Let's Talk About "Act Singing" For A Second....

Matt Whalen

“What will this person bring us this night that I have not seen? Give me back a piece of my life is what they are asking for” –director Frank Corsaro

If you are a performer, know that whether they know it or not, this is what every audience member is thinking about you before they see your interpretation of your role. Answer this question in your performance honestly. Tell the truth. Show them what you have to offer in the role.

What do you have to say that no one else can say?

Why was it so exciting to find out Meryl Streep would be playing the witch in "Into the Woods"? If you've seen the show before, even excellent interpretations, why would it be exciting to see her in the role? Because you know from past experiences, she will bring something to it that you haven't seen. She will give you a piece of your life back. If you tell the truth in your performance and show yourself in that role, you can do the same to an audience. Becoming good at telling the truth, or "living truthfully in imaginary circumstances" is what it takes to become a better actor.

A process exists beyond a vocal technique that must be incorporated, because in its own way, when the actor speaks fully, he is singing. When the singer is is allowed to express what it’s all about, she is speaking.

Take a song that you personally love very much for whatever reason. It can be any style or genre.  Answer the question “What is it about this particular song that I love?”

Then ask yourself, “What is the rock bottom reality about this music that I must understand before I can open my mouth and sing the first words of the song?” Write down your most heartfelt answer to that question…

Then write down the answer to this question ...“What do I know about that?” Yes. What do you personally know about that? By doing this you will come to a stronger understanding of a piece of music that means a lot to you. If you verbalize it or at least recognize your connection to it, that understanding comes out every time you sing it. 

It can be challenging blending acting and singing, making them work in tandem without working against each other. For example, there might be a time where I very much want to express dramatically what is happening in the song, but vocally, it's challenging. I feel I have to juggle both acting and singing, and I'm not giving either the full attention. I can't just speak the words, I have to also put a lot of concentration on what is happening technically in order for me to get the best of both worlds, and I thought of a trick that might help with this if other people are having this issue.

Make the vocal technique a part of the communication process that is necessary for you to have your message delivered.

For example, if I were singing a phrase, and I know the arc of this particular phrase goes up into the top part of my voice, and the "singer part" of my brain tells me I need to do a specific series of "vocal technique" steps in order to get those notes to come out effortlessly, but having my brain completely disengage with my acting to achieve that can be counter-intuitive, and can make me  go into "singer mode", and completely disengage with the words I'm saying. A way to combat this is to make the vocal technique that needs to be attended to a part of the acting...what needs to happen vocally is required to get your point across.

Use your need to be singing technically correct as a vehicle of communication. Figure out before you sing what you need to do vocally and dramatically in a song and work on blending them at the same time. If you are mindful of the importance of both, you can allow them to work together instead of against each other. Be deliberate in pairing intention with physiological awareness of your body and what it's doing when it's singing.

You must always sing with a "cool head and a hot heart". If you get hot headed in singing, it can come off as out of control, and frankly, amateur.  All the great emotional things you think you are doing won't read because there is a loss in the vocal quality. Even in speaking dialogue, screaming or being very emotional doesn't equal moving the audience.

On the other hand, I think we've all watched singers when they have "checked out" a bit and are so focused on hitting that high note that consequently, we, the audience have sort of checked out too, because we are reminded of the work they are doing. It looks like work.

It takes a lot of hard work and planning for something to look effortless. I'm going to try to be mindful and make this a part of my process going forward. If you have any thoughts, or questions, let me know!

*More info on the acting exercise that inspired this can, view the below video.