A Star is Born - Thoughts on a Physically Painful Voice

I was reading this article today about how Bradley Cooper created the voice for his character in A Star is Born and I feel upset.

Please, please don't read stuff like this and think this is how voice training is done. Please don't read stuff like this and try to emulate anything described.

Some takeaways:

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1. Pain is a message. Pain when vocalizing is a major message!

If your voice hurts or you are losing your voice, that is a sign that there are some training and vocal health strategies you need to enact. When using vocal technique and support, you should be able to speak for hours, perform for days without strain or pain. And yes, you can come back from strain, polyps, etc.

2. Are you training? Who is on your team?

Anyone who uses their voice for a living should have vocal training and a personal practice. Your voice is the result of a bunch of muscles working together in coordination. You wouldn't compete in a triathlon or in the NFL without prior training, regular practice, and having a warm-up and cool-down on days when you need to be "on."

3. Training Matters

A vocal coach that isn't teaching clients how to speak without strain (and hasn't taught a client that your oesophagus is where the food goes, not the voice) scares me. I don't know this one, they aren't interviewed, and I'm certainly not here to criticise their approach. It seems Cooper missed something - or the interviewer did- which then promotes misperceptions to readers.

4. Good technique increases your options

You can create a voice for your character that is lower, higher, and otherwise different from your optimum voice. Your voice must be supported by your body, not ripping your vocal folds - and not "physically painful to create".


If you watch A Star Is Born (or watch the preview), keep in mind how painful Cooper's chosen voice is - and that there are other choices available to you. Suffering and intentionally creating injury is needless - even for us masochists.


Takeaways:

Have a regular vocal practice. Get a voice teacher as part of your team. I want you to reflect now on who constitutes your team to support your profession and what practices you have daily, weekly, monthly, and annually to keep you growing and going.

Your industry is difficult enough. Longevity matters.


Recognized for her passion, knowledge, and support of her clients’ individual journeys toward their best selves, Frances Mulinix brings over 20 years of experience in coaching, voice, movement, and performance to support her clients in breaking down blocks, opening the voice, and reaching achievements they had previously not thought possible. Transform your relationship to your mind, body, and voice, bringing new confidence and creativity to your life.


#WritingWednesday - Read to Become a Better Writer

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Reading great fiction makes us richer and better able to navigate our own experience and our way in the world.

As Hannah Frankman explains, fiction offers us something we cannot experience in self-help, history, psychology books. Fiction enriches our lives. It allows us to encounter other people, comprehends patterns of evolution, causes us to see a larger picture, encounter the world in a different light, brings us to a deeper understanding - of ourselves, others, and the world around us.

 

 

 

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The Walrus, a Canadian magazine dedicated to rich thinking and rich dialogue has a collection of wonderful stories that they have opened up online to readers in order to stimulate creativity and encourage readers to become writers. Here are some of their favourites: 

 

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Sources and Further Reading

The Importance of Reading Fiction

The Walrus

 

 

 

 

Whatever your aims, we can aid you in achieving your goals with our individualised approach and flexible sessions. Contact us:


Writing Wednesday: Amy Lowell

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Amy Lowell was born on February 9,  1874, at her family's a ten-acre family estate of Sevenels in Brookline, Massachusetts. The youngest of five children, Her family was considered in the upper echelons of Boston society. Initially tutored at home, Amy went on to attend Boston private schools and traveled to Europe with her family. At the age of seventeen, she couped herself in Sevenels' immense library and studied literature. 

With her mother and sister, she wrote Dream Drops or Stories From Fairy Land by a Dreamer in 1887 printed privately. Her poem “Fixed Idea” was published in 1910 by the Atlantic Monthly and several other poems were published in journals. In October of 1912 Houghton Mifflin published her first collection, A Dome of Many-Coloured Glass.

Lowell was outspoken and controversial, building a career as a poet, publicity agent, collector, critic, and lecturer, joining the imagist movement and working to promote its principles. 

 

Imagism

A reaction in part to romantisicm and Victorian poetry, Imagism was a movement in America and England that utilised specificity of language to evoke clear images for the reader.  Haiku and tanka poetry were often influential for imagist poets as they too sought to freeze a moment in time. Adjectives are employed conservatively, selected to enhance the emotions and images evoked in the poem.

Ezra Pound is credited with being the founder of the movement however, its ideals were first developed by T.E. Hulme by 1908. Hulme spoke of the words of a poem being more than merely decorative but comprising the poem's essence.   

Writing in the March 1913 issue of Poetry, F. S. Flint, quoting Pound, defined imagist poetry as:

  • Direct treatment of the “thing," whether subjective or objective.
  • To use absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation.
  • As regarding rhythm: to compose in sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of the metronome. -  published “A Few Don’ts by an Imagiste.”

By Spring of 1914 disputes arose within the movement and Pound distanced himself. Amy Lowell became the leader of the movement between 1915 and 1917 publishing three anthologies of poetry all under the name of Some Imagist Poets. Eventually, Amy Lowell also distanced herself from the Imagists and the poetry movement became part of the larger modernist movement. Lowell died on May 12, 1925, at Sevenels.

 

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A Fixed Idea

- Amy Lowell

What torture lurks within a single thought
When grown too constant; and however kind,
However welcome still, the weary mind
Aches with its presence. Dull remembrance taught
Remembers on unceasingly; unsought
The old delight is with us but to find
That all recurring joy is pain refined,
Become a habit, and we struggle, caught.
You lie upon my heart as on a nest,
Folded in peace, for you can never know
How crushed I am with having you at rest
Heavy upon my life. I love you so
You bind my freedom from its rightful quest.
In mercy lift your drooping wings and go.

 

 

 

 

Sonnet

A sonnet is a 14 line poem with a variable rhyme scheme and traditionally in iambic pentameter. Here, Lowell uses the Petrarchan rhyme scheme ABBA ABBA CDCDCD. With such confinements, a sonnet is likened to a box and the aim is to transcend such confinements. The Petrarchan sonnet has a feeling of balance to it, being almost equally weighted into halves through its rhyme scheme.  You will notice that Lowell isn't bound to the iambic pentameter rhythm. More contemporary poets have experimented with ways to push and bend the sonnet form to varying degrees. How might this form of meter convey the meaning of the poem?

