MODULE 3 INPUT WEEKEND – BARBARA HOUSEMAN AND PAUL HUNTER

I don’t know where time has gone! This time last year my lovely Opera Works buddies and I had anxiously submitted our course applications, and now we’ve just completed our final input weekend. Geeze louise. Here are a few personal observations on the weekend, which went from the deadly serious to the totally ridiculous in the flick of a switch!

On Saturday we were met with great enthusiasm by voice and text specialist Barbara Houseman (http://www.barbarahouseman.com/) I always love the start of sessions when the visiting professional asks what individual things you’d like to focus on. Not only does this make you feel like the weekend work isn’t generic, but it’s refreshing to discover that so many of your peers also ‘suffer’ from similar issues. We covered a vast range of exercises to take away with us, ranging from tension releasing exercises, mental preparation for auditions and method approaches on how to support our voices even when speaking. A couple of points which I found useful were the following:

  • If you find your breathing becomes locked under pressurized situations, focus on the out-breath prior to your in-breath.
  • Imagine that your voice and its support are coming from your belly button. My teacher will no doubt roll her eyes when I mention this, as she’s mentioned it over 1000 times to me…
  • Practise singing to an object, even if it’s a plant pot (or in my case, maybe my unsuspecting kitten)! Don’t wait until the audition situation where you find yourself resembling a rabbit in headlights as your mind flicks between ‘should I look at them? Are they looking at me? I can’t find anything to look at!’
  • In an audition scenario, remove all negative attention away from yourself (and your inner critic) and practise observing the room. For example, what are the panel wearing? Do they look happy to see me?

Try to find ways to shift your negative associations into a constructive process, such as ‘I’m going to try and make the next two arias pleasurable for myself and the audience’.

We also spent the afternoon reading a section of Shakespeare’s Macbeth: firstly in strict iambic pentameter, then taking the text apart and seeing how it was structured in a way which required little interference from the reader. This work provided us with a refreshed approach to how we might tackle our arias:

  • Don’t just sing the music – say the words. Talking through the text will provide you with a natural indication as to where the stresses are, and which words are ‘unimportant’.
  • The singing will be kept active if you continue to keep the thoughts of your text active.

Sunday was spent focussing on all things ‘play’, with Paul Hunter – Artistic Director of ‘Told by an Idiot’ (http://www.toldbyanidiot.org/taught/ )  His style of working is mainly comedic, and he also encourages communication with the audience wherever possible – providing natural and spontaneous experiences for those on stage and in the audience.

We did a few exercises covering the idea of how we can reveal our character’s vulnerability, without showing the audience. For example, a lady has purchased a pair of shoes which she believes are the most beautiful in the world. However they only came in 2 sizes too small. Therefore, on the surface she seems like the happiest woman in the world, but there’s a small subtle sign of increasing pain in her eyes. Such emotions are often more effectively portrayed to an audience, as their subtlety has a greater impact.

Playing with such ideas allowed us to think about how we can incorporate this into a scene – is there an opposite physical journey in your scene, to your character’s expressed objective?

It was definitely an eye-opener of a weekend and I don’t think I’ve chuckled so much in one session. ‘Homework’ for our next response weekend now seems to be a never-ending array of suggestions and bullet-points, but given it will be focussed on our individual first-choice arias, I think we’ll all be looking forward to seeing how we can tailor what we’ve learnt, and apply it to our own characters.