Fitzmaurice Voicework

“A person who doesn’t breathe deeply reduces the life of his body. If he doesn’t move freely, he restricts the life of his body. If he doesn’t feel fully, he narrows the life of his body. And if his self-expression is constricted, he limits the life of his body.”
– Alexander Lowen

What is Fitzmaurice Voicework?

Fitzmaurice Voicework was conceived by Catherine Fitzmaurice, at the Central School of Drama in London, for actors. Catherine Fitzmaurice has been interested in healing and, for 35 years, has experimented with the work of William Reich, yoga, shiatsu, Reiki and other somatic arts to unlock the breath and open the voice. She discovered that the voice cannot open if the breathing is not free, therefore, breathing is the foundation of her voice work. The result is Fitzmaurice Voicework, which is now the most sought after voice work for actors, and is taught at Yale, Harvard, Julliard and most professional acting conservatories. Trained in Fitzmaurice Voicework, Heather Lyle undertook a rigorous two year certification process to safely teach the work and now teaches in the Fitzmaurice teacher certification program as well as workshops in Los Angeles and NYC. Although very specialized, the work can be easily learned, and is of supreme benefit to all who practice it. Anyone interested in improving their breathing and increasing their vocal power and freedom will greatly benefit from this work. Fitzmaurice Voicework releases the breath and voice from places in the body where it has been blocked or braced, due to emotional or physical stress. Since the voice can only go where the breath is, the voice is opened in places never before experienced. Fitzmaurice Voicework is a series of breathing exercises and a sequence of yoga postures, called Destructuring, that target all of the breathing possibilities of the body. Normal yoga postures are transformed into autonomic breathing exercises. Some of the postures are yoga arches to stimulate the breathing and release the voice from certain areas of the torso, while other postures are designed to stimulate the body to tremor gently, freeing the voice from unwanted tension. When learned, the sequence can be practiced as a highly effective vocal and physical warm-up that can be added to any training routine. It gives the actor a practical tool to relax and energize the body, open the breath and free the voice for performance. Most people also find the exercises induce a calm, tranquil, theta state that can reduce performance anxiety.

The second part of the work is called Restructuring. The newly freed voice is retrained to engage the proper muscles for vocal support and power through the use of strengthening exercises from classical British voice training and The Bel Canto School of Singing. Through Restructuring the actor gains a thorough understanding of the anatomy and physiology of the voice and is quickly able to experience greater vocal flexibility and stamina. The voice is no longer limited in any way, and becomes an asset instead of a liability. The actor is now free to use his or her energy to solely focus on acting.

Why Do Actors Need to Do Voice Work?

All of the serious acting conservatories usually require an actor to do two to four years of voice work. The voice is the instrument of the actor and if the actor is limited by his or her voice, the voice can actually hinder the actor’s free expression. The actor also needs to be able to portray a wide variety of characters and he or she needs a flexible vocal instrument that is able to assume another personality. A conservatory program will usually cover freeing the voice, finding vocal power, increasing resonance, diction, the phonetic alphabet, dialects and sometimes even singing. In Los Angeles, most actor’s who take acting classes study only acting technique. Therefore, the actor needs to find a voice teacher on his or her own to study voice work so that their training is not deficient in any way. If you take voice lessons in Los Angeles with Heather Lyle, she will teach all of the vocal techniques taught at the best conservatories today.

What Daniel Day Lewis Had to Say About Voice Work!

In 2008 I attended an interview with Daniel Day Lewis, one of the best actors alive (unfortunately he has retired) regarding his movie “There Will Be Blood.” In the movie Daniel Day Lewis has a very unique voice. Mr. Lewis said that to create his character he had to first create the voice of the character and by delving deeply into the voice, the character emerged. He also spent time listening to recordings of American speakers in the early part of the 20th century to develop a dialect that was more authentic to the period that the movie was set in. I had an opportunity after the interview to speak in depth with Mr. Lewis and he said that voice work has been an extremely important part of his acting technique. Today he feels that too many actors undervalue its importance, to the detriment of the art form.

In 2012 publicity interviews of Daniel Day Lewis, for his movie “Lincoln,” he spoke again of voice work. Daniel said that he spent a year researching the dialect used in the time of Lincoln and once again developed the voice, first, as a window into Lincoln’s character. He, then, practiced the voice for 2 and 1/2 months and when he felt he had mastered it, sent recordings of himself speaking as Lincoln to Spielberg. In an interview with Oprah Daniel said that he felt that “the voice is the fingerprint of the soul.” Very few new actor’s emerging on the scene possess a voice that can captivate an audience like Daniel Day Lewis.

I also attended an interview with Joe Wright, the director of “Pride and Prejudice, “regarding his movie “Atonement” that won the academy award for best picture. Mr. Wright had a voice coach on set for the rehearsals before shooting started and decided to keep him on set for the whole shoot. He started each day of the filming with a vocal warm-up for the cast, crew and himself. He said that he found that the actor’s performances were deeper and more inspired after a vocal warm-up and felt that the voice work was invaluable, and a way to spark greater creativity for not just the actor, but for himself and the crew as well.

All of the serious acting conservatories usually require an actor to do two to four years of voice work. The voice is the instrument of the actor and if the actor is limited by his or her voice, the voice can actually hinder the actor’s free expression. The actor also needs to be able to portray a wide variety of characters and he or she needs a flexible vocal instrument that is able to assume another personality. A conservatory program will usually cover freeing the voice, finding vocal power, increasing resonance, diction, the phonetic alphabet, dialects and sometimes even singing. In Los Angeles, most actor’s who take acting classes study only acting technique. Therefore, the actor needs to find a voice teacher on his or her own to study voice work so that their training is not deficient in any way. If you take voice lessons in Los Angeles with Heather Lyle, she will teach all of the vocal techniques taught at the best conservatories today.

The Focus Line

A seemingly simple but very transformational exercise is “The Focus Line” in mountain pose. Stand in mountain pose. Try to increase your height by elongating the spine as if a string was pulling you upward from the top of your head. Feel the breath enter in the spaces between the vertebrae of your spine. The spine is a support for the voice and to be in touch with the voice one must also have a connection to the spine. Now inhale from as low in the body as you can and as you exhale say zaaaah and imagine the sound dropping into the base of the spine, rising up the vertebrae, rounding over or through the back of the head and coming out the third eye. This exercise is derived from Fitzmaurice Voice Work and is called “The Focus Line.” It is an amazing exercise to do while singing or reciting text. You can even imagine the sound spinning up your spine and out your third eye. With speech: try this exercise while also saying was-za was-za with your eyes open and direct the sound coming out of your third eye to a spot in front of you. Enjoy!

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