John Patrick is the Vocal Coach for An Iliad.
To craft character voices that enhance the world of a production like An Iliad, you need to blend technical skills with whimsical notions that are at best intuitive. You need a superhero-like actor that has connective tissues and synapses between the brain and body that most of us are missing or have long atrophied since we were 7. You need robust material that ensures a level of inspiration that moves past surface-level impulses – A kind of material that mines from the depths of what it is to be human in any culture, at any time in history. You need a savvy director that can help guide all the choices to ensure a cohesiveness with maximum impact. And most importantly, you need an audience willing to take a refreshing leap of faith into a world that demands that you truly suspend all disbelief, if only for an evening. We have all these key ingredients in Gulfshore Playhouse’s production of An Iliad for the makings of a transcendent experience.
My role in helping the inestimable Jeff Binder find myriad characters in An Iliad is to ask questions that inspire choices that he and the director, the deeply brave Kristen Coury, find effective and personally engaging. I help guide those choices to manifest in his voice in sustainable ways. We hear the words of the play read out loud, we ask probing questions of who a character is in history/folklore, who they represent today that we might recognize, and then how a character needs to serve this particular production. From those discussions, at the most random of points, an image is birthed into one of our minds and then the key is for Mr. Binder to embody that image into character behaviors and vocal sounds with NO judgment or analytical mind. The actor’s herculean job is to seamlessly jump from heady analysis into fully committed character experiments of movement and voice. Any shred of self-conscious analysis once we jump into the embodiment-phase of creation can completely sabotage precious moments of inspiration.
One example of how a character voice can form is the one utilized for Agamemnon. On the surface, Agamemnon is just another intimidating war leader. The tendency would be then to give such a stock character a low-pitched and boomy voice that shakes the floor beneath us. But this is presumptive and generalized. If we are to ask about the actual “doings” of the character, meaning, what are all the action and choices of the character throughout this narrative, we find character elements much more specific than “warrior” and “leader.”
Agamemnon is crafty, manipulative, unpredictable, and completely self-assured. He has no need to prove his leadership or war skills with how he uses his voice. That battle is already won. He must skillfully use his voice to move pieces around him to get what he wants. How Agamemnon does this inspires images of shadows, snakes, arrogant smiles, and a voice that operates in sweeping melodic curves rather than linear lines of pitch. From there, Mr. Binder embodies what those images and concepts mean to him manifested in the voice, and voilà, Agamemnon is born again in Naples. He might not come off as war-like as you assumed he would be, but rather he represents a person that keeps his power through covert acts covered-up in smiles and sustained pressure. Mr. Binder has crafted this version of Agamemnon. An intimidating war leader sounds scary but scarier is the look and sound of an Agamemnon that I actually recognize as human. That person might exist at our work or in our politic which is a far-cry from a fantastical storybook.