 

Your Turn...

What occurs when a classic form is used to explore less typical subject matter?

Choose aspects of the sonnet form that you will use. Pick a specific emotion or moment in time and write your own sonnet using precision in your language. How can you make the rhythm of your poem like a musical phrase?

for other examples and more contemporary takes on the sonnet, see “Voiced Stops” by Forrest Gander and “Incandescent War Poem Sonnet” by Bernadette Mayers.

 

 

References and Further Reading

Poets.org: Amy Lowell

Poets.org: A Brief Guide to Imagism

Poetry Foundation: Learning the Sonnet

 

 

Whatever your aims, we can aid you in achieving your goals with our individualised approach and flexible sessions. Contact us:


#PodcastReview: Storytelling For Adults

I am an avid listener of podcasts, be they news, business, politics, health, economics, culture, literature, education, drama, and more. Sometimes it feels as if I don't have the time to read. Therefore, I love having the opportunity to hear stories while I am doing something enjoyable, such as cleaning, organising, or cooking. Here are two that I am enjoying right now. When I don't have time to read for pleasure, I can listen!

 

LeVar Burton Reads

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I grew up watching LeVar Burton host Reading Rainbow and perform as Geordi La Forge on Star Trek: The Next Generation. His is a fantastic example of a beautifully trained and unique voice, clear, expressive, authentic, and immediately recognisable. As an Actor, Director, Educator & Cofounder of the award-winning digital library for children Skybrary App, it comes as no surprise that LeVar is the face (and voice) of great literature. The first short story I listened to was "What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky" by Lesley Nneka Arimah (the fifth episode of the podcast). I was hooked.

http://www.levarburtonpodcast.com/              

                                        

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Tales

These are not your Disney-style fairy tales. If you like fairy stories but want to hear them in their original, great gory detail, this may be the podcast for you.

Vanessa Richardson is the co-host and researcher of several other podcast shows on the Parcast network, experienced in weaving together storytelling, voice acting, and psychology to educate and entertain listeners.

https://www.parcast.com/tales/

 

 

 

 

 

Whatever your aims, we can aid you in achieving your goals with our individualised approach and flexible sessions. Contact us:


Transform Your Talk: Ten Tips

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When working with clients preparing to give a presentation, we rehearse and break down the speech in detail. We also get into how best to prepare prior to the talk, how to manage unexpected things that might occur during the talk, and how to decompress afterward. Here are some general considerations to get you started:

1. Drink Water

It is important to hydrate your voice well before your talk, even more so if you are in a dry environment or tend to get a dry mouth when speaking. If you are using a microphone, it will amplify those qualities in your voice even further. A warm-up that incorporates your articulators will help to prevent tongue suction and popping. If possible, have water with you when speaking. Don't be afraid to pause at an opportune point in your presentation in order to take a drink if you need it.

2. Get Excited, Not Anxious. 

When we drive a car, we don't stare at the barriers. Instead, we look where we want to go. Prior to a competition, athletes will go through every aspect of the game or course, imagining everything detail. As Vanessa Van Edwards says, "Anxiety and excitement are similar emotions the only difference is mindset." Focus on where you want to go, on how exciting this opportunity is. Instead of thinking, "I have to do this" change your mindset into "I get to do this!"

 

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3. Channel Your Nerves

While waiting, move your body. Walk, shake out your hands, contract and release your muscles without movement at the joints, push against a wall. Listen to a song that gets you dancing. Use power poses

4. Breathe

Bring your awareness to your breathing and consciously drop it down into your diaphragm. If you feel adrenaline course through your body or anxiety rachet up, simply inhale for a slow count of four, exhale for a slow count of four. Inhale for a slow count of five, exhale for a slow count of five. Inhale for a slow count of six, exhale for a slow count of six. Inhale for a slow count of seven, exhale for a slow count of seven.   

5. Move with Purpose

When speaking, nervous speakers will often sway or pace or gesticulate in ways that are distracting. It's a good idea to video yourself in order to notice your "tells." A good strategy is the "rule of three" sometimes used in theatre.If you notice that you are repeating a gesture more than three times, you are not supporting your words. Instead, walk a "map" of your ideas. When making a new point, walk to a new spot. If getting personal or driving a point home, walk toward the audience. If the room needs to breathe, or you are speaking more universally, put greater space between yourself and the audience. 

Source: http://voice-international.com/

Source: http://voice-international.com/

6. Your greatest Asset is Your Voice

The quality of your voice can support the content of your talk or detract from it. Developing a voice that is expressive, powerful, and authentic is one of the greatest investments you can make in yourself. This includes the musicality of your voice, the pace with which you speak, how and where you pause, the words you emphasize, and more. The more skilled and intentional you are with your voice, the better you can craft your talk, and the more influential you are.

7. Allow People to Adjust to Your Delivery

Open your talk with a well-rehearsed opening and speak at a slightly slower pace with attention to emphasis and inflection. This will give the audience time to "tune their ear" to the sound of your voice and any accent differences between you.

Pictured: Artiz Aduriz

Pictured: Artiz Aduriz

8. The Audience Wants You to Succeed

Remember that each person in the audience took the time to show up to see your talk. They want you to do well. Few speakers are their best if they perceive the audience as antagonists. Come in with an energy of welcome, high regard, and excitement. Put your focus on them instead of your nervousness and you will transform as a speaker.  

9. Allow For the Unexpected

No matter how much you rehearse, allow there to be room for something to happen. Technical glitches, or tripping over your own feet doesn't have to be embarrassing or a "loss of face," it can be an opportunity. Have a joke ready or be prepared to ad lib. The audience might take it as an opportunity to relax. 

10. Be Prepared To Be Done.

It is a skillful speaker who has a decompression strategy in place. A presentation will take a lot of energy and may stir up anxiety - which will lead to a crash. You may also experience a lot of emotions stirred up inside you. Have something set up beforehand such as a debrief with a trusted friend, sit down and write a reflection, go for a walk, or sit in a hot tub or bath. Take some deep breaths, shake out your hands.

