1st Iteration of the Final Installation
People benefit from effective communication
Effective communication can build confidence
'Invested connection' can benefit the individual and the community increasing understanding
Awareness of other species and their network of communities can increase receptivity and help to balance 'digital distraction'
Theatre skills can assist with transfer of these techniques into other areas such as education, corporate and the medical environment
THEORY & CRITICAL ANALYSIS
Original mindmap of the theory opposite and the final digital image. Morecroft S
Overview of the theory in Masters in Theatre Arts and Communication
My journey through the masters in theatre arts has weaved together an intricate web of discoveries in voice and rhythm, communication, scenography, grounding and connection, energy and a network of messages and signals within a myriad of species and humans.
Although the practical installation for the thesis was presented in London, the research to develop the scenography led me in search of sounds and connections worldwide, between mammals, birds, trees, nature and the digital world of artificial intelligence and social media.
At the beginning of the masters, we were asked to walk in nature to stimulate our senses and to inspire new ideas and concepts. I found myself being drawn in to listen more intently to the sounds of birdsong.
I asked the question - what is drawing me in? How do the birds create a harmony of complex and entrancing sounds? When investing my attention to the birdsong that surrounded me, the complex patterns of notes were so intricate it was as if I was hearing birdsong for the first time. I began to investigate how birds sing and I found they have a unique sound system (the avian syrinx) that allows the intricate patterns and notes to form their songs even while they're flying, while they're moving, and it allows them to sing while breathing and listen simultaneously. Some birds such as the skylark can sing non-stop for up to 18 minutes at one time.
Having developed my own voice for decades, I understood why I was drawn to the sound of birdsong and the techniques they use. As a professional actor and singer and coaching students within a Diploma course in the Performing Arts, I used many of the techniques I had gained when training my own voice in professional theatre productions to pass on to my students. Techniques I had learn working with some of the best vocal coaches such as Professor Mary Hammond, (2022) Royal Academy of Music.
I can tell a state of mind from a voice, to understand how your voice works is a way of people knowing something about you and encourages individuals in the ability to express themselves. There is a value in being aware in what the voice can do. (Interview with Hammond, 2022)
What did I want to do with my experience and how could I offer something unique?
I reflected back and began to contemplate how other species within nature transfer messages. I began to compile the feedback received from previous students and the results from the voice workshops in the Masters at Middlesex University to simplify a series of techniques to inspire others in communication.
I came upon the documentary ‘The Wonder of Song’ (2020) by David Attenborough. It was particularly interesting to hear his recordings over seven decades of different birdsong and other rare species he'd recorded on very old but effective equipment throughout time. Surrounded by birdsong Attenborough introduces the reason for the program here;
There are surely few more enchanting soundscapes in nature than the avian choir at dawn, I’ve chosen some of the recordings collected from the natural world, some have revolutionised our understanding of song and all have broken new ground. Interestingly we have no scientific definition of song, we use the word to describe sounds that are whimsical, beautiful. (Attenborough, (2020) The Wonder of Song, BBC)
I set out to question which techniques were the most effective in communication through a process of practical investigation. Some of the methodology incorporated were techniques and exercises I had used in vocal training for professional productions such as deep humming, lifting the soft pallet, diaphragm connection, and vocal repetition.
During some of the earlier practical workshops at Middlesex University I noted how visiting artists such as Munotida Chinyanga, State of the [art], and Steffano Puppino explored themes and discussion through forms of play to develop group work. Their language and cultural background strongly influenced their work. When watching an immersive performance piece by State of the [art] later in the year, Building the City, I was also struck by the cultural and historical concepts that were interwoven into the evening, combined with audience participation in games, quizzes and epic legends.
In the practical-led research at Middlesex, I tried introducing using forms of text and rhythm work, including using well known songs pop songs, converting the melody to a Shakespearean sonnet and asking some groups to physicalise different sonnets using particular emotions. Other groups were asked to perform tongue twisters in other languages, with a time constraint to vary the rhythm and bring a playful, competitive element to the method. A further aim was to test which methods would assist with retention of the exercises.
The response to the practical investigation was positive as the participants engaged in the process energetically and expressed particular interest in the vocal challenges of the tongue twisters in foreign languages. They commented on the change of rhythm between the languages. I noticed a significant difference between the timing, which surprised me. I had expected a different modulation and intonation, but with the different rhythms the sounds were also significantly altered. This led me to question why different languages had such different rhythms and how I could incorporate the changes with rhythm to simplify the technique and advance the work. In addition, how varying application of different physicality could affect the results.
The students said when developing their own sound and rhythms, rooted in listening to their partner and working together, they found a new appreciation for that sonnet, or the language. This reinforced to me that whatever the language, humans enjoy interactive learning, benefitting from connection and understanding.
In the feedback discussion after, we focussed on the techniques used, the different concepts and how the process developed, not only in the voice and confidence of the individual, but also suggestions for incorporating more physicality such as a tic-toc dance to link to social media. We considered how the process evolved into a focus on the nuances of behaviour. As a further development recently, these suggestions have developed with other students that have taken the course and they also suggested using social media to promote the course.
The next discoveries in the master’s took a more scientific route as I investigated more deeply into our own vocal equipment - the larynx, the pharynx, vocal folds and the vocal cords to study the science of how human sound evolves, to build a framework of understanding within myself to convert into the methodology.
The study revealed how complex our individual sounds and tones are and how fragile physical connections to make an individual sound can be.
I questioned why there is little awareness commonly known about our inbuilt communication devices, how our voice works, our vocal expression and physicality.
A further significant discovery was within the group module (Connecting Practices) when some of the concepts of the group were in conflict, and our progress stopped. We decided to try different communication techniques. One was to talk over one another with a chaotic, confusing energy and then to stop suddenly, with complete silence. We then tried to all join each other vocalising on one single note. The two vocal extremes drew attention to the sparse listening that was occurring during the conflict and as a result the lack of progress. This experiment in sound and change of rhythm drew attention to the problem and seemed to ground the group, enabling us to reset and reassess. It was such an effective exercise we included it within the final presentation where, following this, we sang some lullaby's in different languages whilst standing in a web of rope and listening to one another.
This was an interesting finding within the investigation and emphasised the evolving theory that effective connections can develop from simple sound and changing rhythm and we that benefit from listening to one another’s differences, which in turn, can advance communication. This finding confirmed to me that not only do we benefit from communicating, but we also learn and advance from listening to one another.
This led me to reflect upon something David Attenborough stated in the Wonder of Song, BBC (2020) when recording what he describes as the closest sound to his heart;
Using my new equipment, I made the first ever audio recording of the largest Lima on Madagascar, the Indri. Until now no-one had even managed to photograph a living one, much less film one. Infuriatingly the bush was so thick I could see no sign of them whatever. How could we get close enough to get a clear view of them without frightening them? I thought, what about doing it the other way around and try to persuade them to get closer to us by playing their calls? And they did exactly what I hoped they would do, they called in return, came down close to us, stared at us, still calling. I was thrilled, we had recorded their song and filmed them singing. (Attenborough, (2020) The Wonder of Song, BBC)
Attenborough had not only discovered that the Lima, who had never been recorded before, wished to communicate, he also captured it on film. The recognition of their own sound drew them in.
Reflecting upon the changes in rhythm and movement that critically engaged the students in the first module and in Connecting Practices, I questioned how I could incorporate some of the knowledge and appreciation gained to build a simple methodology and take this into different professions than theatre. How I could incorporate this with voice technique, lighter rhythmic exercises and the playfulness and reciprocity found within the international tongue twisters and lullabies in the first and second module of the Masters.
Within the module ‘Managing Practices,’ we were encouraged to research into other environments via a placement. I was fortunate enough to be facilitated in taking my concept in voice and communication into a retail environment, John Lewis in Cambridge. I decided to approach the head of the branch to enquire whether they may like to incorporate some voice and theatre workshops to assist their employees with customer service.
What part of this worked and what didn’t?
The students generally reacted well, and participated actively, however the occasional student found the transition moving from the busy shop floor directly into this different environment overwhelming.
Although they signed up for a workshop involving voice, I was aware this unfamiliar territory could make some self-conscious, particularly those uncomfortable with their voice or their own physicality. Also the results were dependent on the environment, within the store (busy or calm) and the individual student’s abilities.
This led me to consider a transitional device I could incorporate to bring the participants into a more receptive state before beginning the exercises and to immerse them more gently into the environment.
I questioned what environment I could introduce, either visually or through sound that could relax the students and create a transition that would and reassure to begin the workshop conducively.
(See Social Connections for more on details of the work taking theatre into retail.)
For the final thesis I wanted to draw the learning and concepts together to create a piece of theatre that would include the feedback from previous modules and the techniques developed in the methodology to present these themes in an interesting and engaging way. From the reflection on the course creation of the 5PCP, the understanding that had been gained through the modules forming the concepts around a central theory-
Most species are curious and want to learn. They want to listen and to communicate, no matter what language. There is a desire to communicate to survive but also to connect.and to evolve. The connection is most effective when we are in a space together to enable clarity (vocal or physical), to read physical gestures and body language, to listen, to transfer energy and to receive.
John Lewis Customer Service Voice Workshop