February speaker Q&A: Voice coach, director, and writer Heather Dick

Heather DickIt’s February, and the weather might be cold, but this month’s speaker will get you warmed up—and ready to speak! Heather Dick is a performer, director, producer, acting and voice coach, and published writer who loves to bring humour into every aspect of her work. She has worked on stage across Canada for more than 30 years and appeared in film, television, and commercials.

Heather’s interactive presentation will literally help you find your voice and converse with colleagues, clients, family, and friends in a more confident and effective way.

Meeting details
February 25, 2014
Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre, Room 318 (southwest corner of Spadina Avenue and Bloor Street West)
7 PM: Open discussion session for new and prospective EAC members
7:30 PM: Business meeting
8 PM: Information session and program (Heather Dick’s presentation)
9 PM: Mix-and-mingle over coffee, tea, and cake
Meetings are FREE for EAC members and students, and $10 for all other attendees.

Q&A conducted by Abby Egerter

What initially drew you to the dramatic arts?

I fell in love with the theatre when I was about eight or nine. When my mother took my sister and me to children’s matinee performances presented by a local community theatre company, I was fascinated with every aspect of the shows. I was captivated by the feet that I could see walking across the stage behind the curtains and mesmerized by characters like Captain Hook who swashbuckled down the aisles. I wanted to be up on the stage and “living” those adventures too! When I was older, my mother signed me up for drama classes with that same theatre company. My first opportunity to be in a show was with my high school drama club. From there, I auditioned for community theatre productions and performed in a couple of musicals. In my last two years of high school, I was acting in those very same matinees that I had attended as a child.

What does a voice coach do?

As a voice coach, I help people from all walks of life in two ways. First, I help them to physically rediscover and reconnect with their natural speaking voice, which can have a range of three or more octaves. Second, as they physically free their voice, I help them use their voice to reveal their emotional life. For many of us, this may sound scary because, to protect ourselves in the outside world, we have all developed mental and physical ways of hiding behind our voices. Unfortunately, these tricks can, consciously and subconsciously, cut us off from our emotions so that we aren’t able to express what we truly feel. If we can connect to our feelings, our abilities to connect with others will improve. In the end, it is the personal connections to others that help us succeed.

I also help people to reduce or add accents and clarify their speech so that they can be better understood.

How does training in drama benefit people in general?

Drama and improvisation are important for every one of us. We improvise and role-play all day long as we deal with clients, relatives, colleagues, partners, and children. We take on different roles as we relate to others and we must think on our feet as we debate issues, try to find solutions to challenges, etc. Planning can only go so far to help us prepare. In the end, improvisation is always necessary to some extent in our dealings with others. Drama helps us to develop the improvisation skills that enable us to think quickly as we interact with others and to feel comfortable while doing so.

Editors tend to work “behind the scenes”—how will voice coaching help them in their professional lives?

The greatest benefits of voice coaching for editors are expanded vocal range, greater depth of vibration, richer tonal quality, better diction and clarity of pronunciation, and stronger emotional connections. Clients will listen more carefully to someone whose voice is rich, vibrant, resonant, and clear than they will to someone whose voice is narrow in pitch and tonal quality, and lacking in vibrant overtones. This is especially true if we are talking on the phone. If people listen more carefully, they will, in theory, understand more fully what we are trying to communicate. Also, because it is subconsciously the depth of our emotions that draws us towards or away from others, editors will have stronger connections to clients if they are able to express how they feel through their voices.

I also think that our speaking voice is reflected in our writing voice and that the more we connect with others through our speaking voice, the more we will be able to connect with others through our writing voice.

What challenges have you faced and what have you learned when writing and having your work edited?

I have written short stories, one of which has been published in a collection. I’ve also written a number of plays, including a one-act play that has been published in a writing anthology. Forgotten Voices, a full-length play that I wrote in celebration of the War of 1812, was performed last summer and I am working to get it published.

I usually enjoy working with editors because they give me a better perspective on my writing and have helped me to clarify and simplify passages that were awkward. Generally, I’ve had little difficulty accepting suggestions that were clear and focused on moving my work forward. I haven’t always agreed with these suggestions, but the advice has always helped me to take a third or a fourth look at a passage with excellent results.

When I have wanted to reject suggestions, it was because I felt that the editor didn’t understand my perspective and tone. One editor rejected a story submission but suggested that I write in a more personal tone. While I didn’t like that advice initially, I decided to give it a try and wrote my next story in the first person with great success. The editor’s advice helped me to find a personal voice, and this  gave my story an emotional depth that I didn’t have to struggle to create and that grabbed many people who read it.

In writing Forgotten Voices, I worked extensively with dramaturge Emil Sher, whose feedback was clear, precise, and extremely practical. It helped that he had extensive experience writing scripts based on factual research and that he was familiar with the project before actually coming on board. I give him much credit for moving the writing forward quickly. He never tried to impose his ideas but rather offered suggestions, reflections, and objective observations. He, in turn, appreciated working with me because I trusted his advice, took it to heart without relinquishing control of the writing, and worked hard between drafts. This was very much a two-way exchange from which I feel we both benefited immensely.

In many ways, I feel that what I do as a voice coach is parallel to the guidance that an editor offers to a client. Ultimately, it is up to the client to accept their help or not. When they do, wonderful work and positive changes can happen.

Abby Egerter is the assistant editor of BoldFace and a freelance editor who works on books, theses, and websites in diverse fields of knowledge.

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