Sources And Further Reading:

A TED speaker coach shares 11 tips for right before you go on stage

Does body language help a TED Talk go viral? 5 nonverbal patterns from blockbuster talks

You Are Contagious - Vanessa Van Edwards

Your Body Language May Shape Who You Are - Amy Cuddy

Is Your Voice Ruining Your Life? - Roger Love

 

Whatever your aims, we can aid you in achieving your goals with our individualised approach and flexible sessions. Contact us:


#CreativeInnovative with Lee Su-Feh: Yielding, Dissolving, Fighting, and Dancing Within Inquiry

Lee Su-Feh on Creating, Communicating, and Encountering the Humanity of Others

This is the sixth in a regular series of blog posts in which I speak with exciting artists, innovators, and entrepreneurs exploring how their creative skills have enabled them to do incredible things in their personal and professional lives.

You can find all of these interviews by searching for the tag #CreativeInnovative.

Lee Su-Feh, Still from the film Migrant Bodies, Dir. Laura Bari

Lee Su-Feh, Still from the film Migrant Bodies, Dir. Laura Bari

Lee Su-Feh is a force of nature. Until December 2017, we have been two ships passing in the night in the “real world” but we operate in some of the same circles. I avidly follow her online and come to her for advice. I am lucky to consider her a mentor and friend. In December, we finally had the opportunity to sit down together and our discussion ranged over the personal, the political, the artistic, and several other topics we won't divulge here.

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"The notion that you can make a go of anything all by yourself is a capitalist myth. You are who you are because of others" 

 

 

Photographer: Joerg Letz

 

F: Lee Su-Feh, you has a remarkable background in children’s theatre, traditional Malay dance, contemporary dance, contact improvisation, and martial arts, and your career is a neverending cycle of shows, projects, accolades, and collaborations. You have also recently been touring your latest show, Dance Machine. This work consists of a kinetic sculpture, formed by sticks of bamboo suspended from a copper disk, creating an immersive space in which the public is invited to work with the artists, becoming collaborators and mindful participates in cause and effect, play and rest. Oh, and you are an Instructor in the Theatre program at Simon Fraser University where you teach voice.

LSF: You should write my bios from now on!!!

F: Well, I try my best! Now it's your turn to tell me a bit about yourself - what about your training in the arts?

LSF: I did Chinese martial arts as a kid, when I was 11-12. Not a lot. But enough to awaken something in my body, something about the pleasure moving my body, training. When I was 15 or 16, I joined a children’s theatre class led by Janet Pillai, who is now an award-winning arts activist, recognized for her work in cultural mapping. We learned traditional South-East Asian forms like Pencak Silat (martial arts), Wayang Kulit (shadow puppetry), and became part of a larger questioning of what it meant to create contemporary Asian performance out of the debris of colonialism, half-remembered traditions and sitting in the interstices of multiple cultures and languages. We created work and toured across the country. Through this experience of Teater Kanak-kanak, I met my first dance teacher, Marion D’Cruz, from whom I learned traditional Malay dance as well as Western contemporary dance. These lessons took place in the basement of a place called The Temple of Fine Arts, which was a temple honouring Krishna as well as a school for Indian classical dance and music. So I was immersed in Bharatanatyam, Odissi and Kathak, even though I never studied those forms. My first performance in public with Marion D’Cruz and Dancers was a dance from the East Coast of Malaysia called Timang Burung; and we performed it amid a show filled with Indian classical dance with The Temple of Fine Arts. All this is to impress upon you the plurality of approaches, aesthetics and culture that surrounded my entry into the arts. Janet, Marion and Krishen Jit, Marion’s late husband and a notable theatre critic, historian and director in the region, were my teachers and mentors; and they eventually founded, along with others, Five Arts Centre, which remains a provocative arts organization in Malaysia. This hotbed of cultural activity which also grappled with post-colonial politics really set the foundation for me as an artist. I think how I see the world and how I approach performance has been formed by this period. I eventually left Malaysia to go to Paris to study contemporary dance. And eventually ended up in Vancouver, where I continued learning new skills (more Chinese martial arts, more dance, contact improv), but always, always wrestling for my sense of self while being acutely conscious of how power structures play on my body.  

F: How Has your art/training taken you to other places? What are some of the most interesting locations you have experienced?

LSF: Lots of places. Lots of complex relationships to different places. Two examples: Paris for being an incubator of my western contemporary dance ideas, and where I awoke to being othered by white society. Manitoulin island recently for showing me a glimpse into Anishnaabeg ways of being and artmaking as an alternative to settler-colonial ways.

Lee Su-Feh and Benoit Lachambre, Body Scan, 2010

Lee Su-Feh and Benoit Lachambre, Body Scan, 2010

F: Many of your projects are collaborative and call on your ability to communicate. What are the benefits and challenges of collaboration? 

LSF: Collaboration invites you to expand your knowledge - of yourself, of your collaborators and of the form you are engaged in. Any kind of growth is often also painful and involves judgement, a dissolving of who you think you are, a constant question of whether you yield to new knowledge or to take a stand and fight for your (tenuous) beliefs.   

F: How did you decide to take your art in this direction?

LSF: I’m not sure it was a decision. The notion that you can make a go of anything all by yourself is a capitalist myth. You are who you are because of others - humans and non-humans. I usually choose to work with people who I think I have something to learn from. 

F: Did this require you to take on additional training or did you encounter any learning curves?

LSF: Choreography requires communication skills - listening deeply, speaking honestly, while taking care of everyone’s humanity. Maybe my history as a marginalized, racialized person has contributed to my skills in this department. But as I encounter new knowledge and new areas of my ignorance, I also become inspired to learn new skills. Contact improvisation, voice, new ways of dancing...

F: What drives you in your work?

LSF: My questions. About myself, about my relationship to the world, about my relationship to the sacred.  

F: How do you create? From where do you draw your inspiration?

