Teaching Voice

I still don’t know how I feel about teaching. I find it very fulfilling and incredibly tiring. I remember and talk about my students  often. I fall in love with my class a little bit every year. I have learned so much more about the subject I teach from working with my students. They are incredible developing people. Every year they surprise me. The ones that I think are going to be the biggest pain in my ass turn out to be the ones that shift my heart and mind in a major way.

The class I teach most consistently is an intro level theater class with the stiflingly boring name “Voice and Articulation.” The participants are almost never theater students any more.  It’s an interesting trend that’s grown stronger each year I’ve taught it. I’m not sure why, perhaps word of mouth?, but each year I find myself in front of more engineering, business, and education majors to the point where this year not a single student identified as a theater student. Strangely, having to think about what it means to teach “Voice” to people that aren’t at all interested in delivering a monologue or projecting in a traditional performance context has really changed the way I think about what voice can mean in that original context. I’ve changed the kinds of things I teach a lot both in class but also in rehearsals. I’ve re-found the necessity  in basic technique and simultaneously discovered how much the person is the same thing as the voice that comes from them, and that voice work is really self work at the core level.

As one student of mine wrote to me last year, “I feel like this class isn’t just about changing my voice. It’s about changing me.”

I don’t ask them to be amazing vocalists on any objective measure. Truthfully, I don’t really know any more what measure that would be. I tell them it is not hard to get a good grade. It’s one of the few places that creatively that I’m just not interested in being a hard ass. It seems beside the point to be a drill sergeant. They might “respect” me, but it won’t get them to the place that they can be vulnerable enough to actually change the sounds they make. I start my classes every year saying this, “You have to physically be present and you have to be willing to try and you have to do your best to be honest.”

I always begin by telling them that it is not a lecture and that they will make sounds out loud by themselves. And by the end of the first day they have all sung in front of each other. I wish I could record this first day and play it back for them at the end the way I require them to write about their voices, what they love and hate about the way they speak on the first day. The “final” is to hand them back this writing and reflect back on whether they still agree with all the things they initially wrote. These papers are always the highlight of the semester because we both get to realize how far they’ve come.

So what’s the problem?

It takes a lot of me to run my class. I finish my three hours on Mondays in the winter exhausted and jacked up on adrenaline. I come out thinking about each person and how they dealt with the week’s exploration and what they will be confronting the next time I see them. I fall in love a little bit with them all. And it takes a ton of energy.

Many of the things that I get out of teaching overlap in a major way with what I get out of being a director. And when I’m doing one, I don’t have room for much else. I’ve luckily never had to do both at the same time, but I think that if I had to, one would suffer for the other.  And as teaching becomes a bigger part of my life and income, I worry that it will become the only thing that I do, the only thing that I am.

I have had a lot of amazing teachers in my life. But the ones that were the best at teaching, were not doing an equivalent amount of art making. I’m not sure how to resolve that. So for now I keep them compartmentalized in my life and hope that the amount of me that is needed for the one will not use up what’s needed for the other.


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