Kristin Linklater, the noted voice teacher, had just published her seminal first book, “Freeing The Natural Voice,” when she was brought to Hawaii by Wally Chappell and the Honolulu Theatre For Youth to do a three-week voice workshop.
Kristin’s book, and the workshop, revolved around the idea that everyone is born with a voice that is free and flexible and totally expressive, and that over time, and through life, that voice is compromised, controlled, and manipulated, so that it is no longer so. The workshop, and the book, was meant to help actors get back to our original, natural, voices.
In the workshop, comprised of about a dozen local actors, we spent the first week or so working on getting us to feel our bodies and then working to relax every part of ourselves, literally, from head to toe. This was much more difficult than it seems, for all of us, but it was the core of the book and the basis of all the vocal work to come, so Kristin took the time and worked us hard for that first week. Relaxing is hard work. At the end of that week she began putting us in touch with our breathing in relation to our bodies, where the breath originates, where it goes, what impacts it, and how not to impact it. She was getting us to release the bodily blocks we all had, and helping to put what we were doing and learning into our minds, a mind-body connection, as it were. She was working to help us understand the path of our breathing as a definite thing, in through our mouths, down as deep as we could conceive and feel, then up again and out through our mouths, past the tongue, teeth and lips, into the world outside.
There was a young woman in the workshop and, one day, she was the focus of an exercise for the rest of us. She was lying on her back, eyes closed, and Kristin was taking her through relaxing every part of her body, starting with her feet and winding up at her head and face. Her mouth was relaxed and slightly parted, and Kristin was helping her to not breathe, but to let the breath in, let it go down to somewhere below her belly button, and come up and out through her lips, and when her body told her she needed air, to go through it all again. At some point, Kristin introduced sound, and it would come out in a short “ha.” The sound was located at the deepest point of the breath and would come out at the end of the breath, just a small, relaxed, “ha.” Then she had the young woman extend the sound as she went along with the exercise, “haa,” and longer, with each breath. Then, when the young woman was relaxed and breathing regularly, Kristin had her open her eyes and look at the ceiling, and let her breath out to the ceiling, and then she re-introduced the extended, “haaa.” And suddenly, this deep, broad, big, voice came out of the woman, hitting the ceiling and filling the room. To say we were all shocked would be an understatement. She was a small woman, and her performing had been more in dance with some small roles here and there, and this voice was out of all proportion to the vessel that we knew. I’d never heard a voice like that, none of us had, I think, but the one who was most shocked was the young woman. She was so shocked that she never repeated the sound of that exercise. I think she was unable to handle it, the size of it, the quality of it, the sound of it. I wondered at it, that sound, but didn’t really understand it until later. That was the sound of a natural voice.
Though I never approached a sound like that in the workshop, I feel I got to an understanding of what the goal was, what a free, natural voice might sound like, and feel like, and actually have a way , a method, to help get me there. With that, I also understood that I now had as much to offer as any other actor in Hawaii, and in time, this confidence would allow me to leave Hawaii for an acting job in Atlanta with nary a qualm.