LSF: Usually, the spark of a new project comes from the unfolding of the previous project. For example,  the beginning of my current project Dance Machine was 8 years ago and began as simply an inquiry into the energetic relationship between the human body and inanimate objects. This question came out of working on a piece called Body Scan with the Montreal choreographer Benoit Lachambre, where we worked a lot with fabrics and texture and sensation. I really loved the energetic quality of the costume designer we worked with, Alexandra Bertaut and proposed to her that we explored some things together. I proposed that she do my physical practice, which was deeply informed by Qigong and martial arts, and then see if she could respond by making objects. I would then live with those objects for a period of time and see what came out of my body as a response to those objects. It was during this period of living with the objects - which were fabric based, with personal objects of mine knitted and woven into them - that I went into the studio with my friend and colleague, the choreographer and dancer Justine Chambers. For about a week, we hung the objects up with fishing line, made very shoddy pulley systems and the beginning idea of an environment that was attached somehow to the dancer emerged. After that, I invited a designer/architect Jesse Garlick to help us actually build it. Along the way, I also started to want it to address a whole bunch of concerns - political, social, and underneath it all, my questions about what it means to dance. Anyway, this is a long story. But the gist of it is that works don’t usually pop out of anyone’s head fully formed. I’m usually looking to ask the most interesting question possible and then to construct a process that can lead me to an even more interesting question at the end of that process. Repeat as often as necessary.

You can follow Lee Su-Feh and her work through her company website, Battery Opera, her blog, and on her Twitter page.

 

 

We can aid you in achieving your goals with our individualised approach and flexible sessions. Contact us: 


#CreativeInnovative with Gabrielle Leah New: Passion Is Creating

Gabrielle Leah New On The Healing Power of Connection and Being An Artist Who Doesn't Paint

This is the third in a regular series of blog posts in which I speak with exciting artists, innovators, and entrepreneurs exploring how their creative skills have enabled them to do incredible things in their personal and professional lives.

You can find all of these interviews by searching for the tag #CreativeInnovative.

Bystander. Copyright © 2017 Gabrielle Leah New

Bystander. Copyright © 2017 Gabrielle Leah New

Gabrielle Leah New is a practicing performing artist and a senior Occupational Therapist (OT). She runs her own theatre company, The Space Between Performance Collective, and has traveled around the world for numerous residencies, performances, and exhibitions, which can be read about further here. Her OT work, blended with her surrealist costume, installation, video, and live performance works means that Gabrielle is rarely ever still - and never bored!

I had the privilege of meeting Gabrielle in 2010 when we were both interns at Zen Zen Zo Physical Theatre Company in Brisbane, Australia. I performed in her butoh show Creature, and I have been following her work ever since.

Stair. Costume by Camilla Gough. Image by Tony Banks

Stair. Costume by Camilla Gough. Image by Tony Banks

F: Tell me a little about your background in the arts. 

G: I grew up in Melbourne Australia. I studied art at high school then went on to do a degree in Occupational Therapy. I have traveled extensively living in the UK, New Zealand and India. I feel like I’m a citizen of the world.

My training is quite unusual. I have always had an arts practice but it wasn’t until I was 30 that I began my formal training post high school. I went to the Conservatorium of the Arts in Lismore where I studied dance. I was particularly interested in Butoh (Japanese contemporary dance) which I had discovered the year before by attending community classes. I went on to study Butoh with teachers around the world and working with MAU Dance Theatre in New Zealand. I then returned to Australia and studied 3D Art and did a directing internship with Zen Zen Zo Physical Theatre in Brisbane.

My main art form was dance and physical performance for many years and I still train and attend classes regularly but over time my practice has developed to be more of a multi-arts practice. This particularly changed after completing a Masters in Fine Art a few years ago and since then I have been exhibiting more in the gallery space than theatres. I now consider myself a multidimensional performing artist, as performance and the body always underpin my multi-arts practice.

F: Your art has taken you to lots of interesting places. What are some of the most interesting locations you have experienced?

Working with MAU in the early 2000s took me to the 4 yearly Pacific Arts Festival in Noumea, New Caledonia. Here I had a major identity crisis as a white Australian performing Japanese dance for a pacific Island dance company and delegation from the Aotearoa, New Zealand. I have danced in Fjords in Norway, In storms painted gold in Japan, in creeks and the ocean in New Zealand and in a city park in Vancouver, Canada. I love making work in/for extraordinary spaces.

Most recently I exhibited and had a residency in Lisbon, Portugal and am on my way to India and Sri Lanka to make work.

Blue. Image by Karsten Muhlhaus

Blue. Image by Karsten Muhlhaus

F: You have created many collaborative creative works. What are the benefits and challenges of collaboration?

Collaborating with other artists is my favorite way to work and I’ve been lucky enough to work with some amazing people. One of the challenges is finding people you gel with and can create a shared vision and language with, this can take time. The benefit for me is having someone to bounce ideas around with and I think that the outcome always benefits from collaborating if people are clear on their roles. Sometimes it’s been tricky when creatives disagree but a resolution has always been possible through listening well and respecting each other. I have been collaborating with sound artists Norman Skipp for over 15 years now even though we live on other sides of the world.

Working in theatre, collaboration is a necessity. You need other people to do the things you don’t have the skills for, like sound and lighting for me. I usually have a lot of input and discussion with collaborators but ultimately I trust them to do what they do best. In my extended arts practice I still work with other people who have skills in areas that I don’t. for example I have made two projects with a videographer/editor, I WANT… and ‘States of Being.

F: Did this require you to take on additional training/learning curves?

G: No, as a therapist I had already developed good communication skills. I’m a team player as well as being really comfortable to share my ideas and opinions so collaboration works well for me. 

F: What drives you in your work?

G: I have a passion to create. I constantly have ideas forming in my mind. My main interests, that all the content for my work comes from, are from my therapy practice and a deep desire to understand people. Archetypal stories and myths as a reflection of the human condition alongside current contemporary dilemmas such as Greed, a project I created that had a number of components including two video installations, an internet group and a live, participatory, site-specific performance. My work often externalizes internal worlds making the invisible visible.

