Joyce Lyons: Making Songs Her Own

Singer and Actress, Joyce Lyons (AEA., SAG) has performed all over the country (Aspen and Durango in Colorado, Santa Fe, NM, Lenox, MA and Washington, DC.) and of course in the Big Apple to name a few and to much acclaim. Once described as “What Cabaret is all About!” Her cabaret shows are legendary, but it was the honor of performing for Justice Clarence Thomas at the Supreme Court that still leaves her speechless. Her recently released CD, “Sooner or Later” is receiving radio airplay throughout the country and features some of New York’s finest musicians, including the stellar Lee Musiker (Musical Director and Arranger), who’s “day job” is musical director for Tony Bennett. Sooner or Later is available on  iTunes or CD Baby  or her website…joycelyons.net.

I met Joyce when she taught a masterclass on “Expressive Text Portrayal” for Underworld Productions last fall. She coached our American opera and musical theater pieces, and she helped us make an honest connection to our audience.  I have often thought of that class.  It’s not just when working on my musical theater  I want to infuse all of my vocal “conversations” with that same ease and honestly.  If you have a chance to see her perform, don’t miss it.

Joyce, what was the first aria you learned?

First aria or classical piece would be Vivaldi’s Domine per Gina [Crusco, voice teacher] pushing me out of my “jazz box!”

Do you attend shows that you aren’t singing in? What makes a good performance?

I always like to get out and see other performers. I can always learn something new. To me, a good or great performance is one that makes me laugh, cry, reflect or sigh! Or better yet, causes me to lose all sense of time and space.

What was your first stage experience like?

My first stage experience was 4th grade, sang “Side by Side” with my older sister. It was great, though she was wearing fishnet stockings held up with rubber bands and one of them broke…I’ll never forget it.

Do you sing in the shower?

…Yes, I sing in the shower, all the time!

What is a technical reminder you give yourself while warming up?

The technical reminder I give myself when I am warming up…to take my time and breathe…just breathe!

I practice exercises and then attempt to always learn a new song.

And you teach voice, too?

I teach performance/lyric interpretation and I love it when working with students and they make a connection to the material. Truly making the song their own and creating a performance that soars!

Thanks Joyce!

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The Character No One Hears – Acting for Real Part 2.1

Simon Keenlyside, Hamlet

Know Who Your Character is When No One is Listening

To my Beloved Tenor who is working on expression, this is for you.

During an aria or even an entire opera, we won’t see every aspect of a character. In life, no one sees every aspect of you; have you ever thought about how much time we spend sitting in silence? I think over-achieving opera singers forget about these quiet moments when all they can hear is the music. Know who your character is when no one is listening- when not even your character is listening to herself/himself. Understand that REAL people are constantly using filters, and in acting for REAL, you have to get to know even the filters that your character would use.

Even in your stillness when sitting on the A train and staring off into space, there is no doubt that you are a REAL person.

A REAL character has so much more UNSAID than SAID.

UNSPOKEN STORY + FILTER + SPOKEN STORY = REALITY

It is your own reality that informs how you introduce yourself -or not- or how you tell a story, how you react to bad news…indeed, it is your own reality that informs how you sit in a silent moment. Yes, as our acting teachers have all told us, “this is the most important day of your life!” during any given scene, but as an opera singer we actually have to show very little because of all the layers available to us that contribute to the unspoken story.

The little that we do show is informed by this REAL character that has come to life in our table preparation. Further, the little that you show allows the voice to radiate out of your character in a very specific way, and you will perform the role unlike anything else your audience has ever seen.

Christine Ebersole, Grey Gardens

In It

Don’t settle for acting “as if”. Have a purpose for every detail in the music.

  • Prefer an internal “gesture” to vocal “gesture”.
  • Prefer a vocal “gesture” to physical gesture.
  • Use cadenza and other stylistic devices to illustrate intention.
  • Play a game of hide-and-seek between context and subtext.
  • Obsess over  the culture and language of the work.
  • Use your own body, your own voice.

TIP!!! After you have done all your table work (who, what, when, where, why), discipline yourself to sit in the long silent moment that proceeds your character’s speech, as if you were sitting on the subway train. I do this for 30 minutes at a time several times over the course of preparing a role or art song. Sit alone and still as the character, then jump right into the piece from that stillness. Alternate between jumping into a spoken monologue and into the sung version.

Joyce DiDonato in Don Giovanni

None of the major Method teachers of the 20th century was completely correct or incorrect, and not all acting styles will work on an operatic or musical theater stage. I sincerely believe that every actor – singing or not – must make sense of his material through an honesty about the world around us.

Mandy Patinkin, Sunday in the Park with George

I developed my own personal acting method primarily from two people: Michael Gelb and Anthony Hopkins. More on this next! 😉

The Madness to Your Method- Acting for Real Part 2

photo of Lee Strasberg teaching

Method acting is a phrase that loosely refers to a family of techniques used by actors to create in themselves the thoughts and emotions of their characters, to develop lifelike performances. It’s contrasted with more classical forms of acting as well as traditional opera performance, in which actors and singing actors simulate the thoughts and emotions of their characters through external means, such as vocal intonation or facial expression.

Strasberg acting with Al Pacino in Godfather II

Though not all Method actors use the same approach, the “method” in Method acting usually refers to the practice, pioneered by Constantin Stanislavski and advocated by Lee Strasberg, by which actors draw upon their own emotions and memories in their portrayals, aided by a set of exercises and practices including sense memory and affective memory.

Method Misconceptions

Method actors are often characterized as immersing themselves in their characters to the extent that they continue to portray them even offstage or off-camera during a project. However, this is a popular misconception. While some actors have employed this approach, it is generally not taught as part of the Method.

More Than Script and Character

Opera and Musical Theater singers, we have at least two more major layers added to our portrayal beyond character and “lines”.

We have music and we have vocalism.

This doesn’t mean we can’t develop lifelike performances, it means we have to build REAL musicality and REAL vocalism, which will eventually become your clean canvas for creating a character…no one said it was easy.

As for the music, obey and honor the composer. Be a musician of integrity and be faithful to the score and to tradition. Unless you have proven yourself a worthy challenger, always yield to the conductor.

As for the voice, build the instrument relentlessly as athletes study, build, and nourish their bodies. Trust that all your technique is there when it’s performance time. When the curtain goes up, it’s too late to think about technique. If your technique isn’t ready to trust, your performance will seem especially contrived and uncomfortable for the audience.

Next up…Know Who Your Character is When No One is Listening

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