Posted by: D.A.S. Chicago | March 10, 2011

15 mins with Tanera Marshall

Tanera Marshall

Ms. Marshall is a voice and speech specialist and also certified associate teacher of Fitzmaurice Voice work.  She studied at Oberlin College for her BA degree and DePaul’s Theater school for her MFA.  She is a member of Screen Actors Guild (SAG), The American Federation of Television and Radio Arts (AFTRA), and Voice and Speech Trainers Association (VASTA) and has been a teaching artist/ consultant since 1995.  She currently teaches voice and speech as well as Shakespeare to the actors in the Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) training program at UIC Theater.  Ms. Marshall has been credited in film and theater on projects such as Public Enemies (Marion Cortillard), The Lucky Ones (Rachel McAdams), Hamlet, Macbeth, A Christmas Carol, Balm in Gilead, The U.S. Premiere of Dirty Dancing on Broadway and many more.

D.A.S Chicago sat down with Ms. Marshall recently to discuss the danger of tension to the voice and how to prevent it from building up.

D.A.S Chicago is a blog that focuses on ways to relieve tension in the body, physically and mentally, through performing arts.  What would you say are the main causes of stress in your life?

Tanera Marshall: Hmmm…. being really busy makes us run around, it makes us late; it makes us not fully present in what we are doing sometimes. Not being fully prepared to do what we’re doing and our bodies can sense that so it can create tension. It makes me tense.

So how do you personally deal with tension or stress?

TM: As an artist there are a couple of things that I do. First, I just start my day with about ten minutes of breathing and stretching, it simply warms my body up and it makes me feel less creaky. I noticed if I don’t do that and I go through my day, I always feel sort of old and not really woken up. When I don’t feel good in my body it makes me irritable and it really just compounds stress. So if I feel good in my body and I have a breakfast that feels good in my stomach. I mean literally I feel good so I’m less likely to become stressed. So that’s the first thing.  The Other thing that I do is um…I manage my time. I’m very practical about how I make myself tense when I try to pack too much into one day. so over the last few years , I just made a promise to myself  that I was going to leave plenty of time  between appointments to  get from the first and second and not overbook myself because I get crazy and I get self-conscious. And then I feel bad and then I get tense.

As a voice coach, how does tension affect the voice and how we speak?

TM: Well as a really good teacher, I would ask you that question! But tension affects the voice in a number of ways. One is tension can inhibit breath. When we hold our stomachs in,our shoulders are hunched, we can compromise our breathing. When we’re not breathing, it means we don’t have enough air to fuel sound. So we don’t speak as easily or fully and we might end up trying to push to make up for the lack of fuel. Does that make sense? That’s one way breathing is affected. Tension can also affect your throat. If you have a lot jaw tension it can change the way your voice feels and sounds. It can also make it harder to project sound out of the mouth because you’re putting things in the way of the sound leaving your body. There are some things, sort of emotional, that stress does to our voices too, but practically speaking its muscular constriction that affects the voice the most.

What are the possible damages to the body from stress?

TM: Absolutely, the voice is a really simple mechanism that simply requires breath to vibrate your vocal folds like guitar strings would vibrate and that’s all that needs to happen. With tension and pushing, people use muscles in and around the larynx, the “voice box” in the neck that is involved in sound production and breathing, to “help” do things that they think they’re supposed to do to make the voice better or stronger. In the end what they end up doing is constricting, and making it harder for the vocal folds to vibrate. Putting stress on the folds is sort of like jogging too many miles in bad tennis shoes. Imagine the damage that can do to your knees. It makes muscles work in ways they don’t need to work and stresses the ease with which things normally work, which can cause serious damage.  You can get nodes on your vocal folds, which are like warts that grow. They are caused by the vocal folds being slammed together and pushed together more effort-fully than they need to be and that’s just one example of the many actual things that can go wrong with your voice if you have tension and push.

Wow that’s really interesting because whenever I think of stress affecting the body, I never thought about the voice or the throat.  I know you shared how you personally deal with stress but what would be your suggestion for the readers of D.A.S Chicago?

TM: I’ll say anything that gets you out of your head and into your body. Anything physical, it can be yoga, swimming, playing basketball, you name it. I say physical because when you get your heart rate up, your body needs to breathe and when you body needs to breathe, it makes it breathe and it makes you get out of the way of the breath. It gets you to stop thinking about the things that stress you out. It’s hard to not think about stress, its hard to not-not do something but it’s better to do something else which gets you in your breath and in your body. Distracted, in a sense, from your tension. That’s my main advice.

Is there a specific time of the day that’s best to try to prevent tension build-up, like mornings or at night after a long day?

TM: I don’t think so. I think you should do it when you need it. For me it works best in the morning but some people often do activities mid-day to break the day up.  They go to the gym at lunchtime to help release tension throughout the day but you can do it whenever you feel the need to.

For questions and comments, post below and we will respond shortly!




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