Bird. Image by unknown

Bird. Image by unknown

F: To what extent have you been able to make your creativity work an aspect of all of your jobs? Do you have other (non-creative) work that you engage in? How did you make that choice?

G: I feel that creativity infuses all that I do. In my work as a therapist, I integrate creative activities (which is par for the course for OT’s). I have developed movement therapy groups for people with serious mental illness and a creative art based group for people with mental health and substance use issues. I use it in my work with individuals and with making dinner in the evening when I get home.

F: How do you use your performance skills in undertaking “non-creative” jobs?

As a group facilitator and therapist, I need to be able to perform, improvise, listen and respond. My ongoing training allows me to be constantly developing these skills. I think a lot of my training is about being present. In my work I need to be present with people who are in psychological pain and also be available to them authentically but without my personal shit interfering with the process. I think my practice as an artist and therapist feed and support each other.

F: Yes! Your ability to be seamless between Artist and Occupational Therapist had a profound influence on my own career.

What does your creative process look like? 

G: My creative process is a lot of thinking to start with. I create things in my head before making them in the real world. I tend to create in bursts and I work best under pressure, when I have deadlines. Also if I make dedicated time and space. Physical training and writing are important ongoing elements of my practice. I flood with ideas; I’m never short on them. It’s a process of sifting through them, which ones stick, which are practical and achievable and starting them and seeing where they go.

F: Gabrielle, you have such an impressive list of endeavours, performances and exhibitions. What are your proudest accomplishments thus far?

N: I think my biggest accomplishment is supporting people to move through mental and emotional difficulties to create a better life for themselves. It’s a real privilege to be able to work with people at their most vulnerable and see them rediscover their personal power.

I am also immensely proud of making CREATURE- a shapeshifting journey in butoh wonderland with the company I directed - The Space Between Performance Collective.

More recently, it has been my solo exhibitions, residencies, and receiving an award for my video performance installation Persephone 7 of which I am proudest.

Free. Photo by Shelley Wilson

Free. Photo by Shelley Wilson

F: What role does communication, performance, and using your voice and body to connect to others have in your life? Why is it important?

G: I believe one of the key elements in healing trauma and addiction is connection. Often verbal communication is difficult initially so having other ways of communicating through movement or drawing or other creative forms can be great initially and I use these creative tools a lot in my work. OT is about healing through doing. I think that doing, action, being in the body allows one to find their voice. We all have multiple and individual ways of expressing and as a therapist, it is important for me to be able to offer a range of meaningful alternatives to my clients. My job is to be creative in what I can offer my clients and not to be stuck in one way or one thing that I offer. When working with trauma clients memories are often stored in the body (differently how regular memories are stored) moving in new ways can help move clients through these stuck emotions and give them more options for responding to events and their environments in the future.

F: Working so intensively with people, how do you prevent burnout? 

G: By not working 9-5, 7 days a week and taking lots of holidays. Having a balance between my personal, creative and work life. Having a supportive partner. Staying healthy.

Porcelin Face, SJD Music Video

Porcelin Face, SJD Music Video

F: My own work is founded on the belief that an arts education not only makes people better citizens (heck, better human beings), but that training in art gives individuals concrete and adaptable skills. 

N: I definitely agree. I think anything that makes you more tuned into your own creativity gives you more options on how you respond to situations, we break out of habitual patterns and understand ourselves better,

F: What skills have you gained through your art form that you apply in other contexts?

Improvising. Trusting my instincts. Listening (half of communicating). Self-reflection. Giving feedback to others generously. Being grounded in my body. Facilitating groups. Creating activities to meet a particular investigation. Trying new things. Dealing with failure. Persistence. Acceptance. Intuition is a daily part of my life. Everything is based on my intuition. It is strong. I trust it and I listen to it. My aesthetics are present in my home environment, how I dress and the art I make.

F: How do you set boundaries with regards to managing your personal from your creative spaces?

G: I’m not sure that I do. They often merge. I have really clear personal boundaries and sense of self which helps me to create balance in my life. My boundaries often blur but I don’t have a problem with it and I don’t question it. I think it’s difficult when we compartmentalize our lives. My life is my life it’s messy and not in little boxes. I don’t separate my creative skills with my life skills. It’s all blurry. I am what I am not what I do.

F: Do you have to behave “differently” depending on the environment you are interacting with? 

G: Yes and no. I’m always just being me but at the same time using Improvisation Skills and Being present to the moment, the person, the situation so what I do is different and individually tailored.

F: Tell me a little about your teaching.

G: I teach butoh when I’m asked to do so. This includes performance/art professionals and novices. I also facilitate groups for people with trauma, mental health and addiction issues of all ages and stages. It's rewarding when students discover something new in themselves and they change habits. Or as one of my teachers used to say ‘Find another way.’

F: Do you have an "ideal student"?

G: I’m not sure I have one. I suppose one that challenges me, one that I also learn from.

Baby Bird. Image by Aven Darling

Baby Bird. Image by Aven Darling

F: With such diverse teaching work, what values underpin your approach to teaching?

G: Growth, trust, exploration, risk, adventure, self-reflection, challenge

F: And what do you say to people who claim to “not be creative”?

G: I think everyone is creative but they have a narrow definition of what creative is. People are often injured in their school education by being told that. I try to help them to see all the ways that they are creative in their lives that aren’t being able to paint or draw or sing. Living is a creative act.

F: How can art, music, or movement training benefit someone who doesn’t wish to be a performer?

G: This is the key question. The answer is ‘In so many ways!’ They are kind of elusive and magical and amazing but include; confidence, self-esteem, personal power, better communication, passion, fun, community, mind expansion, connection with others, self-reflection, self-expression, new friends, using new parts of the brain, new skills, spiritual development, etc, etc.

When I went to dance school I had no interest in being a performer. I went because it was something I liked to do. Over time it grew and grew and grew.

I’ve been lucky enough to have many amazing teachers. I think my favorites have a generosity of spirit and they are always learning from their students and refining their practice through their teaching. They do their job but don’t put themselves above you. They are very positive people and have so much to give that is truly authentic. The training is physically and mentally hard but they remain soft. They are fun.

