I have the privilege this semester of working with a talented group of teachers at Tunghai Affiliated High School in designing and implementing a vocal arts class. Twenty-five students meet for one hour a week to work with five different teachers over the semester in hopes of making the students’ red lights yellow and the yellow lights green or otherwise boost their confidence levels.
As a teacher–or as a performer or as a parent–I often find myself saying “I have no idea what I’m doing.” This dubbing class is a brand new experience for all of us and we’re feeling our way around with the goal of dubbing scenes from a movie in the computer lab, or covering the script as it were. The broader goal is to engender some confidence in the normally reticent students who are learning English as a foreign language through a series of exercises designed to let them hear themselves speaking whilst also having fun in a relaxed environment.
First thing, we did some warmups based on the exercises presented here by Jeannette Nelson, the Head of Voice at the National Theater in London. I’ve been doing these for a few months at rehearsals for Masque of the Red Death at Red Room in Taipei, but at the most, there have been seven or eight people participating. It’s a laugh with a group of friends. With a gaggle of high school girls (twenty of twenty-five students in the group are female), there were lots of laughs.
For homework, students were asked to preview some vocabulary of emotions and to create a sentence to demonstrate that feeling through their voices. It would have taken too long to get through all 25 words, but there were some memorable moments including the previously soft-spoken young man erupting with the sentence “I didn’t know there was a quiz today” in a facsimile of anger which he says was uncharacteristic of himself. Often when acting, you find yourself presenting emotions which you would normally not feel, so you have to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Michael really hit it out of the park.
When creating a voice I coached the “volunteers” to imagine what someone with their emotion’s body would be doing. How our shoulders frame our body has a marked effect on what your voice sounds like. An angry person’s muscles might all be clenched, and his jaw set firmly, a relaxed individual’s shoulders would be loose and low. These sounds come through in our voices.
Honestly, when the word “lust” was chosen from a list at VoiceActorsNotebook.com, I was thinking about a Chicago pizza I ate recently. When the guy came up and announced he was going to demonstrate lust, his demeanor suggested it might be wise to take a step or two back. Fortunately, class remained SFW and I skipped the question “What is a lustful person’s body doing?”
Later on, I set the students free to practice for a while with a card game, picking cards with sentences and cards with moods and trying them on for size, eliciting from their choices sentences such as “It’s over my friend” in a joyful or bored voice or “There’s a first for everything” in a hungry whisper. There was such enthusiasm in the classroom that I was almost … almost… sad to hear the bell for the end of the day.
Next week we go to the computer lab to practice uploading audio from the students’ smartphones.