Sunday, March 11
Celia Slattery, Voice Coach & Lau Lapides, Acting Coach
Do you want to ace your next musical theater audition? Or, at your next concert, move your audience to laughter and/or tears?
Some singers just seem to have “it,” but did you know that you can learn to sing with more emotional depth?
Here are some basic acting techniques that help musical theater artists prepare. The same process can be used by any singer to develop a more expressive voice. It’s the same method we’ll be using at our musical theater workshop where you’ll get coaching from both an acting coach and a singing coach!
Start with these simple five questions: Who? What? Where? When? Why?
- Who are you? If you are a musical theater performer, you need to understand the character you are playing. Make a list of everything you know about the character from the script, and then write a “back-story,” filling in the blanks using your imagination. This will help you to understand the character but ultimately, you will be communicating the song accessing your own experience and emotions. While plots and characters may change, the emotions are universal.
- Who are you singing to? If you’re not singing to another character in a show, imagine someone from your life that fits the meaning of the song, i.e.: boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife, child, dog, therapist, God, etc. In your mind’s eye, place that person on the wall across from you (behind the auditors’ heads in an audition situation) and sing directly to them.
- What are you singing? Many singers become over-focused on how they sound and have no idea what the lyrics are actually saying. While you must work out vocal issues first, then it’s time to focus on what the song is about. A good first step is to speak the lyrics as though they were text. Then, try to summarize the meaning of the song in a few words or phrases. (For example, “this song is about breaking up with someone.”) When working with a song from a show, what you come up with should be consistent with the script and the character. (Make sure you read the whole play!) If the song is not from a show, what does it mean to you? Make it up, but choose something, and be sure you know what you mean by every word. (If the words are very poetic or seem dated, try “translating” them into your natural speech for the sake of this exercise.)
- Where and When are you? Your dynamic and stylistic choices will be different if you are singing in a smoky bar after hours versus an outdoor picnic. What has just happened? What is the context of the show or song – is it the Great Depression or the swinging 60’s?
- Why are you singing the song? This is the most important question. It’s said that in musical theater, the characters break into song when the emotions get too intense for speaking. So ask yourself, what makes it crucial that you sing this ( the “what” you identified above) right now? For example: “My lover is about to walk out forever and I have to convince them to stay.” This is called a goal, objective or intention in acting. Pick a strong goal that compels you to sing the song. Then relate that to something you have experienced or felt in your life. Again, the circumstances may be different but the emotions are universal.
Next you can look for different tactics to use in trying to achieve your goal. For example, you can be nice, you can wheedle, you can threaten. That way you build different levels into the song. That is particularly important in an audition situation when you have 16 or 32 bars to not only prove you can sing, but also show an emotional range.
If you’re not performing musical theater, do you have to go through this process with every song? No. Some songs are just about having fun. But asking these questions of some of the more thoughtful pieces in your repertoire will help you to develop an emotional range that help you communicate more powerfully with your audience. And isn’t that what it’s all about?