25 May 2013

Top 10 Voice Books for Actors

I'm quite often asked which texts are worth investing both time and dollars into. Every actor should have access to some inspiring and challenging voice exercises, to be able to mix them up for kicks or suit them to the work at hand. Here are a few of my favourites:

 1. Voice Work: Art and Science in Changing Voices by Christina Shewell

Don't let the title put you off! It's got the science for those who dig it - Speech Paths and Coaches, and the most amazing compilation of exercises in easy to troubleshoot chapters. The book is so accessible and can teach you a great deal about vocal anatomy and management. It's a great resource to teachers.

2. Text in Action by Cicely Berry
Berry's books have been a staple of the acting library for many years - and rightly so. If you tried to approach her original book, Voice and the Actor, and found it a little too dry, pick up a copy of Text in Action - it's far richer in personality and warmth. Excellent for working on heightened texts, this is a wonderful exploration manual for actors, directors and teachers alike. 

3. Relax Your Neck and Liberate Your Shoulders by Eric Franklin

A great manual for any actor wishing to release tension for more sustainable, responsive and healthy voice work. If working with imagery works for you, this book is excellent. Filled with easy to follow diagrams and one of the best explanations of what tension actually is, these everyday exercises will fully compliment your Feldenkrais, Alexander or Pilates practice. I take many of these images and exercises into my own teaching and performance practice.

4. Voice and Speech in the Theatre by J. Clifford Turner

Every time I find this book in a shop or online it has a different cover illustration. The fact that there have been so many reprints (it was first published in 1950) is testament to how successful and loved this book is. I particularly love it because of its straightforward take on voice, and because it has so many of the speech issues overlooked by many modern voice teachers, such as lateral plosives, consonant clusters and 'spelling pronunciation'. Love it to bits!

5. Classic Voice and Modern Voice by Catherine Weate

I discovered these stunning books only recently and devoured them with glee. No other texts had previously given such comprehensive guidance on the difference between Classic and Modern styles. Really worth a look for any actor, as we find that this stylistic issue has been quite difficult to tackle. Excellent group exercises applicable to any working texts - so a great set for directors wanting to get the most from their actors.

6. The Actor Speaks by Patsy Rodenberg

No one who reads Rodenberg can fail to fall in love with her and her writing. She is deliciously warm, yet disarmingly honest. She cuts through the romance of the idea of  voice, and simply finds the truth of it. Her passion shines through and one feels embraced by her throughout. The explorations themselves are easy to understand and wonderful for any actor, whether revisiting years later or just setting out on this crazy journey. Guidance galore. Her other books (including the wonderful Second Circle) are just as joyous.

7. Playing Shakespeare by John Barton

A transcript of the original television series, this book - although not strictly a voice text - is packed with information not only on how to approach Shakespeare, but all forms of heightened text. The comments from actors taking part are comedy gold and the warmth, passion and love of language of Barton shines through. You can use it to accompany the series, or as a stand alone resource - it does contain what had to be edited out of the show and is worth a read if you've seen the TV series.

 8. Freeing the Natural Voice by Kristen Linklater

Actors all over the world have loved and relied on this text for years. My own copy is marked and dog-eared and has been worth every penny. Whether you follow the path strictly, or dip in for Linklater's wonderful imagery based exercises, you will be introduced to new and wonderful ways to release your body and let your artist really play. For mine, the newer edition with notes (pictured) is the better to purchase, as Linklater has notated things she had observed relating to her exercises since it was originally published in 1976.

9. Finding Your Voice by Barbara Houseman

Finding Your VoiceHere's a woman after my own heart. She's about discovery and curiosity and carrying these two very important aspects through your voice work and onto the floor. Her exercises are easy to follow and she leads one to question one's processes constantly.

10. The Performer's Voice by Meribeth Bunch Dayme

An excellent voice book for beginners in voice. I used this constantly during the very start of my training. Bunch Dayme has a certain way of making very complex things, such as musculature, seem easy - I'm guessing her experience as a professor in anatomy has a lot to do with this. The book is warm and encouraging and a great place to start.

Tips for using voice books well:

-  Always read the introduction. This will give you an idea of the stylistic approach of each practitioner. It will also help you to understand what kind of framework the exercises sit within.
- As with everything, if it hurts/strains you probably aren't doing the exercises correctly and you'll need to look at your basic foundation skills with a certified practitioner.
- It's OK to dip in and out if you have a really good grasp on that particular practitioner's principles and where each exercise fits within their developmental framework. If not, you need to do any basic lead in exercises to really get the full benefit.

Do you have a favourite vocal text? Pop it in the comments box below and share it with your voice community.

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