All posts by Frances Parkes

Vocal Presence

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.

Good posture – healthier voice

 

 

Long Day’s Journey into Night

This classic  by Eugene O’ Neill is not for the faint hearted.  If you want a good night out but can’t get into Hamilton, this play will disappoint you.  It’s three and a half hours long and most of human weakness is laid bare.  Focussed around the dominant figure of the father played brilliantly by Jeremy Irons, with his wife and two sons all tainted by his desire for success.   He chose to marry for love, a sweet innocent girl unsuited to the rigours of the life of a touring acting company.  She does not have the inner strength or resources to pull the family together but instead falls apart.  The dream is still there for the others that she (wife and mother) will come together and kick the habit that she acquired from being given morphine after her youngest son was born.  She blames her husband, she wants a home, she wants her previous life.   At times it becomes oppressive and you want a break – like to hear a song you don’t particularly like in a musical so you can turn off – but the acting is so good it compels you to stay in there.  The set by Rob Howell  –  a room opening on to the seafront – is full of atmosphere and lighting (often referred to in the play) changes with the mood of the action. Eugene O’ Neill could have been on the set with them.  When it finished, I was left with a feeling of depression.  Yesterday, this was replaced by relief,  happiness and gratefulness that I’d seen the play, so I guess seeing this play was cathartic for me.  The performances are flawless.  Jessica Reegan as Cathleen, Matthew Beard as Edmund Tyrone, Rory Keenan as James Tyrone Jr and Leslie Manville as Mary Tyrone.  My friend said that Jeremy Irons was not clear sometimes in his speech – but that didn’t seem to matter.   The rhythm of the writing at that depth of emotion means that sometimes the speaking is the emotion.  The voice and dialect coach is the wonderful Penny Dyer.  This Long Day’s Journey into Night is a production to remember.  Certainly the best production that I’ve seen of the play and I’ve see it a few times.

Jeremy Irons as James Tyrone and Lesley Manville as Mary Tyrone

The Right to Say No

The real issue behind the furore around the debate on sexual harassment (the open letter sent to Le Monde by Catherine Deneuve and 99 other prominent Frenchwomen) is that the people who are or have been the victims of sexual harassment have not been listened to.  They have not been listened to by their perpetrators   and they have not been listened to by the people to whom they complained.  It is the right of every human being to make their own decisions and it is also the right of every human being to change their minds.  We have a right to have an opinion, feelings and emotions and a right to express them.   When “no” is not listened to and accepted in a situation where 2 people are alone together and there is a danger of physical and mental aggression you are into a sexual harassment situation.  No one wants to douse sexual desire – definitely not – but sexual harassment is as far from sexual desire as winter is from summer.

The real issue behind the furore around the debate on sexual harassment (the open letter sent to Le Monde by Catherine Deneuve and 99 other prominent Frenchwomen) is that the people who are or have been the victims of sexual harassment have not been listened to.  They have not been listened to by their perpetrators   and they have not been listened to by the people to whom they complained.  It is the right of every human being to make their own decisions and it is also the right of every human being to change their minds.  We have a right to have an opinion, feelings and emotions and a right to express them.   When “no” is not listened to and accepted in a situation where 2 people are alone together and there is a danger of physical and mental aggression you are into a sexual harassment situation.  No one wants to douse sexual desire – definitely not – but sexual harassment is as far from sexual desire as winter is from summer.

Catherine Deneuve

All The Money in The World but Less For Women

When it emerged that Michelle Williams was paid $80 a day to do the re-shoots on All the Money in the World and Mark Wahlberg was paid $1.5 million it was astounding.  Even more so because they both share the same agent William Morris Endeavor – what were they thinking?  Is it acceptable that women will take less than their male counterparts?  Last year research done on women’s salaries revealed that women are less willing to ask for a pay rise and are less willing  to negotiate on salary than men.   There used to be a tradition that  women were the chief carers in the family and therefore many women thought they would jeopardise their position at work by asking for more money, given that they had paid leave with a new baby.  It left a residue of perhaps acceptance, perhaps fear that they would not be looked upon as worthy for larger salaries.  During the past few years,  I’ve carried in my work case, The Amazing Secrets of How to Negotiate Your Salary by Derek Arden, who (I’m so grateful) gave me a signed copy when we worked together.   It has helped many of my female clients  – and male clients – because the points are easy to make and it’s for everyone, it’s generic.
The good news from All The Money in the World is that Mark Wahlberg gave his $1.5 million to the charity Time’s Up and that William Morris Endeavor gave $500,00 on behalf of Michelle Williams – $1 million short of Mark Wahlberg’s donation but things are moving on….

