Become a Vocal Triple Threat

People often ask: “What are the most common missteps you observe in auditions?”

The answer I usually give first: “Oversinging.” Sore throat - Flu / Cold / Stuck throat

The human body features outstanding natural resonators. Yet, many well-intentioned musical theatre performers continuously (and usually unwittingly) push, strongarm and oversing their way through the 16 bars they’ve chosen to offer. Their heads thrust forward, veins pop from their necks, and their eyes appear to bulge from force.

The next time you find yourself working up an audition cut, consider the following three-step process for the production of sound. I call it ESA (Engage, Support, Allow):

  • Engage: That awesome resonance of which the body is capable won’t happen in a collapsed, disengaged instrument. Before attention can truly be paid to breath work, the body must be aligned, connected, and calibrated as a vessel for free-flowing sound. I always recommend study of the Alexander Technique and yoga as means of learning to engage the body as a musical instrument.
  • Support: Properly coordinated breath support is paramount to a healthy, easy sound. Many theories and approaches exist regarding the particular methods by which the performer’s breath is deployed for singing, but one thing is common to all: without a sufficiently supported tone (which requires a careful balance of neither too much nor too little air), the undesirable overproduction of sound is nearly inevitable. And remember: Support relies mightily on Engagement.
  • Allow: Many musical theatre performers carry with them the misconception that belting is a heavier phenomenon than it need be. The healthiest, most effective belting I’ve ever heard has consistently involved a “lighter” production than one might initially think. This isn’t to say that belted passages need come across as thin; by contrast, layering more or less natural chest resonance into the sound can infinitely vary the “weight” of one’s belt. But the point here is that it’s the allowing of sound — once the instrument has been engaged, the vocal mechanism supported, and the desired placement achieved — that results in ease of sound.

When you find yourself standing on that center X at your next audition, don’t overdrive the “speakers” of your voice. No one wants to be blared at, and your larynx will thank you for it. Instead, make ESA your new favorite verb. Become a vocal triple threat.


Side Ways

sightline /sīt′līn′/ n.
A line of sighSide Ways Postt, especially one between a spectator and the spectacle in a theater or stadium.

That’s the dictionary definition.

This blog, however, seeks to go further: to investigate performance in musical theatre as experienced from the wings, that mysterious space where performer and spectator converge. That singular site where the actor-singer-dancer awaits her entrance with rapt anticipation and readiness, considering from a most curious angle the ephemeral moment unfolding before her.

The musical theatre performer — always training, whether apprentice or professional — must at all times consider the side ways of his craft, those ever-shifting vantage points that provide entry into a critical synthesis of process and product(ion).

This is a blog about vocal technique. It’s also about choreography. And acting songs. And lots of other things. It’s a blog about seeing things side-ways, as one does from the wings.

It’s about something we’ve been doing in the theatre for a long time: considering the sightlines.