Recently I had the pleasure of seeing the Tony-nominated production of The Crucible. I am a huge fan of director Ivo Van Hove’s work and loved his powerful production of A View From the Bridge earlier this season. Needless to say I was really looking forward to this evening at the theater. Unfortunately, I was disappointed. A large part of my disappointment was due to the fact that several of the main players were difficult to hear and understand.
There is a simple and profound lesson in this. If an audience member can’t hear you, there is a good chance they cease to care about you. AND if the character is important enough to the plot, one may even stop caring about the entire story. Fortunately, I know The Crucible quite well, having studied it in both high school and college. Even so, I found myself straining to catch certain plot points because I simply couldn’t hear some of the actors. And unlike most Broadway shows, these actors were not mic’d.
Whether you’re a young actor embarking on your career or a seasoned professional, it’s so important to take your voice and speech training seriously. Oftentimes young actors place way too much importance on getting the “emotion” of a speech and not enough focus on vocal clarity. Actors, first and foremost, need to be heard and understood. It is the most important aspect of your job. If I can’t hear or understand you, I can’t appreciate your beautiful character or emotional work!
That is not to say that you need to yell onstage in order to be understood. But you do need to be speaking from a supported and grounded place. It is also important to make sure that your consonants are sharp and crisp. In speech, the vowels carry the emotional life of the word and the consonants carry the thought. They are equally important.
If you are lacking training in voice and speech, check out my article on “5 Essential Physical Warm-Ups.” In that post you will find valuable information on how you can open up your body and voice so you are able to get a fuller breath and speak from a more open place. I also recommend picking up a copy of Edith Skinner’s Speak With Distinction in addition to working with a private coach who can help you speak with a more neutral American accent and improve your diction.
There are many variables in this business that are out of your control. One that isn’t is the clarity of your voice and speech. Don’t underestimate the importance of this aspect of your training. It can literally make or break your performance.