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(Learn more about the Fox Foundation Resident Actor Fellowships here, and apply before the June 27, 2012 deadline!)

What is that difference between a good voice, and a voice that reaches into you and stirs your guts around?

In April I visited a place that is some kind of heaven.  The Centre Artistique International Roy Hart sits nestled in the foothills of the Cevennes mountains in southern France.  Yes, it’s as beautiful as you can imagine.

A group of 16 convened with three master teachers for a week-long workshop in the Human Voice.  This was not a typical voice workshop for actors. There were a few actors, a performance artist, and a circus performer. There were also social workers, psychotherapists, and teachers. Everyone was there to explore this unique approach to vocal expression and uncover theretofore unknown possibilities in the use of their voices.  The roots of this work trace back to Alfred Wolfsohn, who wrote

 “I live by breathing in and breathing out. I sing by transforming this breath into sound, sound which in turn forms the material for the contents of the soul.”

We spent mornings warming up with Feldenkrais and Qigong.  We improvised with our voices creating soundscapes.  We sang folk songs in canon. We moved with our voices, engaging physically with the sound. We explored and stretched the limits of our ranges, to delightful and sometimes revelatory effect.  We gathered and sang and made music.

We would spend a day working this way and by evening our voices would be more resonant, free and expressive, even in dinner table conversation.

I have studied singing off and on for years.  I’ve always struggled with the tension that  takes hold in the moment I approach the piano and ‘get ready’ to sing. It always felt as if I had to inhabit a slightly different body, use my instrument in a very different way, reorganize my mechanism when I was about to sing.

I had the good fortune to be given a private class with one of the new teachers at the Centre who is completing her training.  It was an hour of moving, painting with sound, responding to what I saw in the room with my voice spontaneously.  The wooden beams on the ceiling, the stained glass window, the mountains beyond, the ant on the floor, the teacher observing – taking in each thing and responding with unplanned sound.  I found myself singing with more freedom than I ever have in a class setting.  Making sound without worrying about how it sounds. Some nasty, scary sounds came out, and some wonderful sounds came out. Overtones. More than anything, it felt like true sound coming from me, spontaneously – not sound I was crafting to fit an idea of the good sounds a good voice makes.  My favorite voices in the workshop belonged to those who wouldn’t be considered “great singers” by a traditional standard, but the purity and truthfulness of the sound that belonged only to them was incredibly moving.  A petite and delicate woman in the class singing “I am a God” in the lowest of low regions of her voice, or another student, strong and sturdy, singing up into her range and sounding like crystal – gave me chills.

I wish I could describe it all more specifically.  But there is an aspect of this training that is difficult to quantify. I’m going to continue with it. The next step is to investigate its application to the speaking voice.  How many of us actors change our voices, modulate away from our own organic sound inadvertently when we hit the stage?  The whole “Shakespeare Voice” or “Actor Voice” thing that happens -  it sounds like a good voice, but won’t make your insides churn.  Isn’t that something we want to do?

MIRIAM SILVERMAN, The Shakespeare Theatre Company, Washington, DC
Miriam will develop a personalized approach to verse and voice work to serve her as a performer and educator. She plans to study with experts in the field including Patsy Rodenburg, Kristen Linklater, Andrew Wade and Catherine Fitzmaurice. She will apprentice Ellen O’Brien, STC’s Head of Voice and Text while in residency at STC. Miriam will travel to London to take part in a workshop on the Estill method and attend the RSC’s World Shakespeare Festival. In London she will also attend training sessions with Tim Carroll and The Factory. She will travel to Thorais, France for a workshop in the Roy Hart technique and to Gdansk, Poland to attend the International Shakespeare Festival. As an Affiliated Artist Miriam will return to STC to perform leading roles in classical plays and hold workshops for the theater’s acting fellows. Miriam has appeared on stage at STC, The Public Theater, Guthrie Theater, Folger Theatre, Red Bull, Arena Stage, and Trinity Rep.

The William & Eva Fox Foundation, a private grantmaking foundation, is committed to the artistic development of theatre actors as a strategy to strengthen live theatre. Through its prestigious Fox Fellowships the Foundation has provided more than $3 million to underwrite periods of intensive study, research and training by actors recognized as having a serious commitment to the theatre. In 2004 the Foundation awarded fellowships totaling $150,000 to ten distinguished actors. The Foundation is the largest grantmaker solely dedicated to the artistic and professional development of theatre actors, and one of very few that provides direct support to individual actors.