and would always read her work out loud. She also works in voice-overs in Spain where she now lives.
Looking forward to seeing Anthony Hopkins star as Andre in the film adaptation of Florian Zeller’s The Father.
There is heightened interest in Pablo Picasso and his work with the Genius series on National Geographic and the exhibition of Picasso’s prolific 1932 work at Tate Modern. His daughter Paloma was born 17 years later in 1949, when Picasso was in a relationship with a young, talented artist called Francoise Gilot. A few years back I wrote this article for Marbella Life from an interview with Paloma Picasso – Published by International Publications of Spain.
Paloma Picasso – Talks to Frances Parkes
Paloma Picasso is one of the fashion icons of our time. Her name is synonymous with bold and exciting designs – china, jewelry, table ware, bed linen, accessories, make-up and wall-coverings are some of the fields in which she works. As one of the two designers at Tiffany &Co, Paloma could devote all her time to jewelry designing, but, she says, “I like doing different things in other directions. I think that’s healthy. One finds new ways of doing things and it prevents one getting bored.”
Photographs of Paloma Picasso portray the image of a strong and dynamic person, signaling both danger and allure. Such photographs invariably appear alongside one of her products and go hand-in-glove with her success. It is certainly to her credit that she has achieved this commercial success without compromising her art or relying on her famous name. No one could have survived the jungle of international design without talent, inner strength and a streak of steel.
The Hidden Side
However, her public image belies another deeper, softer self. On her own admission, she is incredibly shy and self-protective. To see her in left profile is to see the austere and beautiful; whereas the right side displays a sensitive femininity. She talks of her childhood with great affection. Born in Paris on 19th April 1949 to Francoise Gilot and Pablo Picasso, she was named after the dove (Paloma in Spanish) that her father designed as a symbol for the World Peace Congress, which opened on that day. As a baby Paloma endeared herself to her parents by sleeping for long hours and eating everything that was put before her. Picasso painted and sketched her frequently while she slept and so did her mother Francoise. Together with her older brother, Claude (born in 1947), the family lived either in Paris or at the Galloise, with its metal furniture and huge red and black carpet, and she acknowledges with amusement the formative effect this carpet had on her work. “I guess my whole career as a designer has been based on this carpet.” Paloma Picasso recalls many happy occasions with her father – how he painted a face on her wooden doll, and the painting he did of her and her brother, dominated in her memory by the toy train in the picture. “We never posed for my father (we were in any case too young to sit still), but he did everything from memory and imagination. Because I was such a quiet child, my father would let me spend many hours at his studio while he worked.”
Conflict Between Picasso and Francoise
The relationship between Picasso and Paloma’s mother began to disintegrate. There was an age difference of 41 years between her parents, and Picasso demanded that Francoise devote her time to him rather than her own artistic ambitions. Picasso believed that Francoise should be content with his art alone, but Francoise was already an established artist in her own right when she met Picasso. “My mother was a highly intelligent woman and although she loved Picasso she would not sacrifice her own independence to him.” Francoise eventually took the children and went to live in Paris where Paloma and her brother went to the École Alsacienne; from then on they were to spend only holidays, with their father. Meanwhile Picasso had acquired a new wife, Jacqueline Roque, who was the young niece of Madame Ramie, who owned the pottery where Picasso created his ceramic pieces. Initially Jacqueline welcomed Paloma and Claude, but she became increasingly jealous of their relationship with their father. Paloma explains: “Jacqueline started to feel threatened by our presence, which was, of course, quite ridiculous, but this attitude, I have now discovered, is often the reaction of a new wife.” In 1964, when Paloma was 15, her mother published her book Life with Picasso (on which the film Surviving Picasso, starring Anthony Hopkins is based). Jacqueline used this book and its revelations of Picasso’s private life, to persuade Picasso to sever relations with his 2 children by Francoise. Sadly, Picasso, who was by then 83, complied with her wishes. Paloma saw her father for the last time, purely by chance in 1967. She was walking down a street in Cannes when a car pulled up and Picasso and Jacqueline got out. Paloma, of course, immediately greeted her father. “He was obviously pleased to see me, but Jacqueline was there, pulling him by the arm and saying, “Pablo we have to go, we have to go!” She managed to talk to him for a few minutes, but that was all. Paloma, Claude and Picasso’s eldest daughter Maya (by his model Marie-Thérèse) all had to fight their way through the French courts after Picasso’s death in 1973, because they were born out of wedlock. The court finally ruled in their favour, and brother Claude now handles all of Pablo Picasso’s exhibitions and marketing.
