Deshik Vansadia
Deshik Vansadia studied acting at the Stella Adler Academy of Acting in Los Angeles and later with Shakespeare & Co, which was co-founded by voice guru Kristin Linklater. Subsequently, he worked with the company, performing and teaching Shakespeare across the United States. Deshik has performed in numerous stage shows and films. He has trained in the Linklater method of voice training. At the Drama School, Mumbai, Deshik works with Voice, Breath and Text together - ensuring this fundamental continuum between the three are maintained in each student. Deshik will be conducting a six-day Foundation Workshop with Theatre Professionals. Here, he talks to us about his methodology and elaborates on the nature of Voice.

 By Deepa Punjani

Deshik VansadiaDeepa Punjani (DP): You are currently working with Theatre Professionals and your expertise involves working with voice, breath and text. Can you elaborate on the same?

Deshik Vansadia (DS): If voice is the music and our body the instrument, then we are all born with a perfect instrument. When we were babies, we had expressed ourselves fully without any fear of judgements. Our voice had reflected our inner life without any manipulations or control. But something happened when we grew up. Babies were told / taught / forced to become adults and behave like adults and the free voice that once acted upon the impulse freely is deprived of its power and a controlled, well thought and manipulated voice comes out. It's great if it's just a choice but the survival in the world for many years has turned it into a habit. My work is about breaking this habit and about freeing our natural voice.

DP: What you say has a ring of philosophy to it but scientifically speaking, voice is an extension of our physical selves and is also impacted by the physical environment around us. Can you explain the 'natural' voice you are referring to?

DV: Scientifically, the process is such: there is an impulse in the motor cortex of the brain. The impulse stimulates breath to enter and leave the body. The outgoing breath makes contact with the vocal folds creating oscillations. The oscillations create frequencies. The frequencies are then amplified by the resonators and the resultant sound is articulated by the lips and tongue to form words. But yet, the voice is responsive to the primal or animal impulses that we have. The scientific process is flawless but the voice is prevented from responding with ideal spontaneity because the spontaneity depends on reflex action and most of us have lost the ability and perhaps desire to behave reflexively. Consider this example. I meet a woman and I am attracted to her but societal norms and conditioning will not let me say that to her instantly. So my calculated speech will affect my voice. Or reflect on the time when I was growing up. I was the youngest of my siblings and although I was loved the most, I was never asked about things. I was always told that this or that was being done. It was only later as a drama student in a voice workshop that I 'unlocked' my voice. I cried when that happened. We all are conditioned regarding the "proper" and "acceptable" behavior in society and that behavior is not spontaneous but is thought out, judged and carefully crafted. Maybe this is necessary for survival but as a result most of us are who we are by habit and not by choice.

As for environmental factors, we have little control over the air we breathe. There are the usual remedies such as warm water with a spoon of honey, or ginger-lemon tea, or milk with turmeric but more often it's not the environment that will harm our voice but our conditioning, psychological factors as well as our lifestyle that will. If you shout or if you slouch as you speak, your voice will be impacted. The lower back muscles play a big role in voice quality. Imagine you have a flute and you want to bend it and play it. It won't work. Good actors have a quality of truth in their voice. Like Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, and closer home, Naseeruddin Shah.

DP:How would you define the core essence of your theatre training methodology?

DV: My training has its roots in the work of the great Stella Adler. Stella lived for and lived by the theatre that showed truth in its most beautiful and ugliest form. And her way of attaining the truth was through imagination. Letting the subconscious serve the world of the play for the truthful interpretation is the key.

DP: What are the three simple exercises actors can follow to improve their voice?

DV:(1) Lie down and make a quick scan of the body and let go of tension from the entire body focusing part by part.

(2)After relaxing the body, bring the focus on the breath and let the breath drop all the way into the belly. Make sure not to control it but letting the natural flow just be.

(3)Now, gather gentle vibration and release them onto the ceiling as if painting the ceiling with a particular color.

Repeat the sequence and after releasing the vibration, say a line or two to someone, making sure that lines carry great value to you instead of being casual, unimportant lines.

Repeat the sequence again followed by a speech from a play.

DP:How can actors learn to appreciate texts that are removed from their milieu? For instance, how would you make Shakespeare interesting and accessible to young actors today?

DV:Great texts carry truth and reveal humanity. Different time period and/or a different place has different clothes, food, God and language, but not different people. Love, hate, joy and sorrow are just the same. So, great texts like Shakespeare's don't really need to be made interesting or accessible. They already are. I have led many to Shakespeare and all I have done is to introduce them to his words and words do all the work.

DP:What are the challenges actors must overcome to work with their voice and breath in rhythm?

DV: The biggest challenge for actors in today's world, and especially in a metro city, is the lack of presence. Life moves too fast to be able to be present. Where I should be or I'd like to be takes up all the energy versus where I am. Once we become present, we can focus on letting go of unnecessary tension in the body that prevents uninhibited breathing and let the free voice come out. Another big challenge is the lack discipline. Actors must treat themselves as athletes. No professional athlete will go on for a week without practicing but actors do it all the time. They only work when they have work. We must learn how to stay in shape and follow a routine every day. Working with voice is like playing an instrument. It requires constant practice.

DP: To what extent are the foundation workshops that you conduct useful for actors?

DV: The six day foundation workshop is more transformational. The workshop is designed to break through the defense mechanisms and habits that stray us away from truth. The workshop challenges actors to walk into the unknown where they will discover the scene rather than play a preconceived idea of a scene. By the end, they would have enjoyed being truthful rather than showing or acting truthful. I think this is a great beginning.

DP: What has been your experience thus far at The Drama School?

DV: The experience has been truly life changing. Working with other actors on the floor has been enriching but also working with other highly experienced and skilled faculty from all around the world coming from various backgrounds has been simply beautiful. I have grown a lot, but more than that I have been inspired.

*Deepa Punjani is the Editor of this website.

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