I was introduced to Linklater voice work in the spring of my first year of graduate school. Everyone involved in the MFA production of Pericles needed to take an intensive workshop on it during what would have been our spring break otherwise (I believe our program director suggested that spring break was for “amateurs and undergrads”). This was important because Tina Packer and Dave Demke were directing and assistant directing and both came from Shakespeare & Company where Kristin Linklater’s work is used as a common vocabulary for such techniques as dropping in. I was a little sad that giving up spring break meant giving up some of the plans I’d made with my then boyfriend, now husband (we’d been dating 6 or 7 months at that point and one of our planned outings included wine tasting, which I was very sad to miss) but I was also excited and I had no idea how worth it that experience would be.
For the workshop we were supposed to bring a monologue to work on as well as our parts for the play. I chose Kate Percy’s monologue from Henry IV Part II. For those of you who haven’t read the play or need a refresher, it is a gorgeous speech about *spoiler alert* how her husband died in war thanks to her father in law not sending reinforcements when they were needed. There’s a lot of anger in the speech, understandably, and I must have known that that was my weak point as an actor. Turns out… I sucked at feeling anger onstage because I wouldn’t let myself feel it in real life.
I know, I know, you were promised a post about love and here I am talking about anger, but bear with me… Linklater focuses on releasing habitual tensions or behaviors that keep us from our natural breath and natural voice. If you want a great example of what it tries to explore check out how a baby breathes and communicates. My son can scream for shockingly long stretches if he feels the need to and he never goes horse. It’s hard to find an actor who can do that if they haven’t practiced something like Linklater. And this kind of voice work isn’t just for actors, Kristen Linklater has this great quote I often think about: “If you’re holding your breath in any way, part of you is absent.”
But allowing yourself to cry or scream in front of people in a real way instead of just putting on some sort of affectation that represents that experience requires an immense amount of vulnerability. (Vulnerability? Now we’re getting somewhere that’s easy to connect with love…)
I thought I was going to be dealing with an acting problem during that workshop… what I ended up dealing with was finding a battle I am still confronting. See, I have rarely had problems accessing emotion for a part I really love as far as “crying on cue” goes… but that’s because it’s one of the emotions I have felt “OK” about accessing in real life. We live in a crazy world and one of the messages we send people is that sadness is not an acceptable emotion for men but it is for women and that anger is not an acceptable emotion for women, but it is for men. But that’s shenanigans on both sides. On top of societal conditioning, I always felt that anger wasn’t a “useful” emotion so I tried to push it aside whenever possible. I like being liked. I am a classic perfectionist who worried way too much for way too long about being the “good girl”
It turns out that Mr. Sondheim was on to something when he pointed out that “nice” is different than “good”. In a quest to be “nice” and liked, I did crazy things to avoid conflict. I had moments of not standing up for people I should have, of letting others treat me in ways that led me to bottling up stress and disrespecting myself, and I started feeling incapable of making my own decisions. All that changed during this Linklater workshop.
Of course, it wasn’t easy. It was painful and emotional and I didn’t do it alone, but I look back on that spring break as the day I reclaimed my voice. And once I allowed myself to feel ALL the emotions I had been running from, I could start to share those with my soon to be husband. I could turn to him for support and I could show him ALL of me, something I had always thought would lead to people wanting to leave me before. I was so moved by my experience working in that workshop and on that show that I put a lot of work into creating a Linklater class my final year of grad school, so others could benefit from the same work I did and so I could continue to practice this work. I started recognizing my own autonomy and that I had the power to make good choices on my own. And you know what? This practice saved my marriage.
I used to think that if I were ever going to get married the person I found would have to face a panel of all my closest family and friends and if he didn’t get unanimous approval, there was no way I’d go through with it. (This was probably just a safe way of assuring myself I’d never get married) As I learned that I had a voice too, and that I had something to say and deserved to be listened to… I started realizing how absurd that prior idea was. As it turns out, there were some friends at the time who did not love my choice to marry the man I did. (I know, those of you who know us and have seen us work together are probably giving weird looks to your screen right now, but it’s true.) And for a long time I couldn’t get over how hurt I was by their opinions, by the friendships that got lost on the way to the altar. Having time to look back, I realize that maybe I am partially to blame for letting other people feel that they got to make decisions for me for so long. I think they didn’t realize how much I changed in grad school, how much learning to breathe saved me. They didn’t get it. They weren’t the ones who were going to vow to stay with someone in sickness and in health. They weren’t the ones who were going to wake up next to them day after day.
As I began to consider how I felt, what I wanted my choices to be, and how I had now taken ownership of my own voice… my next step in life became more and more clear. I went from a girl who was terrified of saying “I love you” to someone who was ready to say, “I not only love you, but I am going to keep choosing you every day”
I continued to practice Linklater throughout my time in grad school, and through my first year of marriage, and subsequent pregnancy, and even now I still brush up on Linklater reading and practice when I get a chance. I hope once I’m done with the having young children phase of life that I can continue to study Linklater more extensively and perhaps one day become certified in it. You don’t have to be an actor to benefit from learning how to breathe and speaking the truth in love. (In fact, if you recognize that phrase it’s because it’s what Christians are called to do in the book of Ephesians…). I still struggle with wanting to push some emotions down both in life and in the rehearsal room, but both of those work best when I stand my ground and am open with how I am feeling. My husband and I don’t fight often, but we do communicate to each other when we are feeling frustrated, disappointed, sad, or even angry with each other or with life in general. I think sharing those things with each other is a big part of what makes me feel more in love with him now than I did over three years ago at our wedding. You can be any age, any position in life, and anywhere to benefit from breathing deeply, checking in with your gut, and asking for help to work through the tensions and emotions we all feel the need to carry with us but need to let go of. How to connect to my breath and use my voice are the very best lessons I learned in grad school. Those lessons brought me something much better than an A+, they brought me the best choice I’ve ever made. Here’s to happily, angrily, goofily, imperfectly, wonderfully ever after.