Freeing the natural voice? : performance, gender, society.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
This thesis is about the search for the "natural voice." It draws together elements from the disciplines of theatre, philosophy, linguistics, voice training, art history, performance studies and feminist scholarship, as well as my own practical experience as an actor and teacher of voice, to address issues of vocal agency in current criticism and theatrical performance, and to interrogate a dominant strand of voice pedagogy as well as the use of voice in contemporary American performance art. I consider first the highly influential voice training methods of Kristin Linklater, an Anglo-American director, actor and voice coach, whose textbook, Freeing the Natural Voice (1976), first advanced the notion of a "natural voice." Linklater promotes the natural voice as a more authentic form of communication, a more accurate expression of our inner being that has been hidden, inhibited and distorted by harmful and repressive societal influences; thus, she claims that through freeing the voice, one "free[s] the person" (2). I interrogate Linklater's concept of the natural voice and suggest that her informing influences, particular style of training, and the way in which she conceives of the relationship between mind and body (which, in dualist epistemologies, become related to distinctions between male and female, and speech and voice) problematise her claims to the "natural." I argue that Linklater's "natural voice" is in fact a political and ideological construct that restricts the kinds of performances it can produce, particularly feminist interpretations of canonical texts. So, what is a "natural voice"? One means of discerning this is to examine the use of the "unnatural" voice in performance. Subsequently, I focus on the work of two prominent performance artists, Karen Finley and Laurie Anderson. I read Finley's performance of her provocative piece, We Keep Our Victims Ready (1990) from the perspective of ecriture feminine, paying particular attention to her correspondence with the tropes of the "sorceress" and the "hysteric" advanced by Catherine Clement and Helime Cixous. Anderson's technologically mediated voice is analysed in a range of her post-1979 "electronic cabaret" works in terms of Donna Haraway's theory of the "cyborg," a human/machine amalgam and product of techno scientific culture that redraws traditional conceptual and material categories. Of both artists, I ask: Why do they use these highly constructed, unnatural voices? What effects do these voices have? What do they tell us about the "natural voice"? In the analyses of Finley's and Anderson's work I also pursue two related lines of inquiry instigated by the analysis of Linklater: how each artist addresses the mindlbody problem; and how this affects her ability to produce work that extends the boundaries of feminist performance and to deploy voices that have agency, social and political force and challenge the status quo. This focus on the nature and use of the voice in relation to performance, gender and society stands in contrast to the wealth of material on visuality, visual culture and the body in contemporary performance criticism. It also defies poststructural theories that deny the voice significance and strip agency from the speaking subject. In undertaking this project I am concerned to show that the voice is worthy of attention and is a valid subject of study in theatre and performance studies.