Ginger Eckert is an assistant professor of theater at Southern Oregon University in the area of performance voice and speech. You may have appreciated her work with Oregon Center for the Arts productions of “Hedda Gabler” and “Angels in America Part Two: Perestroika.”
We met for a conversation in her office on the SOU campus.
EH: What is your approach to coaching voice and speech?
GE: There’s all the speech stuff: The phonetics and making sounds at the right times, in the right ways, in the right rhythms and patterns. Then we are working on being honest and revealing when we speak, so that I can feel you, and I can understand you in a very specific way.
EH: What are the dialects used in “Angels in America?”
GE: There’s Russian, British RP (neutral) accent, Yiddish; Roy Cohn has a Bronx New York, Jewish accent. We call his particular way of speaking an idiolect. In the world of accents, everybody has their own accent or their own way of speaking. Dialect follows a group pattern. The way a particular person speaks is called their idiolect. There’s a huge factor now of actors playing real people. Whether they capture that person’s speech patterns would be inside of that person’s idiolect.
EH: Are there elements that make a great actor?
GE: What makes for a great actor is strong and agile performance instincts. When it’s time to perform, things get richer, more exciting, better and more alive. There’s nothing I can teach anybody about instinct.
What makes somebody great is that they put in the work so that their body and their voice are communicating the story. They understand and find the ways in which acting is an act of revealing, not an act of masking. It’s not a trick.
EH: I see you have some books on yoga and Buddhism.
GE: I use a lot of things inside of yoga and mindfulness, which is part of a lot of Buddhist and other awareness practices. We’re always working on allowing ourselves to be present, and there is the connection to the breath. Yoga is especially useful, because yoga is working with opening the body to breath. It physically opens a person to become more connected to the body, which is important for acting. Some of these writings speak to that awareness through the breath. “What am I feeling? What am I thinking? How does that live in my body? What are some of the ways I escape from the present moment, and how do I come back to myself?” Which is acting too.
EH: Why do people find theater so compelling?
GE: The thing that theater has (that will make it such that it never dies) is that you have an experience in time and space with other people of a story. You get to physically take in the experience of the story, the experience of being in a physical relationship to a performance. When we’re sitting in the audience, we are hit with the sounds of the play, with the vibration of somebody talking, with the movement of people’s bodies, which we physically respond to. We take in what’s happening on stage. Our bodies physically respond to what’s happening on stage in a way that’s not the same as it is when we’re watching a movie, where we’re projecting something else onto what we’re watching. It’s a bit more direct, more intimate. I think that’s what keeps people coming back to the theater. Plus, we laugh and cry and breathe with other people in a room. That’s intimacy. That’s something that people crave.