How good are you at interpreting the slew of information that gets thrown at you on a daily basis in this industry? I’m talking about that director who just asked you to be “quirkier" in your reading, or that musical director who just said you needed to “sing bigger" or your crazy aunt who said that “you could really go somewhere if you could sing like that Sutton Foster girl." The business is filled with conflicting ideas, concepts, and opinions that can feel impossible to wade through at times. Here are some tips for dealing with processing information.
People want you to succeed. Don't lose sight of this. Every teacher, music director, vocal coach, director, choreographer, casting director, and crazy aunt want you to be successful and give a good performance and/or audition. Remember that that is why they are sharing their opinion or ideas with you. If you’re in an audition and they are taking the time to give you feedback, they see something they like and want to see if they can get more out of you. Everyone speaks a different language. Hopefully we are starting with English, but beyond that everyone will use a different vocabulary to share their thoughts, ideas, techniques, or instruction. This can be difficult to interpret at times, but ask yourself these questions:
What are they asking me to do? Don’t be afraid to ask questions if their instruction is vague, particularly in an audition setting. Asking short, simple questions is ok.
What is the result they are looking for? Oftentimes people will speak in result language. They want you to evoke a certain quality in your reading or in your song. It’s your job to take the result language and ask yourself...
How can I work backwards from the result to find the process that I need? This is important. It’s essential to know your instrument well enough to be able to adjust things internally to get the external results they are looking for.
Stand up for yourself if you’re being pushed beyond your capabilities. This is the hardest of all, but it’s really important. If someone is asking you to do something that isn't comfortable vocally, speak up about it (I’m talking about physical discomfort with making a sound, not feeling vulnerable because of an acting adjustment). This might be a teacher, coach, or MD that asks you to do something vocally that you know is physically beyond your capabilities at the moment. Speak up. You are the owner of your instrument and you know when something feels right. Be willing to try new things, be spontaneous in an audition, and learn from others, but don't put yourself in harms way, especially if you are rehabbing your voice or are just learning how to use your voice efficiently. Learning to sing in a healthy way can be a process but not everyone in the business understands that. Musical Theatre is a results oriented business, but sometimes the best results take a little bit of patience.
If you find yourself in a situation where you are being encouraged to sing or use your voice in ways that don’t feel in line with your training, ask yourself these questions:
Does it feel good or easy? There is nothing wrong with feeling fatigued after singing 8 shows a week or after a vocally demanding day, but there is still an inherent ease that comes with singing even the most demanding material properly.
Can I sing like this 8 times a week consistently? Well, can you?
Do I have a full range of dynamics and control of my voice singing in this way? Can I express myself or the character fully or am I limited in what I’m able to do vocally? It’s frustrating to only being able to belt loud or only being able to sing quietly in your lower register. You get the picture.
Does it conflict with something I've been told in the past? If so, ask more questions! The teacher or MD may be wanting the same things you've been taught, but might be using a different vocabulary. Open dialogue is always the best!
Keep exploring your voice and discovering how your instrument works in the most efficient way. It’s important in this business to never lose sight of who you are as a person, as an actor, and as a singer. You want to understand your voice (literally and figuratively!) so that you can take on the sea of information like a pro!