Nancy Saklad’s Voice and Speech Training in the New Millennium: Conversations with Master Teachers provides an invaluable overview of the current field of voice and speech training for the theatre. Through interviews, Saklad aims to take “the reader on a tour through the theories, practices, pedagogy, personal histories, and innovations of twenty-four of the foremost teachers in the field” (ix). She uses similar questions in each of the interviews “to allow the reader to draw comparisons between philosophies and methodologies” (15). Saklad admits that it is impossible to single out the twenty-four most prestigious and talented contemporary voice teachers, but she has chosen her subjects with care to represent the variety of techniques within the field, as well as providing interviews with many of the most well-known practitioners.
One of the great pleasures of reading Saklad’s book is the family tree of voice technique and pedagogy that is evident through these pages. She interviews several of the voice practitioners who reside near the top of this genealogy: Cicely Berry, Catherine Fitzmaurice, Kristin Linklater, and Patsy Rodenburg. Through the interviews, these leading voice teachers introduce the reader to their mentors: Iris Warren, who trained Linklater and Gillian Lane-Plescia; and Gwyneth Thurburn, who trained Berry and Rodenburg. Arthur Lessac’s theories are well-represented by Deb Kinghorn and Nancy Krebs, among others, and the philosophies of Roy Hart can be heard through the words of Richard Armstrong. While many of the voice practitioners interviewed claim a primary mentor from this group, defining themselves through that particular technique, several others are guided by a number of methodologies. Rocco Dal Vera speaks to the “ecumenical” (84) voice practitioner who draws from a variety of methodologies, synthesizing them for students. From the interviewee who has practiced the longest, Robert Neff Williams, to the interviewee newest to the profession, Saul Kotzubei, the history of voice training is honored throughout Saklad’s book.
While her subjects speak to the development of voice work over time, Saklad also delves into current debates within the voice and speech community. She does a fine job of laying out the prevailing philosophies on speech training for theatre, a popular area of discussion recently. Saklad herself in her introduction, and later through her interview with Louis Colaianni, describes the history of speech training in this country, highlighting the centrality of Edith Skinner’s Speak with Distinction and her preferred dialect, Standard American Speech, as the primary guide to pronunciation and speaking style in the theatre since its publication in 1942. Colaianni states that for many years, because of speech trainers’ insistence on the use of Skinner’s Standard American Speech, “classical actors rejected our common national accent and deferred to an exclusionary elite accent, which strongly echoed British speech, and our theatre’s national identity really suffered for it” (74). Susan Sweeney is the only voice practitioner in the book who discusses her continued use of Standard American Speech. This is a brave admission in the current backlash against Skinner, but Sweeney also defines it as only one of many dialects that may prove useful to an actor, rather than as the desired set of sounds for actors in performance. This move away from Skinner’s framework signals a radical change in speech pedagogy over the last two decades. Colaianni’s work with phonetic pillows and Dudley Knight’s methods and greatly anticipated book Speaking with Skill are discussed in several of the interviews as methods of speech training that eschew Skinner’s elitism and teach a more embodied and less prescriptive approach to speech and dialects.
The interviews all present interesting responses to Saklad’s question regarding the changes that voice practitioners have seen in the profession over the course of their careers. There was a pervasive sense that the field of voice and speech training was healthy, diverse, and growing, and great credit was given to the Voice and Speech Trainers Association (VASTA) for its work in advancing and defining the field of voice training. Another common...