Vox Erotikes

Professor Kristin Linklater: giving voice to “the larger Self” inside each of us.
Kristin Linklater, chair of the Theatre Arts Division at Columbia University and creator of the Linklater vocal technique for actors, is the author of Freeing the Natural Voice and Freeing Shakespeare’s Voice. The above excerpt is from an essay by Linklater originally published in the April 2003 issue of American Theatre magazine.

The voice is inherently an erotic organ. The sensation of voice is part of the totalized suspended eros of childhood—what Freud referred to as the polymorphous perverse world of childhood, upon whose delights we slam the door as adults. . . . Thought and speech become the servants of reason and fact, and the voice that expresses such thoughts loses, in adulthood, its map of the neurophysiological circuitry that connects the voice with the sensuality of the body. . . .

We often toy with the word play as a central element of theatre, and we often devise games that will bring us back, as actors, to a childlike state where the imagination has no critic to restrain it, where instinct and intuition are uncontaminated by the fear of judgment. Creativity grows best in the garden of innocence; we have to invent the means to give us back the freedom we lost when we left childhood behind. The voice must also be offered liberation from the prohibitions of society: “Learn to speak nicely”; “Don’t shout at me”; “You’re too loud, too noisy, too full of yourself and your ideas”; “Shut up!” If the actor is to be true to Oedipus, Medea, Cleopatra, Leontes, King Lear, or Queen Margaret, his or her voice must be unlimited by societal niceties, psychological inhibition, or emotional fear. The actor’s voice must run, ripple, and pour through the sensory, sensual, emotional and, yes, erotic pathways of the body—if the voice is to pick up and reveal the rush and nuance of
a character’s inner states of being.

On a daily basis in my classes I tend to use the word sensual rather than erotic to describe the pleasure that may be experienced when the vibrations of the voice travel naturally through bone and cartilage and flesh. When these sound vibrations reach the appetite centers, it may be hard to draw distinctions between food, sex, and thrilling sound. There is, of course, currently a cultural conditioning that makes “sensuality” more acceptable in pedagogical practice than “eroticism.” Meanwhile, little differentiation is made these days between eroticism and sexuality, and sex has become a frightening subject—except in advertising, stand-up comedy, and sitcoms. But Voice/Sex/Pleasure are designed by Nature to be unified, so we, as actors, have to be intrepid vocal adventurers. We must confront Eros, if we are to fulfill our creative destiny.

Here’s the lovely and accurate anatomical picture I’d like you to entertain: The breathing musculature laces itself down from the silky billowings of the diaphragm to be woven into the webbing of the pelvic floor along with the muscles and nerves of its genital neighbors. When the impulse to speak sparks, the interaction between breath and vocal folds creates vibrations of sound. Those vibrations are palpable throughout the body from the pelvis to the crown of the head (and can often be felt right down to the soles of the feet). . . . What does this psychophysical situation imply for the actor? It implies that there is an enormous subliminal power available to arouse and disturb audiences on a bewildering level, and it occurs seismically deep underneath the words being spoken. . . .

The vox erotikes is the instrument that guides us to the larger Self that lurks inside us, yearning to break free from the shackles of conformity, correctness, and the judgment of an imagined hostile world.

Photo: Brennan Cavanaugh