“If you sing well,” an old Italian adage goes, “you speak well.” This conviction—that the development of the singing voice naturally leads to strong speaking voices—was once upon a time so well-accepted that voice training could be obtained only through singing lessons and classes in oral interpretation. Performers who had experience in debates, public address and oratory had a distinct vocal advantage over those who had no opportunities to improve their speech.
In the United States, as the Virginia Commonwealth University–based voice teacher Janet B. Rodgers reminds us, “The history of voice and speech training for actors is relatively short. Actor-training programs did not sprout and begin to proliferate here until after World War II. Great Britain, by contrast, has a 150-year-plus tradition of voice and speech training.”
This special issue devoted exclusively to major approaches in voice training, a first in the history of this magazine, features the great lions of the field of voice work in the U.S., with a few nods to our British counterparts. Instead of featuring schools, organizations and conservatory programs, we decided to reach out directly to the visionary innovators in the craft. Some important figures (such as Roy Hart, Dudley Knight and Philip Thompson) are not represented; but there can be hardly any actor, singer or voice specialist who has not been touched directly or indirectly by the five individuals headlining this issue.
What’s fascinating, from my point of view as a curator, is that views differ among these master trainers over the notion of creating a “certification” or “designation” program or a formal advanced degree out of the different modalities they have developed. As my conversation with British voice and acting luminary Patsy Rodenburg reveals, the need to pass along to others some basic knowledge about the voice is great. Rodenburg, however, like her colleague Cicely Berry, remains firmly rooted to a craft guild model. Berry, for one, is reluctant to turn her Shakespearean-tuned approach into a formal method, so she makes herself available to American directors who seek new ways to stage contemporary and classical plays.
In a daring essay, Kristin Linklater shows how her questing intelligence keeps pushing ever deeper into the early lessons she learned from her own mentor, the late Iris Warren. Linklater is opening new doors through her studies in neuroscience. Meanwhile, Catherine Fitzmaurice questions the insularity of prevalent Western theory–based voice training; her voice work adapts diverse cultural disciplines (yoga and shiatsu, particularly) to address the tension of intercultural dialogue in dramatic art.
Now 100 years old, voice pioneer Arthur Lessac is an American legend. He has moved away from a singing pedagogy and recognized the importance of the whole body in the production of sound. His essay inspires, because it asks us to unlock new global and holistic possibilities for the actor, giving a wide palette for play and vocal expressiveness.
Actors are interpreters of language and text. This issue, I hope, will give actors new roadmaps to their own acting goals. Thanks to these voice visionaries, today’s actors, singers and performers have a wealth of techniques to choose from that allow them to think of their bodies and voices as instruments that must be played properly and pitched in imaginative ways. For if you can speak well, you can sing.