Blog #2, 12-17-11

Blog #2  December 17, 2011

A first year graduate student of mine, on our Winter Holiday break between semesters, wrote to me that as soon as her plane landed in Arkansas, she returned to her family dialect and also to her own contemporary style of glottal fry (that creaky throat-centered sound that is becoming popular in young American women these days).

How we speak is parallel to how we dress and how we behave in relation to situations:  formal/casual, familiar/stranger, public/private, status of age, relationship of power, respect/alarm for “the other”, comfort/relaxation with “the same”.

We change not only the words we use, but also the way we articulate and shape the sounds of those words.  We vocally express the way we belong.  The way we speak expresses our internal tug of war between individual autonomy vs. union with our group, between integrity of identity as a separate self vs. integrity of identity as a member within our family or community.

The shape of a vowel, the precision of a consonant, the rhythm, speed and flow of words, the structure of thoughts into sentences… these are not only communications of ideas, they are announcements of “Self” within community. And further: the pitch pattern of notes through our sentences, the placement of vocal vibrations (in our resonating chambers of face, skull, throat, and chest) these express our individual vitality, health, age, sexuality, and style while at the same time expressing our role within our community of region, era, ethnicity, education, and our position in our social class hierarchy.

When we first learn to hear and feel the bits that make up the patterns of our speaking, we find it difficult to return to the safety of our previous ignorance. Now we know when we are fitting in and when we are differentiating.  Now we know how to select our vocal presentation of our identity.  At first this knowledge is so disconcerting that we can hardly speak in freedom of pure thought.  We are burdened with our new awareness of how we are creating our announcements of “this is who I am,” while saying “this is what I think, feel, want, and need.”  We speak with a duality of intention and attention.  It takes a while of playful experimentation to learn how to enjoy our awareness.  We learn how and when to focus our attention on WHAT we’re saying, or on HOW we’re saying it.

Eventually, we can easily select our way of speaking, and be so skilled with practice that we can turn off conscious awareness of HOW we’re speaking, and comfortably purely freely communicate.  We can focus on intention toward our listeners instead of on technique.

 As my teacher, Jerry Blunt, used to say: “technique is best when it can be forgotten.”

To Contact Jan Gist

University of San Diego:

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Office Phone: (619) 260-7757

The Old Globe Theatre:

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Guidance on How to Develop Your Voice & Speech 

1. Learn how you learn.

2. Translate what you're taught into what can work for you to become your own teacher.

3. Drill your skills with curiosity and imagination.

4. Bridge your skills into the vital, expressive journey as it is sculpted by the script, and envisioned by the director.

5. Embody "Stage Presence" by owning the time, owning the place, and welcoming your audience into you specifically crafted time and place.