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3 weeks in New York – 1 week to go….

I thought I would attempt a blog – a diary really, for me as much as anyone else to document the next month. This is my first time performing in New York and more importantly – this is me, an English girl with a passion for an American singer and her story – heading to her homeland – to sing that story to an audience who are very likely to have known her or atleast been connected to her in some way.

That is both exciting and terrifying.

In preparation for the New York shows, I went to meet my friend and vocal coach Victoria Woodward.Whilst I don’t actually dress up and play Dory, we use her autobiography in the show, which sounds ridiculous in an English accent and so I do my best at an American accent. This is not new territory for me. 15 years ago I toured a show about Peggy Lee for several years and in that show I wore the wig, did the accent, the hand gestures – everything. So it should be easy. Ha ha.

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Me as Peggy Lee (without the wig) at the Royal Festival Hall in 2003

The first thing Vicky points out to me that literally revolutionises my whole view of the world, is that, in general, Americans tend to think and speak at the same time. Whilst English people tend to think, censor and then speak. OMG! Why has no-one ever told me this before? Suddenly, I realise why I have spent most of my life feeling congested, paralysed with all sorts of awkwardness that I have to blast through with a) vodka b) humour c) adopting someone-elses’ personality – particularly if on stage. If part of my conditioning is that I have to check what I’m about to say is OK/interesting enough/right every single time I open my mouth – how has our culture survived so long without going mad?

And so to my first exercise with Vicky : to try and embody the accent – where does it come from? What is it about? I stand legs astride attempting to free my lumbar region (that’s buttocks/pelvic area/you name it).  “Imagine the expanse of America infront of you stretching out to the horizons.  The confidence in seeing that infront of you and knowing you can go anywhere”.  Something about Vicky’s voice talking me through this allows me to let go of years of buttock tension (a technical term).  In studying the Alexander Technique, I have spent most of my life trying to let go of that English “pulling up” as we call it in the trade.  We hold ourselves tightly, as if to represent the squeeze of living cheek by jowl on this island.   According to Vicky, British people use their consonants as ammunition, Americans luxuriate in their vowels. So we head for the vowels. That sounds goood” Vicky entices. I repeat in my most alluring tones “That sounds goood“.  We spend the next half hour drawling to each other like this (“letting the tongue lie loose”) and introducing Dory’s words. It’s hard to describe but with each set of words she gives me actions to accompany that encourage that sense of expanse and confidence. It feels fantastic.

And I understand something important about Dory.  Whilst her material is introspective, I don’t need to tie myself in knots delivering it. That is her unique gift. She explores her neuroses, bringing them out into the light, like she’s looking at a painting and trying to figure it out. “What is …it?” with innocence of a child and a lot of humour. And she does that publicly for all of us to see.

So I’ll end this blog with the real Dory on an Irish TV show in the 80’s. Television was so awesome in the 80’s? Really though. WATCH and LEARN