Performing Futures: Reconsidering Voice Training
Through her research Electa Behrens, associate professor of voice and acting at the Norwegian Theatre Academy, calls for a re-envisioning of traditional voice training, emphasizing that pedagogy needs to adapt to intra-cultural contexts.
Prom the workshop ‘Vocal Intra-action’ at NTA, fall 2019. Photo: Electa Behrens
Norwegian Theatre Academy (NTA), which recruits internationally, has both bachelor and master programs as well as many PhD researchers. The school is a unique conservatory in a national and international context for its long history of research-based teaching and student-led learning.
- At NTA, I am able to conduct research-based teaching in an international context, something which is quite rare and extremely relevant to understanding how pedagogy relates to the field. As leader of the voice program, I am actively working to invite alternative pedagogical approaches and to reconsider how voice is curated in relation to the other fields. We aim to be at the forefront of practically researching what a decolonial, intersectional voice training might be.
"In this sense, we are aiming to train a performer for the future."
Electa Behrens, associate professor of voice and acting at NTA
Behrens calls for a re-envisioning of traditional voice training, emphasizing that pedagogy needs to adapt to intra-cultural contexts. She has published on this topic, including an article titled: «Training a performer’s voices» in Theatre, Dance and Performance Training Journal special issue: «Intercultural Acting and Performer Training». The article is also included in the book with the same name by Phillip Zarilli; T. Sasitharan & Anuradha Kapur (ed.).
- As global contexts become multi-, inter- and intra-cultural, assumptions about what acting "is" and what actor/performer training should be continue to be shaped by conventional modes, models, techniques and structures. This book examines how our understanding of interculturalism changes when we shift our focus from the obvious and highly visible aspects of production to the micro-level of training grounds, studios, and rehearsal rooms, where new forms of hybrid performance are emerging. (Eds)
Behrens’ methods reconsider existing approaches via reworking historical models and employing concepts from other disciplines. One such, is to extend Stanislavski's 'Circles of Attention', (an exercise for ‘traditional acting’), allowing it to break through its original ontological frame. Within an expanded metaphysics, it can function as a metaphor which allows performers to translate their work on ‘presence’ across a variety of aesthetics and cultural contexts.
"For the voice to fulfil its potential as dramaturgical force and become a mode of expression which can develop new trends, shifts are needed."
She also proposes applying positive psychologist Czichszentmihalyi's idea of ‘flow’ to actor training. Czichszentmihalyi, who studies happiness, found that ‘flow’ was the word most people use when explaining what it means to be happy. Flow is a term also highly used in performer training, but a term, which often has a vague or shifting definition. The graph is easily relatable and describes flow as being a state somewhere between being scared and being bored; it proposes that this state is achieved by matching your skills to your challenges. Behrens’ proposes this graph as a starting point for understanding an actor’s ‘creative flow’, which, because it starts from individual experience instead of cultural value, can be equally concrete for performers with diverse backgrounds.
Behrens outlines the importance of opening an argument for «alternative skills» for voice training and debunking the neutrality of traditional western voice work as very culturally bounded and potentially limiting.
Based on her research Behrens thinks there is a need for a change in the way voice training is conducted. For the voice to fulfil its potential as dramaturgical force and become a mode of expression which can develop new trends, shifts are needed.
- Voice training must be re-envisioned: composition work should accompany traditional voice classes, most beneficially within a single course. The studio must be understood as a culturally charged space rather than one of neutrality. Student-driven practice rather than top-down learning must be implemented. Exercises need to be introduced which allow different aesthetics and voices from different cultures to live alongside each other.
- This is what we look to do at NTA.
The book «Intercultural Acting and Performer Training» by Phillip Zarilli; T. Sasitharan & Anuradha Kapur (ed.) is published by Routledge.
Behrens has also published in the journal of Interdisciplinary Voice Studies, the book Responsive Listening and the forthcoming Anthology from NTA. She was also a member of the HiØ/NTA research project Material Strategies.