I did have something fun and new to keep my mind off the lack of spring warmth, a play! I wasn’t performing this time, I was assistant directing our middle school play. A very different activity for me, but one I felt well suited for given my background in speech-language pathology. As I embarked on this challenge I was reminded of how theater and speech-language pathology are interrelated. In fact, I recalled thirty-three years ago when I was a graduate assistant. I had nearly forgotten that my time was split between two departments, communication sciences and disorders and speech and theater. How could I forget that? In working to help our students give a spectacular performance I was so happy to have a background in articulation, anatomy and physiology, voice, and social pragmatics. Here is how this all played out:
- Articulation - I was dumbstruck by the number of girls who dentalized everything. Not only that, they didn’t voice /d/s and /z/s! They seemed to want to sound like all the Disney pop stars. On the other hand, some of the kids over-articulated their lines to the point where they sounded forced. Neither of those practises translates well to the stage and I was able to help them achieve better placement of their articulators for lines and singing.
- Voice – The other piece of sounding like a Disney pop star is nasality. WHEW! We worked on establishing oral resonance when singing, but they always went back to Disney pop. I was also able to help our actors learn how to use their larger muscles as a basis of support for voice volume and projection and with the music director’s expertise how to adequately use breath support for both volume and pitch. We helped them recognize the difference between shouting while singing and supporting. We worked on appropriate rate and helped them understand that during performances when all that adrenaline was surging they had the potential to go even faster.
- Social-Pragmatics – This was the really fun piece: acting. My background in social was extremely helpful here. We talked about eye contact and body position on stage, remembering to never turn backs to the audience, but rather “cheating” out a tad. We worked heavily on not sending a mixed message. For instance, learning how not to laugh when telling the king that his wife has died or actually smiling when happy. By the same token, I helped the actors understand that it’s crucial to use a tone of voice that reflects the sentiment of the line that is being delivered. So if you are an evil queen you need to use a tone of voice and body language that is wholly evil. Performing in a play, like role playing in therapy, is a great opportunity for students to practice perspective taking in a non threatening and fun situation. It provides students the ability to stretch themselves as well as to consider the perspective of the other characters. I recall watching Robin Hood Prince of Thieves starring Kevin Costner. While overall I enjoyed the film, I was disappointed in Kevin Costner’s British accent. It seemed sometimes it was there and sometimes it wasn’t. Maintaining the integrity of the character played is as much a part of social as it is acting. We all assume different roles in different social scenarios. The work Annie is different from the home Annie who is different from the party Annie. They are all me, but they shift according to the scenario and other “actors.” This was a fun perspective to help our middle school actors understand. They still had to maintain their characters, but their character could shift as the context and other actors shifted in different scenes.
Reflecting back, my colleagues and I had, what I consider, the perfect quantities of let’s make this good and let’s make this fun. We remembered when to be firm and when to laugh, when to remember this had to be performed and when to remember these are kids. We brought our own unique talents and strengths and I think we complemented each other perfectly. I am so grateful for my professional background, because without that expertise I think I may have missed the why behind the what in theater!