A Voice Lesson is a project I have been developing for some time. I have been looking into the myth of ‘Inanna’ (1450 BC) since 2017 for example and the text of Virginia Woolf’s ‘Orlando: A Biography’ (1928) since 2020. This particular iteration is on the one hand a strand of my doctoral research project and on the other the culmination of 17 years professional practice.

Before I tell you more about the piece, it is relevant to say something about the context within which the work was presented for Alef Trust’s Conscious Community Initiative this Summer. This year’s ACT International symposium called, ‘Cultures of Change’ culminated a 2 week residential workshop with artists, actors and practitioner researchers from all around the world. These are attendees who come for ‘lessons’ with me and which I lead through ‘voice’ work. So the residency in itself is from my point of view, ‘A Voice Lesson’. So indeed was my vision for the symposium. Alef’s director Jessica Bockler has been a student and friend of mine for over 10 years and this year we decided to go into partnership hosting an online strand of a symposium which I also ran simultaneously as in-person offer (live from the mountains of Italy no less). This was the first time I had co curated a symposium and it felt incredibly auspicious to bring this research into being through my deep connection to Jessica and my trust in Alef and Les and everything the organisation searches-with. I mention this to show how even those leading paradigms of so-called ‘social change’ are also constantly informed and shaped through self-constructed positions of vulnerability, collaboration and research.

This film profiles ‘A Voice Lesson’ as a research and pedagogical study in development as much as it endeavours also to be a performance offer for music theatre audiences, HEI and festivals touring. I am therefore inviting reader-viewers to engage with the work as one breathing part in a much bigger body of living practice. Practising that happens between myself and a diverse range of key artists, thinkers and all importantly makers. A Voice Lesson is a performative study in doing-thinking.

Our symposium set out with the driving aim, ‘Amplifying new voices and enculturating listening for change’. I curated the panel of 8 speakers already known to me and aligned or in conscious dissonance with my practices. Their presentations opened conversations around the role of practice as a site of knowledge and leaning into key words Ethics and Agency in shifting outdated or oppressive paradigms of knowledge and embodiment. We flocked our researches around the following brief:

Tuned to a murmuration of virtual bodies this online symposium interweaves listening selves with questions of “Difference”. Alef Trust and ACT unite their mutual quest to facilitate ethical human development with a keen focus on vocality as a driving performative in the generation of felt change.

Alongside more academic questions like:

  • What unhelpful cultures exist in the field of laboratory acting and voice performance that need to be dismantled or redefined?

Alef Trust  is pioneering in its commitment to bringing somatic awareness into online learning and consciousness raising but Alef would also no doubt say that the digital has its limits. ACT similarly celebrates multimodal dialogue and indeed zoom features as a core medium within the company’s practices (as you will see in ‘A Voice Lesson’), but learning via zoom is not sufficient on its own.

This summer then, ‘A Voice Lesson’ was designed to feature as a livestream event to culminate a day of active reflexivity, in a way that might percolate the day’s conceptual journey through the body, and ear in particular, in a fresh and meaningful way. The intention might have been for the work to somehow reveal something new about the role of practice in the enculturation of felt change and how research might profoundly and effectively inform systems of progress. 

This video then shows moments of discovery in rehearsal and moments of contact with our audiences during a 5 day residency that took place at Snape Maltings in Aldeburgh, UK between September 11th and 15th 2023. The sound of the livestream in our August symposium was so poor that we decided not to stream that for you here although we are working with it and the content from the luminously rich post show discussion as we take our next steps. This video speaks for itself I believe. It is worth noting that it places an emphasis on ‘A Voice Lesson’ as a public facing enquiry rather than a deeply introspective re-searching which it also is. My wish is that the above helps readers match the project outcome as you see it herewith the experience we shared online this summer and which was so unique, potent and inspiring.

Our copy for the piece runs as follows and I will finish with this outline as I worked very hard on it not only in an attempt to keep my introduction somewhat concise, but I feel it best encapsulates the multifaceted nature of the work. It articulates what ‘A Voice Lesson’ might do if we listen to it well, and together, attentive to more of the shapes, modes and sizes we come in:

Combining stories of women spanning 4, 000 years, this taster for a stunning new split stage opera opens the way to a forgotten path. 

Voice coach Orla, meets a 12-year old called Nin. Overwhelmed by the world outside but determined to be a performer one day, Nin seeks Orla’s teaching to find her authentic voice. Guided by friends, caught between the old and the new, ‘A Voice Lesson’ is a celebration of difference. Audiences are invited to follow Nin’s light and raise a star for the future in an ‘Identity Choir’ of welcome strangers.

This is a new, devised work inspired by Virginia Woolf’s ‘Orlando’, and an Ancient Mesopotamian poem ‘The Descent of Inanna’.

Produced by Britten Pears Arts, funded by Arts Council England, an association with Icarus Theatre Collective, Dartington Trust and Stables Theatre and supported by Alef Trust.

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