All The Money in the World with Michelle Williams and Mark Wahlberg

 

Alleviating Tension in the Voice

All voice coaches seek to alleviate any stress lodged in muscles that can cause tension in the voice.

Simple adjustments to posture brought about by alignment and re-enforced with daily exercises with eyeline markers and pelvis/shoulder blades against the wall – help to release back, knee, calf, ankle, shoulder and hand tension.  Tongue, jaw and neck tension involving flexibility of the tissues and muscles around the larynx, pharynx, oral and nasal cavities need more extended hands on care with individually prescribed exercise.  Key to the relaxation of these areas is the hyoid bone.  Located above the larynx and below the base of tongue, the hyoid bone has muscular and ligament attachments connecting the shoulders, jaw, ribcage, tongue, palate and larynx.  Exercises that involve for instance, lifting the top jaw have an immediate impact on releasing the area between the shoulder blades.  If you’d like to do these exercises – join up for our newsletter and we’ll let you know when we’re putting the exercises online.  http://www.maxyourvoice.com/contact

Hyoid bone

 

 

Heisenberg: The Uncertainty Principle

A brave and challenging play.  The story is implausible and therefore at the same time lifelike.  This older, solitary man who’s lived all his regimented life in London as a butcher, is hit on by a young, vibrant, slightly wired woman.  It is touching and as they talk, the rhythm of the play, brought out so well by the director Marianne Elliott,  allows their characters to unfold.  She does have further desires apart from his company and love-making and these all come out.  Deep down the play touches on our desire for certainty.  The desire to be loved absolutely for ourselves is a daunting desire.  Even for lifelong partners there is sometimes an uncertainty about what their partner really thinks and feels.   We all change, we all die.  It is only in the present that we can be certain.  The ultimate lines of the play are beautiful and encompass the comforting certainty of giving and accepting.  Throughout the play the voices of Anne-Marie Duff and Kenneth Cranham bring reality to the piece.  Penny Dyer, the Dialect Coach has, as usual done a wonderful job.  The set is stunning, the colours changing in line with the emotional levels of the characters.  Some plays are like pictures and they reveal to us more than what we can immediately comprehend or be certain of.

Heisenberg
The Uncertainty Principle
Wyndhams Theatre London

 

 

 

Women Speaking Out on Harvey Weinstein

In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein exposure as a sexual predator abusing his power as a film producer, there have been a lot of women, including Emma Thompson saying that men should stop using women as sexual objects.  This is and always has been true of course, but a lot of my male friends are upset that they are now being viewed as predators rather than just being genuinely interested in people.
I would say that, at a guess, actors now coming into the business have an 85%+ chance of not encountering sexual abuse.  This is mainly because of th action of other women in the business.  Angelina Jolie said that when she was first starting out Harvey Weinstein tried to seduce her in a hotel room and she walked out.  She said she warned other women about Harvey Weinstein.  Other actresses have had similar experiences – including me and been warned of the danger by other women.  As Madeleine Albright said – there is a special place in hell for women who pull up the drawbridge after them – and this includes – as we’re now experiencing, women who have kept this secret and allowed a sexual predator to continue to abuse and debase women.

