The Journey to a Powerful Voice
By Tracey Hoyt
I'm an actor who coaches and directs other actors for voice-related tasks - most often for their commercial auditions and demo reel recording sessions.
A few months ago, I consulted a female client new to performing who was interested in working together. During our meeting, I used the phrase "…in full voice…" - an expression I had most likely learned in Voice & Speech class in theatre school. This was a new concept to her and we emailed back & forth about it for quite some time. She shared that she had an epiphany that day: that she had never actually spoken in her full, authentic voice. Not once in her life.
Reflecting on this made me realize how long it has taken me to find and use my own. As someone who has made her living with her voice for over thirty years, the irony is not lost on me.
Soon after that session, fairly late at night, I was exiting the streetcar, about 2 blocks from my home. Out of nowhere, an intoxicated, intimidating man appeared in my personal space. His upper body was swaying into my shoulder and he exhaled into my face,
"I love you, Baby."
Without thinking, I bellowed,
"DON'T TOUCH ME!!!"
It was a part of my voice I hadn’t experienced since a very intense acting class a few months before, when I was demanding to be heard by a scene partner.
In both of those moments, I didn't have to think about breath support or diction. Since my intentions were clear, my voice was unapologetically full. Both people got the message, loud and clear.
I grew up in a home where my parents regularly separated; from the time I was five until I was fourteen, when they finally broke up. It had always been easy to tell when things were good between them. My parents spoke baby talk to each other, usually while in the bathroom or at the dinner table, when they would coo musically and call each other endearing nicknames.
When my two sisters and I were in our early twenties, we confessed to each other that we all spoke baby talk to our boyfriends. At the time, we thought that's what a loving relationship sounded like - talking to your partner as if they were a small, adorable child or pet.
Expressing love meant sounding innocent, cute and tiny.
Even today, freshly into my mid-fifties, I struggle to say grown-up phrases like "I love you" or "Thank you" to my husband, in my full, grown up voice. It's so much easier to use one of the adorable character voices we've created for our pets and, yes, for each other.
What's that about?
In theatre school, I learned - both joyfully and painfully - that the voice doesn’t lie.
Without a relaxed body and full breath support, clarity can be very challenging in communication.
Clearly, some habits can be tough to break. Throughout my life as a woman, I've noticed how hard it can be for us to confidently receive a compliment or to call someone on interrupting or making assumptions about us.
After the #MeToo movement exploded in October of 2017, I marveled as my professional peers named and exposed their monsters and bullies. Because of their powerful courage, it's been getting easier to speak my own truth. Instead of ignoring, normalizing or laughing off the racist, misogynist or sexist comments of others (as I have done for most of my life), I now call the speaker out - either in the moment or after I've had a chance to catch my breath.
Two weeks ago, I was asked to be part of a script development workshop for a female friend's new play, which would involve Improvisation. Like voice-over, Improv is a special skill of mine and I was excited to participate. All four of the female actors involved in the workshop had the opportunity to improvise a very heightened and complicated confrontation scene with a past bully, played by one of the male actors. I happened to go first.
From the moment we started, the support in the room and within the scene was visceral. I knew I was safe and that I was keeping my partners and the other artists watching safe.
The scene included two very present and generous male actors. Improv is so immediate that it can be hard to remember specific details after the fact. What I remember most about the experience is that it felt like I went through every possible emotion:
Then, mercifully, Power.
Power when I felt my voice placed lower in my body than it ever has.
Power when I spoke slowly, loudly and without apology.
Power when, undeniably, I had all the breath I needed to be heard.
It didn't occur to me until this week that this was, in fact, the first time I had improvised since the #MeToo movement exploded in Canadian theatre. It was my first opportunity to let out a lifetime of what I like to call the "laughing off the weirdness" of being a woman.
I have many more breaths to release.
I have much more to say and to share.
I feel grateful to be living in this moment in time.
I invite you to join me, in full voice - one breath at a time.
Tracey toured the country and taught Improvisation extensively for The Second City Toronto. This eventually led her to producing & performing two fully improvised solo shows: Face Value: Leslieville (Crow's Theatre) and Face Value: West (SummerWorks). Recent credits include the CFC short film Emily & Andrew's Grand Finale, the video game Starlink: Battle For Atlas, recurring roles in the animated series The Cat In The Hat Knows A Lot About That! and the female narration of the Audiobook No Good Asking by Fran Kimmel. A voice specialist working in all areas of the business, Tracey has been coaching and directing voice-over talent since 2007. www.traceyhoyt.com