The Journey

The Right to Speak
By J. Morris

Personal Essay

When it came to speaking in front of a group, I pretty much hated it. No, make that really hated it. Despised and loathed it. We're talking hands-shaking, face-flushing, overall vocal paralysis. So I spent most of my college career an avid fan of mediocrity. Political views, personal ideas – whatever it was, there was no distinguishing me from the crowd. Yet here I was in an intimidating auditorium, with a mismatched gang of unabashed theatre students.

The oddness of the fact that the course Voice for the Performer appeared on my fall- semester schedule could not compare to my anomalous presence amongst the ten theatre students in the class. In a room full of people who make Ozzy Osbourne seem reserved, I wondered if I would survive. But when our class sessions moved from the small basement of Stage II to the mammoth Cowles Memorial Auditorium, my basic nervousness shifted to full-fledged fright. The first half of class was spent relaxing on yoga mats and learning proper breathing and standing positions. Sure, we used our voices, but never by ourselves and certainly never on a stage in front of others. Still, the auditorium was dangerous territory, and there was no escape.

After a few weeks, Peter Piper and his patient, purposeful attempt to please pretty, prattling playfellows principally to prevent the pernicious prevalence of perverse pronunciation turned my fears around. With tentative practice sessions and countless nervous breakdowns, I pulled Peter Piper off without the expected and dreaded hitch, garnering praise from my fellow tongue-twisting recitalists and giving me the idea that maybe, just maybe, I had a voice worthy of being heard. Each ensuing day grew increasingly exciting, as Professor Diana Trotter summoned from each of us abilities we never knew we had. We spoke volumes using not words, but only the sounds of consonants and vowels. We practiced diction and placement, envisioning the power of our voices extending from within. I began testing the darker waters in other areas of my life, speaking out in classrooms and offering ideas during brainstorming meetings at the production company for which I interned. Surprising those around me with my newfound aplomb, I began enjoying those distinguishing encounters which I had previously endeavored to avoid. My vocal arsenal had been stocked, and soon it couldn't be held back.

By the time finals rolled around, I jumped on stage before my fellow vocalists and read from Dylan Thomas' Under Milk Wood with more mustered confidence and energy than I had ever before felt. Who could have known that a handful of supportive strangers and a packet of lip-numbing practice sentences could have resolved in me my right to speak? Those pajama-clad class sessions left me not only with the ability to sound clear and competent sans mediocrity; they offered me the chance to be heard. The few hours a week spent strengthening breath support and refining resonation have led to days in the workplace full of boldness and poise. No longer afraid to speak, I garnered myself a job offer and an emboldened reputation, not to mention an "A" in Voice for the Performer. The meager sound I once carried was replaced by a benchmark of accomplishment. So now, when asked about my opinions, I will not just answer with honesty and assertion. I will answer with clear pronunciation, too.