F: Tell me about your business.

G: I’m not really that interested in business. I do what I do because I love it. I don’t fit the mold and I don’t do things the way others do. I’m just making it up as I go along. I follow my intuition and my passions and dreams. I am unique so what I do is and how I do it is. I like making stuff and helping people find more joy in this difficult world.

I started my business because it was something I needed to try. It’s hard and a lot of it is pretty boring. I’m not sure it’s for me. I don’t see myself as an entrepreneur. I’m not that driven by money or business more by what interests me and challenges me and creating a life where I can utilize my skills and develop them and support others as I do that. It’s about following my passions. I’m not cutthroat and I don’t think that actually serves anyone. I think we all need to work as a community and support each other where we can in whatever way we can. 

Fear, States of Being. Image by Robert Spillane.

Fear, States of Being. Image by Robert Spillane.

F: What was the toughest learning curve that you experienced in running a business?

G: Early on I realized that the hardest times were the times of biggest growth. I relish them and use them as opportunities for my personal growth. I always trusted my instincts and faced my fears trusting that things would work out. Never do things that make you feel terrible for too long.

I think self-doubt is part of growth and moving outside of one's comfort zones. Growing is uncomfortable but soooo rewarding. I think my arts practice and training has taught me how to do this and know that it’s safe. It has also taught me how to fail and manage rejection. Being an artist you really need to know how to manage constant rejection and keep going.

F: Do you feel that there are unique challenges when ones' business is so reliant on you? How do you manage these?

G: Yes. I think this is my biggest obstacle as I’m a bit of a commitment-phobe. I find it hard to stay in the same place doing the same thing for too long which makes it difficult to develop my own business. I also find it hard to do things I’m not interested in likes tax and plan for more than 6 months in advance which you need to do as an artist and with your own business. 

The environment constantly changing. I’ve been in the therapy business for over 25 years and in 3 different countries. In Australia, customers are wanting more choice. 

In my private practice, getting clients is difficult as I often don’t put much energy into promoting my business. When working for others, it's key to find support to take creative risks. And in my arts practice, the challenge is managing rejection as well as finding time, space and resources to continue.

I just keep on trying to do the best that I can do.

Jump. Image by Robert Spillane

Jump. Image by Robert Spillane

F: What are the most useful strategies to support you through these challenges?

G: Having good regular supervision. Having great supports and mentors. Getting other people to do the stuff you don’t like or aren’t good at.

F: Is there a tension between your career as an artist and running a business?

G: Mostly time and splitting my attention but I have made peace with this and do both to my best ability as I know that I need both in my life. Both are of great importance to me. Tension is Ok. I think I could be much better promoting my business. This is one side of the business that I feel I’m not great at. I need a Personal Assistant. There is so much documentation and form filling and rubbish that needs to be done now.

F: Where do you see your business going (eg. is it about consolidation/growth/transforming services)?

G: Currently, I’m not sure. I’ve taken 8 months off to travel and work on creative projects but I want to head more into Community arts and engagement with a healing focus. 

 

You can follow Gabrielle Leah New's work through her websiteInstagram, FacebookLinkedIn, or Redbubble

 

We can aid you in achieving your goals with our individualised approach and flexible sessions. Contact us: 


#CreativeInnovative with Natalie Schneck: Dancing the Bottom Line

Natalie Schneck On Bringing Dance to Every Body, Building a Business, and Achieving Balance

This is the first in a regular series of blog posts in which I speak with exciting artists, innovators, and entrepreneurs exploring how their creative skills have enabled them to do incredible things in their personal and professional lives.

You can find all of these interviews by searching for the tag #CreativeInnovative.

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Natalie Schneck is a performer, dancer, choreographer, teacher, and entrepreneur. She is the Founder and Owner of the dance company 123 Steps Ahead. As 123 Steps Ahead's first American partner, Vibrance is very excited to bring this program to the Atlanta area in 2018. Stay tuned!

F: We first met each other in 2004 and were in the same theatre ensemble at Simon Fraser University’s School for the Contemporary Arts. While we remained friends, our lives have taken us in different paths. However, what is remarkable is how our complementary underlying values have directed our lives. This has led to an exciting new chapter, a partnership allowing us to foster and support each other professionally. 

N: Yes, you and I ended up in quite an eclectic ensemble at SFU and what was great about the group was the collective work ethic we created. I feel like that work ethic combined with a strong inclination for innovation and creativity has absolutely brought us to this new and exciting chapter! 

F: To start with, tell me a little about your training in the arts.

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N: I’ve been involved in creative arts since preschool. I was born in Edmonton, Alberta. As a teenager I performed in several musical theatre shows both in and out of school, and took some dance lessons. I went on to complete a BFA in theatre performance from SFU followed by a year intensive of contemporary dance technique and choreographic training at Concordia University in Montreal. Throughout my training, I was often creating and performing in my own theatre and dance works or in the work of other artists. One of the highlights of my performance career was my very first professional dance contract in French choreographer Jerome Bel’s international hit piece, The Show Must Go On. I also had the pleasure of dancing in a creation by Catherine Gaudet for the 2015 TransFormation program.  I have been lucky to have my own work shown across Canada, in Calgary, Montreal, Edmonton, and Toronto. Recently, I created and performed a show in Vancouver with musician and composer Elliot Vaughan, under Iffy South, his band's name.

F: Has your training taken you to other places? What are some of the most interesting locations you have experienced? 

N: Yes, I took a trip to Berlin and Poznań, Poland a few years ago and spent time in the underground dance clubs moving to industrial music, eurodance, and dubstep. I also saw shows at small theatres and cabarets. I’ll never forget witnessing the woman dancing alone in a park in Poland, the park was idealistic in its landscaping while she was totally disheveled in her movements. These images and experiences continue to be very inspiring and informative for my artistic work. 

