Fringe Benefits (part 1) – a survival guide for performers in Edinburgh

It’s a tough month and you’ve got to look after yourself to be at your best. Here are our tips:

Fringe Benefits 1. Off-Stage Survival

You’ve raised the funds, you’re feeling prepared, you’ve got the flyers and you’re finally at the Edinburgh Festival. Congratulations. Now the fun begins!

Over the next few weeks you will probably be using the most essential aspect of your craft more than usual; you’ll be generating your audience on the streets of Edinburgh. Chatting and schmoozing to anyone that will listen, networking after the show, socialising and partaking in the amber nectar, offering intoxicated critiques in noisy rooms at high volume, enduring the ‘all seasons in a day’ Scottish weather, and all of this before you’ve even stepped on stage! So what is this essential aspect of your craft? YOUR VOICE.

Out on the streets: Handing out flyers? If you are vocally drumming up trade give yourself plenty of fuel to generate the sound; drop your shoulders, use that low deep breath, relax your throat, and hydrate the voice with water, water, water!

Out on the town: Post show wind down? For every glass of booze you drink, drink a glass of water (room temp). Do you really need to? Yes you do. Rehydration of the throat and the brain will keep you on top form. It avoids the risk of pushing your voice during the show and potentially losing it.

Out and about: When that whistling wind comes down from Arthur’s seat, grab your granny’s home knit scarf and keep your neck warm! Hot drinks are fine, but lots of tea and coffee can dry you out, so guess what; drink plenty of water, water, water!

Out on a limb: No time or too much time on your hands between shows? Vocal energy and physical stamina are important over the next few weeks. There’s nothing wrong with taking a well earned power nap, a little siesta or an afternoon kip; it’ll boost your energy levels a treat! No time to nap? One of our funny little energy-boosting favourites for when you have that drowsy feeling is to pinch the acupuncture points along the outer rim or your ears. If you are running around, keep your energy up with power snacks such as ready to eat puy lentils, nuts and seeds and natural sugars. And remember to stop, ground yourself and breathe! Avoid energy drinks, they truly do more harm than good! Of course you know what’s coming next; drink plenty of water, water, water!

Fringe Benefits 2: On Stage Survival

So there you are, stepping into the theatre space for the first time. This is going to be ‘home’ for the while. It’s all very exciting and a little nerve-wracking. Regardless of how big or small the venue is, knowing how your voice works in the space is vital for optimising the vocal dynamics for your production. It’s easy to forget that the root of the word ‘audience’ is the same as ‘audio’. Audiences come to hear a play, as well as see it! Here are some great ways of getting to know your performance space and how to do that all-important ‘voice and space sound check’.

The Voice and Space Sound Check

These exercises can be done in any space, indoors and out!

1. The Walkabout

Walk around the audience and playing space so you can psychologically get an idea of how far the voice needs to travel and where it has to reach! Get to know those funny little nooks and crannies. Don’t just stand on the stage and look out in to the auditorium, move around to get the POV of your audience.

2.The Clap Test

To get you started try the simple ‘clap your hands test’ to get a sense of the rooms acoustics. You might hear:

1) Echoey clap
2) Dead clap
3) Muffled clap
4) Bright clap

This will give you an idea of how your voice is going to travel and sound to your audience. So once you have an idea of the space, here’s a few warm up tips for your type of venue. You can add these exercises to your own favourite warm up.

An echoey space? The sound is going to ricochet, and you may be able to hear your own voice coming back at you! Having energised consonants is vital. Voiceless consonants like P,T,S and K are prone to ‘hanging’ in the air. Sometimes it can feel like they’re a breathy cloud gathering over the sound of your performance. Make sure you do lots of good articulation exercises and tongue twisters to warm up those firm energised consonants.

A dead space? You’ll need lots of bright resonance. Warming up your full range is vital as this will help the sound to carry across and through the space. Get all your resonating spaces switched on. Aim the voice and range into the chest, facial mask, nose and mouth filling each resonating cavity with vibration and resonance.

A muffled space? You’ll need lots of bright resonance again, especially in the facial mask, and firm, crisp consonants. Hum into your lips, teeth, nose and cheeks. Use ‘ee’ and ‘yyy’ to feel the sound in the mask. Try saying ‘nnnyyyummmnnnyyyummmnnyyyummm’ to really feel the placement. Do lots of meaty tongue twisters for precision and energy.

A bright space? If the voice travels and lands with no after-effect, then lucky you! You can enjoy doing your own personal warm up that you know keeps you vocally on track during a show.

An outdoor space? Don’t fall into the trap of raising your pitch and shouting! Anchor the voice, make eye contact with your crowd, and give yourself a point of focus so you know where and how far your voice needs to travel. Sending your voice to a specific target means you’re reaching your audience rather than blasting them with too much noise or not enough!

A small space? Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security. Voices are in danger of being too echoey or too flat in a small space so may need just as much vocal precision and energy as a large space. All too often, actors fall into a trap of doing a ‘TV performance’ in a small theatre, keeping their performance so small and intimate that the audience is no longer involved in the beauty of a live show. Do the ‘walkabout’ and the ‘clap test’, and place your voice with energy and precision.

3. The Breath Test

  • Step back onto the stage and ‘breathe into the space’. Get a sense of where your voice has to reach: front row, end row, back row and up in the gods?
  • Wake up the ribs by giving them a gentle tap. Tap all the way around your rib cage front, back and sides.
  • Stretch your arms up and out, breathing as you’re stretching. Imagine you’re stretching up to gather apples from the tree, or that you’re inside a large bubble and you’re pushing the wall of a bubble all around.
  • Reach out and open up the breath by imagining you’re touching the ceiling, the seats, the wings or side of the stage.
  • As your breath drops in, imagine your ribs are swinging out and touching the sides of the theatre walls. Repeat a few times.
  • Drop the breath into your lower back, shake out the sound and start to hear your voice in the space.

Through all the above allow a natural dropping-in of breath. There’s no need to take in huge big gulping breaths, or to sniff the air in through your nose. Just let the breathing happen!!

4. The Sound Check

In pairs, have person A on stage and person B at the back of the auditorium. Person A speaks some lines from the play while B moves around the auditorium, to the side, back row and front row. Try different levels and places on stage. B: you’re looking and listening out for the ‘dead spots’. Are there some areas of the auditorium that are trickier than others? Wave at A when it’s hard to hear. It will give A an idea of how much effort and energy they need to connect with the sound and the audience. Now swap over. (If you’re doing a one person show, do all of the above and perhaps your person B can be a volunteer!)

An extra top tip from Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and the Olivier Stage at the National Theatre:

Sometimes we really do listen with our eyes! If an audience can’t see you they often think they can’t hear you! Seeing faces and being able to lip-read helps us tune in to the speaker and engage in the activity of listening. Make sure your audience, at some point throughout the scene and play gets to see your face, especially if you’re performing outside. Simply being able to hear something is not the same as being engaged in listening!

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