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The Thought Propels The Sound
Janet Madelle Feindel, Plural Publishing Inc, 288pp, Ill. (B/W), pbk, 6 x 9", ISBN10: 1-59756-206-8, ISBN13: 978-1-59756-206-5, $45.00. (First published in STATNews, January 2010)

Review by Penny O’Connor

 

This book is written for directors and trainee directors, arguing the case for using voice coaches and Alexander Technique in theatre and screen. The importance of voice-work is most explored, but as a trained Alexander teacher Janet not only adds a chapter on the Technique, but peppers her writing with references to the Work. How refreshing this is, as so many books on the voice barely mention it, or if they do, only in passing. As Kristin Linklater says in her praise of the book, "It will fill a vacuum in the field of performance literature." Janet is very generous in her writing, referring to others in her field and her mentors, including Kristin, Cicely Berry and Andrew Wade. The latter two, with whom she has studied, are voice coaches for the Royal Shakespeare Company in the UK and deference is paid to the English system, which suggests that there is more importance placed on voice in UK theatre than in the US. This book is written from the US perspective. However, in speaking to my voice colleagues at ArtsEd, I discover that apart from the big guns, very few theatre companies actually employ or use voice or speech coaches for their productions. And our trainee directors I spoke to confirmed that they are not given voice lessons but get more information on lighting and stagecraft than voice-work. So this book will be equally useful for directors and trainee directors here in the UK.

The tone of the book is feisty. Janet clearly is passionate about her work and has so much experience it’s a joy as she shares with us exercises and experiences. I particularly liked the chapter on ‘Resonex’, her own method which she has developed to connect the voice with the text, as there were some things I could use for my acting students at ArtsEd. Another chapter on Voice and Text Explorations again was very interesting for me but strayed into what our directors at ArtsEd are already doing. This leads me to my other discomfort: it is written in a combative style with a lot of ‘shoulds’. For trainees perhaps this is fine, but for those already directing with some experience … well this may be personal to me, particularly as a Brit, but I hate being told what to do and found the style off-putting.

I also wonder if it is necessary in the chapter on Alexander Technique to write, "Some traditionally trained Alexander teachers can become rigid in their approach … " (p56)Some directors/gardeners/yoga teachers may be rigid in their approach -do we read that in a book on directing/gardening/yoga? I think not. Interestingly, Voice and the Alexander Technique is also the only chapter which has no summary at the end. All the others do and it is very helpful to consolidate Janet’s exuberant writing.

At the end of the book is an appendix on Anatomy and Physiology of the Voice, which was very useful, with clear explanations and diagrams, and many pages of resources including a section on Alexander texts and three Alexander organisations: Alexander Alliance, ATI, and STAT.

© Penny O’Connor 2010

 

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