#language

Written in the Body

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When I was completing my master’s degree, my advisor told me that her wish for me going forward was “that you spend time every day just being in your body.” She had noticed my habit of intellectualizing voice work. I believe this can be a strength for a coach: investigating the structure of languages and researching the meanings of words. I value the clear articulation of complex thoughts through the spoken word.

But the human voice is bodily process, a physical action. I do now spend time every day being in my body, and I seek new ways of developing and honouring this physical side of voice and text work.

Recently, I had an opportunity to work with Deaf artists on Shakespeare text. This extraordinary group of performers challenged my traditional approaches to text work, executing exercises in ways that were completely different from what I’d experienced before, adding new meaning and resonance to the texts. As I perceived through interpreters, the signed languages were communicating something far beyond a literal meaning. And this turned my phonocentric exercises - used by hearing actors to uncover layers of deeper meanings - into something of a game of catch-up.

My sense is that ASL expresses, through the body, not only poetic structures, grammar, and images, but even metaphor, temporal aspects, or emotional states. Of course this is particularly exciting in Shakespeare performance, which is always a process of interpretation – there is no objective ‘Hamlet’.

For me, it’s also a fitting reminder that words and ideas don’t reside solely in the brain. I have often thought of words being physical: muscular and filled with kinetic energy. But it’s also true that our bodies are linguistic. Now I find myself circling back to hear my mentor’s voice, “be in your body”. So maybe that’s my homework: investigating the structure and meaning and signs in the language of the body.