Helping a dancer find truth in singing
I work with many dancers who sing and singers who dance. The triple threat in Musical theatre (actor, singer, dancer) is fast becoming the norm.
My client this morning is a triple threat who thinks in dance terms. She’s a dancer through and through. So how could I as a vocal coach tap into a dancer’s wide and deep knowledge of their craft?
The singing challenge
In today’s lesson I set my client a challenge in today’s lesson to sing the first sixteen bars of four songs, one after another, and to “hit the ground running”. Her task was to find the storyline, emotion and mood of each character in the first bar
Things were going quite well and she was producing good performances, but I felt I could get something stronger from her
The audition technique
In my Answers On A Postcard technique, the singer chooses a phrase that she can use mentally at the beginning of the song to get her straight into character. (See Webinar 5 “Exams Auditions and Competitions” for how this works).
My client had just been telling me about a TV series she was in charting the history of dance, so I decided to extend the technique. I suggested she think of the characteristics of different dance styles to incorporate them into her performance
The song was “Stop and See Me” from Weird Romance, and the style I suggested to bring to the song mentally was hip-hop. She didn’t move a muscle or change her position in any way, but the difference in the characterisation was extraordinary. She became stronger, more cocky, yet much more vulnerable. Perfect for the song. The reading got deeper, more truthful and infinitely more moving. I felt I was witnessing an aspect of her really for the first time
It went beyond “finding my version of this song” and became “finding myself in the song”
When I saw that she had completely understood the concept, we moved on to the concept of using costume as a creative kicker.
“Gorgeous” from The Apple Tree is a ‘Cinderella’ song about a young woman who sees herself in beautiful clothes for the first time. We started with putting her in the My Fair Lady Ascot costume , but the song also needs a more earthy sense of humour. So we kept the scenario and added Miranda Hart in a wedding dress (if you haven’t seen the Miranda BBC comedy series, check it out).
“Someday” from The Wedding Singer became a number from Grease with bobby sox, a dirndl skirt and a vision of Teen Angel
“God Help The Outcasts” became an Eco-warrior with dreads, occupying the cathedral steps (this actually happened at St Paul’s Cathedral recently, although I’m not sure they sang numbers from Notre Dame…)
The term performance magic is horribly overused, but when you see someone transform for the first time into a totally different character, in songs they’ve known and sung for years, there’s no other phrase that fits.