New York Years
Paloma spent much of the 1970s and 80s in New York City, where she was interviewed by Andy Warhol for his famous “Factory Diaries”; she was also photographed by Helmut Newton in a provocative pose, with one breast peeping out of a cocktail dress. Although the demands on her time are great, Paloma always finds time to support the charities she holds dear to her heart. Tragically several people in her life have committed suicide – Marie-Thérèse, her nephew and her step-mother Jacqueline – all died by their own hand. Paloma is a member of the American Suicide (Help) Foundation, whose aim is to take the veil off this taboo subject, to ring comfort to the bereaved and, in particular, to deter those who may be suicidal. The separation from her father did ensure Paloma’s developing her own style and her own life. The deep red lipstick that has become her trademark was first worn by her in the 1970s, against fashion trends of the time. It matched the 1940s style of clothes that she liked to wear. Having her own style is important to her and she encourages all women to find their own style. “What a woman should strive for is maximising who she is. I dress for me, to make myself look better in my own eyes. But what is good for me is not necessarily good for you. Adapt a style to suit you”. Today she has a home in London and commutes to Florence, Paris and New York. Her vibrant style has influenced many. The fluid lines of her work, her sensuality and strong colours are clearly linked to her parentage and the art of her mother Francoise Gilot and her father Pablo Picasso – a son of Malaga. Click on the photo for the Genius trailer.
Stephen Hawkins voice was his trademark and he comments on his accent below. His driving intellect was given a voice and in his comments at the Reddit Forum in 2015 he said “Please encourage your students to think not only about how to create AI, but also about how to ensure its beneficial use.” It’s a wonderful thought that in the future our Magna Alexas will advise us on which spaceship to get on. RIP Dr Hawking, have a good flight, you wonderful man.
“Since 1997, my computer-based communication system has been sponsored and provided by Intel® Corporation. A tablet computer mounted on the arm of my wheelchair is powered by my wheelchair batteries, although the tablets internal battery will keep the computer running if necessary.
My main interface to the computer is through a program called EZ Keys, written by Words Plus Inc. This provides a software keyboard on the screen. A cursor automatically scans across this keyboard by row or by column. I can select a character by moving my cheek to stop the cursor. My cheek movement is detected by an infrared switch that is mounted on my spectacles. This switch is my only interface with the computer. EZ Keys includes a word prediction algorithm, so I usually only have to type the first couple of characters before I can select the whole word. When I have built up a sentence, I can send it to my speech synthesizer. I use a separate hardware synthesizer, made by Speech+. It is the best I have heard, although it gives me an accent that has been described variously as Scandinavian, American or Scottish.
Through EZ Keys I can also control the mouse in Windows. This allows me to operate my whole computer. I can check my email using the Eudora email client, surf the internet using Firefox, or write lectures using Notepad. My latest computer from Intel, based on an Intel® Core™ i7 Processor and Intel® Solid-State Drive 520 Series, also contains a webcam which I use with Skype to keep in touch with my friends. I can express a lot through my facial expressions to those who know me well.
I can also give lectures. I write the lecture beforehand and save it on disk. I can then send it to the speech synthesizer a sentence at a time using the Equalizer software written by Words Plus. It works quite well and I can try out the lecture and polish it before I give it.”
TheWorld Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap Reportfindings telling us that gender parity is over 200 years away and yet women have come so far in the UK in the last 25 years. I laughed when I read Lesley Bruce’s play Keyboard Skills last week. It was first staged at The Bush in 1993. Here is a speech made by
“May I have your attention for a moment ladies. This morning I came across this volume (The Female Eunuch) in Room 4. It is fashionable now, I know for a certain type of young woman, to want to focus on the shortcomings of men. I advise all of you against this. It’s not that I doubt their case. Oh, certainly not. I have served countless managing directors in my time whose tasks I could have carried out appreciably better myself. Indeed I declined the proposal of a weekend in Venice from one of them. …..Our claim to civilization remains fragile. Women know this. And they also know men. They know that men feel strong if they think themselves revered but that a weak man will soon turn brutish. Ideals of excellence and leadership can have a value, even when they are illusory, as long as we maintain the consensus not to tell. This is a foolish and irresponsible book. Not because it isn’t true but because it is and the truth deserves to be handled with more care…… It undermines the necessary conspiracy of our species to delude itself.”
We are in the middle of big changes where we want to adjust men’s behaviour and attitudes to women and question how much we women have been responsible for our attitudes and our desires to be desired.
Presence, including vocal presence, has a lot to do with posture. When you enter a room with a relaxed open posture, neck in alignment supporting your head – you feel free, relaxed and open. Real presence happens when it’s your everyday posture and you don’t need to change it. Dancers have great posture – their muscles and spine support each other, a lot of actors have great posture. If you’re in a cafe on the Tottenham Court Road you can spot the RADA students with their straight and lifted backs – as they’ve done Alexander (a lot). Osteopaths are great for realigning you. If you do 8 hours at your desk with a computer everyday and haven’t got time to do yoga or pilates, osteopaths can release vertebrae that have become compressed.
Alexander is a great technique and can be readily incorporated into your daily life, as once you know the technique you can use it all the time. You can use Alexander mindfulness to pay attention to your body, especially when you’re tired and stressed or both.
Frederick Alexander, an Australian actor introduced the technique to the UK in 1904. He had problems with a hoarse voice, which he understood to be caused by nervous tension in his body. He felt that “we translate everything, whether physical, mental or spiritual into muscular tension”. When our muscles aren’t relaxed we compress the neck and spine and our voice struggles.