More formally, I took dance workshops with Polish and American artists in Portland as part of the TBA festival and I found that city energetic and also soothing, especially during festival time. I also took classes in NYC and that was cool, being taught by former Russian ballet stars in Manhattan and then learning from a contemporary company in Brooklyn, it was a good experience to get both types of work in my body. Then, being chosen to work with Compagnie Marie Chouinard in Montreal for an répertorie intensive of The Rite of Spring. I loved that! So imaginative and open, a lot of release and breath work and you can see this softness and responsiveness in the bodies of her dancers. 

F: You have created some incredible projects, many of which are collaborative and call on your ability to communicate. 

N: Thank you! Yes, communication really is a skill. 

F: What are the benefits and challenges of collaboration? 

N: The benefits are that you are working with people and the challenges are that you are working with people! Haha. But in all seriousness, when you collaborate you are able to work with another perspective, another skill set and another sensibility, this can be such a strength if it aligns well.  The challenge is separating the actual work from one’s own personal projections and what I call “stuff” while still expressing a sensitivity and openness – it is quite delicate and requires a lot of presence. I always think about laying the most fertile and fun ground for someone else to flourish and for his or her ideas to come to fruition - for each person that looks quite different. A good question I like to remember is, “what does this person need right now?” 

F: Yes, I find myself asking the same thing! It’s a totally different mindset when you make it about where the other person is “at” and use that awareness to shape your communication with them.

N: Yes, communication has to be flexible because connecting with other people requires flexibility, people come to the lunch or coffee table with a lot of their own stuff and it’s complicated. Flexibility and knowing when to actively listen is important. 

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"communication has to be flexible because connecting with other people requires flexibility, people come to the lunch or coffee table with a lot of their own stuff and it’s complicated. Flexibility and knowing when to actively listen is important."

 

F: For you, what are some of the accomplishments of which you are most proud?

N: First, I am developing a life for myself that is true to who I am (this is ongoing), I have lived where I want to live, I have allowed myself time and space to become and evolve as an artist, I have met amazing and inspiring people from all walks of life. 

The second is in creating the 123 Steps Ahead program and seeing the positive impact it is having on people, it really is a feeling like no other. 

Third is my education. I think education is so important and I really do have mine to thank as a gateway to a different and beautiful life. 

F: How did you decide to take your art in the direction of creating 123 Steps Ahead? 

N: I started working in education in Montreal and I saw the benefits of physical educational programming. I also Loved the kids and wanted to be able to take my training and experience in the arts into a program that would benefit them long term. 

I am passionate about dance being for everybody and I fundamentally believe in this. This does not mean that I think “democratizing dance” is better than say training intensively in ballet since the time one was three. Rather, it is a different way of seeing a possible dance training trajectory for someone. I have an innate sense of justice I think the 123 philosophy really is an extension of this.

F: Did this require you to take on additional training/encountered learning curves?

N: I did the additional year of training at Concordia in Montreal as a mature student and then it was many workshops and ordering books on fundamentals of creative movement for children and youth that I would draw from in my research and creation of a curriculum, it was also consulting OT’s such as yourself, Educational Psychologists and RCC’s. All of this was necessary for where I am now. 

F: Are you able to make your creativity an aspect of all of your jobs?

N: My creativity and rigour is always present. Sometimes it comes out in my ability to hyper-focus and concentrate on a task, or in ow I collaborate on a new idea or come out with innovative solutions to problems big or small. Or just dipping into my sensitivity when I see that a colleague is needing something different from me in terms of communication. 

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F: Do you have other (non-creative) work that you engage in? How did you make that choice?

N: Yes – I work in development at The Cultch, a contemporary arts theatre and gallery in the city; I chose this particular job because it required a solid combination of skills I already have along with the opportunity to sharpen new skills such as running campaigns and copywriting. 

F: And that dovetails with your business education, another way to combine that with the arts and support you own business. 

How do you use your performance skills in undertaking “non-creative” jobs?

N: I am an active and present listener with coworkers and clients. I also can read situations quickly and respond appropriately. I am skilled at problem solving quickly, at reading situations and the emotional tone quickly and adjusting. Emotionally intelligence is immensely valuable; reading between the lines of communication and responding appropriately, or knowing that if something seemingly negative happens it is almost always not personal. And also awareness of other cultures, when I am in Montreal I do my best to speak french, stuff like that…it goes a long way.

F: How do you create? From where do you draw inspiration?

N: It really depends. Sometimes ideas come to me quickly and intensely and I have to respond and then sometimes there is nothing for a little while. My inspiration is not consistent but I do know that when I feel inspired I am committed to that feeling and it is almost like I have to respond to it – I have to express something put of it. Lately, it has been music, a lot of music, which aligns well with my program and with my choreographic work; I love how words in a rhythmic form such as a song can fit so well with movements.  

F: What role does communication, performance, and using your voice/body to connect to others, to create an impact have in your life? 

 N: It plays a huge role on a daily basis, my work really only manifests through other people so clarity of communication both physical and verbal is vital and necessary. Also, you can’t do it alone in this world so earning how to connect genuinely and in the present with other people is key. 

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F: You're juggling two jobs and still creating work! How do you prevent burnout? 

N: I take a day off – a true day off and I let myself flow, just do whatever I want in no order and in no set rhythm, this is usually quite nourishing creatively. 

F: Oh my goodness! I do the same I need a day or two that isn’t run on the clock, where my brain can just idle and process as it needs to.

Do you set boundaries with regards to managing your personal from your creative spaces? 

N: Good question. Personally I am actually quite introverted. I need a lot of alone time and I enjoy being alone. So I suppose that’s a boundary in itself. It’s like when I collaborate it’s social time and I enjoy that, but I know at the end of the night or day I am going home alone and I need that. I also work to keep relationships in the context they are in, if it’s work it’s work, if it’s friends and business then it’s friends and business, if it’s intimate then it’s intimate. However, I think adapting and compartmentalizing too much is not good – it means I can’t be my holistic and genuine self. I am aware that my ability to compartmentalize can be an impediment so I practice flexibility with these ideas as things always change.

F: Yes, I like people and I like finding those who collaborate well, but I also find myself “on” around others and know that I recharge alone.

What roles do intuition and aesthetic play in your personal life?