Nicholas Hytner in Conversation with Rachel Cooke

Saw and Heard Nicholas Hytner in conversation with Rachel Cooke to promote his book Balancing Acts at the Wimbledon BookFest.  He was entertaining and succinct.  You wonder if his clarity and single mindedness had come about after having so much thrown at him during his 12 years as Artistic Director of the National Theatre.  He was both fortunate and astute in choosing the people he worked with.  He had two great associate directors, Marianne Elliot and the late Howard Davis and a wonderful producer Nick Star, who he’s now working with at The Bridge Theatre.  Among the achievements he’s most proud of are originating the streaming of live performances into cinemas the successes of War Horse, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and two Men and a Guvnor.   When rehearsing One Man, Two Guvnors there was something not quite right and they invited an audience of school children to a rehearsal.  James Corden was being pretty much his television personality – witty and bright and although the school children responded to him and the play they didn’t find it very funny.   James Corden’s character was based on a Commedia dell’ Arte character from Richard Bean’s adaptation of A Servant of Two Masters (Italian: Il servitore di due padroni), a 1743 Commedia dell’arte style comedy play by the Italian playwright Carlo Goldoni. The character is stupid and devious.  James Corden delivered the performance that made the play so funny, once he understood this.  Comedy is the most difficult to get right and rehearse Nicholas Hytner said.  It’s practise, practise and timing with none of the enriching, enlightening moments that can happen with say Shakespeare or Shaw.  Nicolas Hytner is optimistic about live theatre with the number of talented playwrights emerging such as Lucy Kirkwood.
Young Marx by Richard Bean with Rory Kinnear is Nicholas Hytner’s next directing project at the new The Bridge Theatre.  It is the first theatre to be built in London for many years and Nicolas Hytner and Nick Star are responsible for the project.   The Bridge Theatre is by the Tower of London and the nearest station is London Bridge.  Young Marx opens on 18th October and is followed by a production of Julius Caesar with Ben Whishaw.  Probably a good idea to book early.
Nicolas Hytners’s book Balancing Acts is on sale now and would make a great Christmas present for anyone who is curious about The National Theatre and life in general.

Balancing Acts by Nicholas Hytner

 

The Creative Writing Voice of Kazuo Ishiguro

Wonderful news about Kazuo Ishiguro being selected for the Nobel prize for literature.   A graduate of the creative writing course at the University of East Anglia, started and led by the great teacher and writer Malcolm Bradbury.  All Ishiguro’s books read extremely well out loud.  It’s as if he has planted the words in a rhythmic conspiracy to hold your heart just far enough away from the raw emotions of the narrator.  When We Were Orphans, is my favourite Kazuo Ishiguro book.  If you can only read some of it out loud, it gives you a deeper sense of being inside the setting of the book.  The lingering, bitter sweet sensation,  which is the end result of coming through a totally absorbing and often traumatic  story, is enough.   Ishiguro’s writing is sometimes about characters finding themselves in circumstances beyond their control, often due to political upheaval.  I suppose then that Kazuo Ishiguro has enough material now to last him a lifetime.

Kazuo Ishiguro Nobel Prize Winner for Literature

The Crystals are Clear about English Accents

“You Say Potato – The Story of English Accents”  by Ben Crystal and  David Crystal

I first met David Crystal at the start up of the Globe Theatre.   There were fascinating talks on how Shakespeare wrote his work and how the actors would sometimes go on with the just written script in their hand – (not too disimilar from today, when actors sometimes learn script changes  while in make up).   Thanks to David Crystal we would hear how the words sounded in Shakespeare’s time.
I met his son Ben Crystal when I was doing phonetics at UCL.  ‘You Say Potato’  is never boring, an endlessly fascinating book and never pompous and often funny.
Ben Crystal describes his accent as ‘modified RP,  a slightly rougher version of Received Pronunciation.” This is becoming the norm in our standard English speech.  He writes of influences on his speech:
“I was born in Ascot, raised near Reading and grew up in North Wales.  I went to university in Lancaster and I also have their short ‘a’ in my accent….After travelling in the States, I often tell my dawg to seddle down while I boil the keddle.”
If you want to take the mystique out of English accents, understand the difference between accents and dialects and want to understand a bit more about your unique way of talking in English, then this is the book for you.  No way of talking is perfect, but you are perfect in the way you talk.  Click below for details on You Say Potato.

Ben and David Crystal