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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Investigation into differing vocal reactions of young actors to a text Nicholls, Hilary

Abstract

A universally observed problem in acting is the inability of some actors in some roles to sound convincing when they speak. Instead, they sound as if they were reading aloud, although they have already learned their lines. This deficiency is usually referred to as a 'reading' or 'liney' quality in vocal delivery. A kindred fault, common in more experienced actors, is falling into exaggerated modulations seldom met with off stage; this is vulgarly known as 'ham'. When these faults are present in a performance, the audience has a powerful impression of inauthenticity or untruth. In a satisfactory performance, the voice sounds spontaneous and free, conveying the truth of the character. The object of the project described in this thesis was to investigate these phenomena more critically, with the aim of discovering possible causes other than innate talent or its absence in the actor. The method adopted in this pilot study involved observation of a small group of volunteer students, whose vocal delivery in different acting exercises could be assessed and compared. The project, which lasted for a Winter session, was set up somewhat similarly to an acting course. The students were given various acting exercises including concentration exercises, Sound and Movement, improvisations, oral readings, and work on one act of a play, necessitating a rehearsal period of four-and-a-half weeks. Potentially significant passages in some of these exercises were recorded on cassette tapes: these tapes appear as appendices to the present thesis. Voices were compared in all the situations provided by the different exercises, but the basic contrast lay between the same voice using improvised words, and using words invented by another. Each student was assessed in these groups of exercises. In the oral readings and the study of the play they were considered under different headings, some of which dealt with technical proficiency, while others were concerned with imagination in the creation of a role, and the resulting success or failure in projecting a character; the assessment laid emphasis on the quality of the vocal delivery. Three causes were found to be significant in examining an unsatisfactory delivery. The first of these was connected with resistance to playing a particular kind of part. In two cases, a character in a play appeared to threaten the actor, possibly by its destructiveness and violence. In these cases the actors responded with unconvincing voices and a marked tendency to adopt a set of inflections which became unalterable, and thus quite unspontaneous. The second cause lay in a fundamental attitude to the text as such. A text apparently constituted itself as an authority for some actors, an external authority whose power they were unable to transfer to themselves. This created a 'reading' quality in the voice and a similar lack of spontaneity. The third significant area concerned the use of the imagination in building up a role. Where the actor had failed to ask himself the question, "What would I do if I were in this situation?" there was a thinness in the presentation of the character, which showed in under- or over-emphasis in the voice. Furthermore, where the techniques for enabling an actor to believe in his role as a specific character were ignored, the actor tended to approach the emotional demands of the part with a direct attack; discouraging results ensued. This lack of imaginative preparation manifested itself in an exaggerated and strained delivery. Finally, there are some comments on feeling, intuition and intellect, and how these bear on the problems of student actors, who have been trained in other disciplines to use their brains first and foremost, and their intuitions rather less.

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