Prompted to Tell: Make believe? Yeah, you!
This piece is by David Seward Carter, a contributor to Juiceboxartists writing workshops. The prompt was to say a few words about how he expresses himself through movement.
A technique for self-discovery
Over a decade and a half ago I participated in a two-year long training in Voice Movement Therapy, a “multi-modal” expressive therapy whose focus is on increasing our overall expressivity through song and sound, dance and movement, and acting and theater.
As part of this deeply transformative training, each of us was tasked with coming up with 16 different characters or “subpersonalities” that had characteristically different vocal qualities, physical attributes, and styles of movement. The notion of “subpersonalities” is the idea that we all “contain multitudes” — a plethora of voices within each of us that get expressed (or not!) in various circumstances throughout our lives.
Make Believe? Yeah, You!
Have you ever “pretended” to speak another language? I mean, for example, simply mimicking how, say, a Frenchman sounds when speaking English — you know, in that sexy way? Or a Chinese person or a Spaniard or a Russian? Of course you have! A while back I discovered that mimicking how a language sounds in the form of innocent play (or even poking fun!) has actually been a most useful tool for learning generally, and language acquisition and pronunciation more specifically. Perhaps this aspect of myself is also a subpersonality.
In my years studying French I’ve sometimes resorted to mocking how the French sound. This was initially out of sheer frustration. Argh! How can I make that guttural “r” purr and not sound like, well, a furball in progress, meow? I am a deeply smitten Francophile, mind you, and I now attribute my frustration, mockery and mimicry to this lover’s desperate desire for a more perfect union. How can I possess the object of my desire!? I’ve taken to mimicking the sounds, facial expressions and lip and mouth shapes all under the guise of “playing characters” and that has helped me to finally pronounce French with a decent level of competence. I merde you not! Moreover, it has taken something that has seemed too serious at times — language study — toward an experience of something much more lighthearted and full of life.
Over the past several months I’ve been applying the same play technique to my study of Serbian, specifically pronunciation. I take a paragraph of text or a snippet of dialogue, read it aloud and as I do so I stand up and walk about the room, start to exaggerate some sounds, and try on different postures. I attempt to recall, too, what native speakers have sounded like in casual dialogue or when ordering something at the bakery or café (that’s пекара and кафић, FYI). I try to become them, to wear their characteristics in my body and voice as best I can. I simply “play” at speaking the language until I actually do speak the language. In fact, I recently had the experience of speaking Serbian to a perfect stranger on the street in Belgrade and the internal experience was one of “I sound like I am making perfect sense” even if — more likely — my grammar was riddled with imperfections. I could see that I was making myself understood — half the battle right there, right?!
Why not try on an amusing bit of mimicry of that character that you’re creating for a one-person show? Or that character that has half-appeared on the page? You might find that a bit of gentle teasing is just the right approach to provoke a true-to-character reaction — within yourself!