N: Intuition has come more and more into play as I get older. I just have feelings about situations, both work and personal, and I have started to trust those feelings more and respond or make decisions in accordance. I am always drawn to creating a certain aesthetic; I am really sensitive to space so I like things minimal for the most part. Although one of my dreams jobs is doing window displays! I think it would be fun – maybe 123 Steps Ahead will have a window display one day. 

F: Can you give us an idea of what some of the communities with which you are identified?

N: I connect to the artistic community, families and youth, the business community, the philanthropist community, the legal community. I think it informs me in the sense that I take on projects that are both creative and pragmatic. I love meeting new people and I am forever curious about people. Before I go to dinner or coffee with someone I often think “I can’t wait to hear this person’s story!” This excites me. I love people and I am fascinated by where they come from them, all the experiences they’ve had, and how all this has shaped their perspective and what’s important to them. 

F: Has your community activism evolved?  What lessons have you learned along the way?

N: It really has. I am proud of bringing 123 Steps Ahead to so many people so far and leaving a positive and empowering experience with them. What have I learned along the way? To get really comfortable with failure, to make friends with the idea – when you try something new there’s growing pains, there’s iterations, and there’s problem solving, all these things are OK and necessary. 

F: What type of students do you teach?

N: Right now we teach children, youth and adults from 18 months – no limit …we want to pilot a senior’s program and we are currently looking at PEI as a starting place. At all levels. Just be open and imaginative with a sense of humour. 

F: What values underpin your teaching approach?

N: I believe in the value of 123 Steps Ahead because our program is graded to meet each client, child or adult, at his or level, developing functional and efficient movement in a creative and fun environment. 123 Steps Ahead is about the democratisation of dance, creating opportunities for children and adults regardless of their circumstance, to experience a dance class and to receive dance training. The 123 Steps Ahead kids are not judged on technique or by living up to a coded dance standard; they are nurtured and encouraged to grow from the level they are at. With 123 Steps Ahead, there is space for everybody, and every person is a valuable member of the class. This ideology works to create confidence in each child that his or her presence and ideas are worthwhile, and regardless of background, everybody has a voice and a valuable contribution to make. This way, we build confidence and social skills.

We have grown throughout Canada, offering our program in community centres, schools, and daycares. Recently,  in partnership with March of Dimes Canada, we have been able to offer our program to children who have special needs. This year, we started offering private sessions with children and adults. Now it is time to begin expanding this program into the United States.  

Image used with parental permission

Image used with parental permission

F: What do you say to people who claim to “not be creative”?

N: I just don’t agree! I think creativity is a human quality and yes there are varying levels but I believe that everyone has creative ability, it just comes out in different forms and on different scales and that’s actually really cool. 

 F: What are the moments that reward you as a teacher?

N: When a student take a concept and tries it autonomously; when he or she is able to fully integrate a movement pattern; when we work together to see that “failing” at something actually just created another movement that is more beautiful in it’s authenticity.  

 

F: How did you get into starting your own business? 

N: I was in Montreal. I was lonely, uncomfortable, and felt challenged by being an outsider and at a transitional time in my life. Making art in theatre and dance didn’t hold the same meaning for me anymore. I started leaning towards teaching more so then performing and I found this aligned passion working with kids. I loved seeing the positive impact I could bring to them. This started with teaching a sports program to several public and private groups in Montreal, then, because schools and daycares wanted me to stay on board working with the kids, I proposed a creative movement program that I had begun to create - 123 Steps Ahead. 

F: What was the toughest learning curve that you experienced? How did you tackle this phase? 

N: My very first class of 123 Steps Ahead in Montreal was very difficult, it felt like I was continually failing and it almost caused me to not take a much larger contract which would have been such a mistake! My program ran so well at Garderie Papillon. What got me through was my ability to problem solve and then to incorporate solutions that worked into my next contract. Also being aware that personalizing the situation was not useful. 

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F: It’s all that creation process isn’t it, not everything works out the first time. The wheels fall off and you think either, “Oh now I know what to do” or, “I have no idea what the solution is but that isn’t it!”

Do you feel that there are unique challenges when ones’s business is so personal to you? 

N: Yes I feel highly responsible, which is true – I am, for many things. I think practicing boundaries is crucial. Otherwise it is easy to become overwhelmed. I am also interested in having a business partner; it just needs to be the right fit. I suppose we are doing a sort of model of this, and I like it! It feels right (there’s that intuition!)

F: What are the most useful strategies/tools/devices/programs that support your business and work? 

N: Definitely our lesson plan manual and the website. I am actually in the process of transitioning over to Square Space. And then there are our partners, March of Dimes Canada, CPE terre des Enfants to name a few…Vibrance Center soon as well!

F: As an entrepreneur, what creative skills come in useful?

N: Knowing when to be extroverted, bringing form to the chaos, problem solving, emotional intelligence, sensitivity to other people, also knowing when to let go of an idea or a possible contract or partner

I have a sense of humor. Also personality wise I am innately practical and work with “the bottom line” but I also allow myself space for creativity. When I feel myself becoming severe or falling into the anxiety of the high stakes I practice self care, maybe it’s a movie, maybe a bath or a dance class, this always helps. 

F: How has the landscape of your sector changed? Have customer’s expectations changed? 

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N: I think now more then ever parents are looking for programming that will instill confidence and social skills in their children along with physical literacy that will be with them for the rest of their lives. I can speak to the huge benefits of exercise and physical activity as a healthy regulation and coping tool 

As my program doesn’t teach traditional coded dance such as ballet and some schools really want defined dance programs – hip hop, ballet, etc. That is just not 123, and it’s crucial that we stick with our branding and our value system, even though it means losing some contracts. 

F: Where do you see your business going?

N: Eventually 123 Steps Ahead will be global for children, youth, and families. We will also expand to adults and seniors. It’s really going to open up a “I can do it” attitude in learning dance and break down the notion of elitism. I think we will have a whole new global generation of dancers that are amazing just the way they are. I am excited for this!

You can follow 123 Steps Ahead through the website, Facebook page, and Instagram

Whatever your aims, we can aid you in achieving your goals with our individualised approach and flexible sessions. Contact us: