In today's world, where communication is often mediated by an electronic device like a cell phone, e-mail or IM, theater Professor Anne Brady worries that we are losing the ability to connect with each other. Messages are shorter, less subtle. As a result, we have less intimacy and find it harder to express complex thoughts. It's the worst possible environment to grow an actor.
"Rarely are we present to experience how our words — even our typed words — affect the partner to whom they are directed,"
Brady says. "It is not just our bodies and our voices that are atrophying, but our connection to our emotional life and to others. To truly partner — with our imagination and emotions, with our bodies and voices, with a playwright's words and with another human being — is the lost art I seek to teach young actors."
Of course the first step is to create a safe space where actors can experiment. The next step is to loosen their bodies and their thinking. She starts with the voice.
Brady is one of only about 100 people in the world trained to teach the intensive Linklater Voice Work, which requires personally studying with its developer, Kristin Linklater, one of the top voice teachers in the world. Her list of students includes Patrick Stewart, Donald Sutherland, Mary Tyler Moore, Bill Murray and countless others. Brady has studied several methods and feels this one works best for acting.
"It's based on impulse," she says. "It uses imagination in addition to what's going on in the body anatomically. It uses the whole body to fully express voice, which requires the body to be free."
To unleash the body, the Linklater method takes actors through a whole progression, starting with physical relaxation exercises and moving through breath and free sound. The next step is to free a "channel," which unlocks tensions in the jaw, tongue and soft pallet so the voice can travel freely. There's also an emphasis resonator work to open up different spaces that sound and voice can travel through. And, of course, it addresses articulation.
"Through all of this, it's about allowing the actor's truth to be revealed," Brady says. "So you're not trying to go for a beautiful voice. You're trying to free whatever this person has to say and free text through them. Other techniques are very muscular. This is based on relaxation and liberates breath, sound and emotion with imaginative exercises. That's why I think it's perfect for actors because they rely on their imagination to go into a play's circumstances."
Brady uses many innovative techniques to connect actors to the text, helping them explore the worlds it contains. When she directed Charles Marowitz's A Macbeth, a disjointed play based on Shakespeare's Macbeth, Brady skipped the customary first read and, instead, had a team mutter the text to actors, thought by thought, without stress, intonation or interpretation. This allowed the actors to connect with their breath, their imagination, the words and their scene partners without worrying about or knowing what was coming next.
When Brady directed David Lindsay-Abaire's Rabbit Hole, which is about a husband and wife grieving the death of their 5-year-old son Danny, who was killed in an automobile accident, she cast a 5-year-old boy in the part of Danny, though the character never appears onstage. The boy came to rehearsals and played games, had picnics and took pictures with the cast and crew. Halfway through the rehearsal process, Brady stopped bringing Danny in. On his last day, he said, "I'm going now" and never came back.
"So the sense of the family got built," Brady says. "When he no longer came to rehearsals, the actors still had memories of him. There were pictures of him around the room."
One of Brady's most uncommon productions was Three Penny Opera, in which she partnered with Duoc Universidad Católica in Santiago, Chile. The international production of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill's 1928 musical had Brady Skyping with co-director Sebastian Dahm to talk about ideas and themes. Then Brady and Binghamton music Professor Tim Perry took five lead actors and four ensemble members from Binghamton University to Chile to work with Dahm and five leads and several more ensemble actors from Duoc. They rehearsed in Santiago four weeks before performing the play eight times. The production was then moved to Binghamton University, where it added four more cast members from Binghamton before rehearsing with a new student orchestra on a very different stage.
"It was a terrific experience," Brady says. "Our students learned a lot from going down there and making friends and working with a different culture. Basically, we were all after the same thing. I was surprised how easy that was."
Brady says these kinds of experiences and experiments, along with her exploration of voice, movement and acting techniques, help her be a stronger artist and better teacher.
"I am always exploring new ways of teaching and new exercises for physical and vocal release and expression," she says. "Whether I am teaching voice or movement or acting, I desire to liberate the creative self in each student, to awaken their curiosity and deepen their ability as actors to tell a story."
Last Updated: 12/10/14