Talking Texts

A couple of weeks ago I went to my second ‘Talking Texts’ workshop at the Abbey. The Abbey runs these voice workshops every now and again, always in connection with whatever play is on the main stage. The first one I went to, about a year ago, was based around Measure for Measure. The more recent one was another Shakespearean text – Macbeth. The workshop involves three hours doing voice work on the Abbey stage with Andrea Ainsworth, Voice Director at the Abbey, then there’s a break for lunch (tea and sandwiches are provided in the bar upstairs) and in the afternoon you go and see the play. It’s a really nice way to spend the day and I’ve enjoy the two workshops I’ve done.

It’s a big group (about 20 – 30 people) and there is no experience necessary so you get a wide range of abilities amoung the attendees, so the workshop is very much a basic introduction. Andrea leads a vocal warm-up and then goes through different exercises using a piece of text from the play. For the Macbeth workshop, we used Macbeth’s soliloquy from Act 3, scene 1, where he is about to send a couple of hit-man after Banquo and his son. (See the text here) It’s a nice meaty piece of text and it was useful to go through it in detail with the group and talk about what each line means and what sort of images the words bring to mind.

Thw workshop combines the two types of voice workshops that an actors requires -physically warming up the voice to get it ready to work, and the more intellectual side of unlocking the text and finding a way to make it make sense.

After the vocal warm-up, Andrea does a couple of these exercises with the text. Not all of them will work for everybody and not all of them would be suitable for every piece of text but they are a good starting point. It’s useful to try out the different ideas and exercises from her, and pick and choose what might be useful in the future.

In the Macbeth workshop, we were told to pick out all the people mentioned in the text – the witches, Duncan, Banquo, Banquo’s son – and imagine them standing around you as you say the text. When they are mentioned in the text, you have to point to them; and when Macbeth is speaking of himself, you point to yourself. It was an interesting exercise because you start identifying the feelings you have about each person. It’s also interesting to note how often each person appears in the text, Macbeth refers to himself a lot and gradually becomes more obsessed with Banquo’s sons.

After lunch and a bit of a chat with the other workshop participants, we headed back into the theatre for the matinee performance. I did Macbeth for my Leaving Cert (way back in 1999) so I am intimiately familiar with the play. It was a good show – the usual mad women but not too much blood and gore. There was a nice bit of lighting used for the ‘Is this a dagger that I see before me’ scene and I really enjoyed the Porter’s scene.

The next Talking Text workshop is on Saturday 4 September, and the text is The Plough and the Stars.

And, in case you were wondering, I didn’t notice anyone shying away from saying the dreaded ‘Macbeth’ word inside the theatre. And nothing bad happened!

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