The Missing Link: An Introduction, a Story and an Epiphany
“Sing from the diaphragm!” yelled the teacher! You looked around you and everyone else seemed to understand what she meant. So you did your best to sing louder as your face got red and your veins popped out on the sides of your neck. But you lacked a couple of pieces of essential information – where the heck IS your diaphragm and how do you “sing” from it?
The truth is that all those other people in your high school choir probably didn’t have a clue either. We’re all just sort of programmed to nod at instructions we’re given even if we don’t understand clearly what they mean. And then we go on through our life, lacking essential parts of the puzzle that would truly empower us.
I see this constantly in my studio when singers come to me, people who have studied even for a number of years, and don’t have a clue why they’re doing certain exercises. I see it in actors who know they’re not supposed to “speak from their throats”, but have never put that admonition together with the fact that the vocal cords are in the throat. (Well technically they’re in the larynx just below the opening to the pharynx, but nonetheless they’re not down on your diaphragm!)
Keys are the key!
The point here is that success eludes so many of us because we lack key pieces of knowledge. And “key” is the important word here, since we’re talking about pieces of knowledge that would “open the door” to greater success!
Imagine an actor who hasn’t adequately broken down there sides, and because they’re so focused on “getting the performance right,” they miss a joke or a reference to something important in another part of the script. You would think, “How could that happen?” But I see it often – actors missing big pieces of information. Does it insure that their audition is going to be lousy? No. But it certainly isn’t going to help.
Imagine the singer who doesn’t know how to put their music together properly. At their audition, they hand the accompanist loose sheets of paper. In the middle of their song a breeze blows and all the music goes spilling to the floor. If you’re an experienced singer you might be thinking, “C’mon… everyone knows that!” But again… I’ve seen it more than you’d believe.
Now these two examples are kind of obvious, but there are more subtle ones that affect even very talented and experienced people.
Don’t step in that hole!!!
So how do you avoid the “missing link” problem? You must be constantly learning, researching, digging deep and asking yourself, “What else do I need to know?” Here are some important areas for every performer to look into.
Technique, technique… oh where’s my technique?
What in my technique needs improving? Technique provides a channel through which the artist’s creativity can flow. If your technique is lacking, it doesn’t mean you can’t perform at all. But it will set up obstacles to your greatest creativity emerging. When there are technical obstacles, it distracts you from communicating the story you’re telling. It takes you out of the moment and turns your attention back in on yourself. It will increase your anxiety, which besides being no fun at all, won’t allow the audience to see your brightest light.
Do I really understand what I’m talking about?
I think most people would say yes. However my experience is that more performers have a very surface understanding. They don’t dig down deep into the world of the story. Important elements are missed or not given enough weight. With the singer/songwriters I coach, I often joke that I make a good deal of my living teaching people what their own songs are about. And whether you are singing a musical theatre song, a cover song or an original, when that true understanding occurs, there will be an “a ha” experience that is priceless.
How does this affect your performance? When you really know what you’re talking/singing/dancing about, there is a level of intensity and commitment that lights up the stage!
Avoid sticking putting your foot in your mouth!
Don’t tell a casting director who just got finished casting “Friday the 13th Part 97” that you “hate horror films.” They may too, but it’s not a guarantee. There’s too much info out there on the net to get caught with your pants down. Research who you’re meeting with. Know as much as you can. This is a relationship business. Even if you don’t put your foot in your mouth, letting a “key” fact about their history pop out shows you’re on your toes, you do your homework (and will likely continue to do so) and impresses!
Honing in on these areas and more and making sure you’re as well equipped as possible, will do nothing but improve your chances of success in this wonderful and challenging career.