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The First Time, Read It Aloud !

December 10, 2013

I am not a scientist, but I have tried these many years to be observant in our various laboratories of human behavior and emotion. If there is one thing that is predictable about how actors approach new material – either doing a scene in a class or in an audition – it is that the first time they read the material they will read it silently to themselves.

Makes sense, right? One doesn’t go about blurting out lines without knowing what you are doing – you might act badly, get the emphasis wrong, mispronounce a word, stumble over the narration, or worse – not understand what the heck is in front of you on the page! And make no mistake – we’re not talking about when you are vulnerable among others – we are talking about when you are all by yourself! It’s as if we don’t want to risk embarrassing ourselves.

Musicians can’t get away with that, you know. Okay, if you’re on an electric piano with headphones you can get away with it – but not with any other instrument.  Singers cannot sing in silence. Painters can imagine a scene, but soon they have to put it out in front to understand what’s brewing inside. Choreographers dance out loud – sure the concept is born in a vision – but the particulars are worked out in dance shoes and warm leggings.

We’ve noticed, in our own private teaching lab over these many years, that there is a critical element necessary for excellence in reading comprehension that has been increasingly disdained in Education since the early 1960’s: in teaching the written word, we have found  that  excellent comprehension can be tracked to the reader ‘hearing his/her own voice’ as he or she reads.

It turns out this is a critical component in the process of integration and application of written material.  It is also a formative element in the creation of high self-esteem and public performance confidence – one that makes a viable home for individualism. This is in stark contrast to the external socialization model of forced silent reading ( quite literally: your individual voice is not important) especially in the early years of linguistic development.  There would be no need for Toast Masters if we all read aloud throughout high school, both frequently and robustly.

Does this contradict the forcing of seven and eight-year-olds to learn to read silently? Strictly speaking no….but it does suggest that this should only be done when the student has made the magical connection between his/her own voice and the information on the page. And we have found that this is especially true of material that is to be performed. It turns out that the old model of ‘recitation’ is extremely beneficial to the individual, as the wisdom of ages past knew so well. Never underestimate the truth in the meaning of the expression “throwing out the baby with the bathwater” as it relates to things cultural.  We make historical mistakes because we forget the mistakes of history!

As to the nature of the connection, we aren’t sure why this is, but we have shown that performers learn faster and better when the initial reading of ‘to be performed’ material is read aloud – without concern to the quality of performance. Naturally, then, the best scenario for the first reading should be while you are alone and free to make all the mistakes one may make.

We think it all has to do with the processes of Subconscious Mind. When we read  performance material for the first time silently, we are actually participating in a protected scenario (the one of our own ego-self ) rather than one of a more precarious ‘first take’ of the material. When we read for the first time aloud, we are reading unprotected: vulnerable, out on a life raft of the words – and a greater force tends to come to the forefront, and frequently to the rescue (see: necessity is the mother of invention).

It is now Universal Consciousness that leads us . The material is flowing from an Open Source, rather than from a secretive  identity – that of our ego self. Yes, this sounds counter-intuitive to the notion that recitation begets individualism, but it’s not. Individualism is far-more connected to our ability to relate to what is, than to create from what is not. The collective is a dreamer. The individual takes the position of realist – artist and artisan alike.

Certainly, as we rehearse, our ego-identity will  find its way into the performance: each of us is, after all, the one performing. But the initial airing of the material stands to expose some truly remarkable insight if revealed in the 3rd person of common consciousness, rather than in the 1st person consciousness of the second-thought performer.

In addition, we believe that there is a crucial connection between hearing and speech to be made within each individual – one that lasts a lifetime. Perhaps it’s a neurological function – perhaps it’s a virtual or spiritual connection, who knows.

But the subconscious mind makes immediate decisions about where this voice -now  your voice – is going, when reading something aloud for the first time.  It may make the right decision, in which case we are rewarded for having concluded correctly.  Or it may make the wrong decision, in which case it then makes a safe assessment of what has been misjudged. Learning and reward are joined together in one process. Further, the subconscious is operating from Carl Jung’s Collective Unconscious – applying the gained knowledge of countless centuries to our guesswork – when we allow it. And we can only allow it when we give it the first reading. Then we give the second reading to Reason – and some of course, to our Ego.

Read the material out loud the very first time , all by yourself – every role – all the way through. You will find the wisdom of the ages informing everything thing you read and say.

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