The title of the course is “Speaking Truth to Power.” I’m at Wellesley College, Massachusetts. One of the Seven Sisters. A women’s college, and one of the best liberal arts colleges in the world. This old and beautiful campus. Space to think, to make, to learn and to be. I go in early to meet the professor. She walks with two sticks so she doesn’t get up to greet me. We shake hands and before long we are talking about the political situation here and in England. These narcissistic demagogues who literally cannot see beyond their own meaty grasping fingers, and the permission they give for the trickledown of hatred and fear. If the head is sick, the body suffers. This is Hilary Clinton’s alma mater. I wonder what the world might have been if people had put aside their instinctive inbred misogyny. She doesn’t offer her position when I ask such questions. She just lets me talk. “I try to keep politics out of my class,” she tells me. “I’m giving them a voice. That’s it.”
“What do you guys think when you look at us over the pond?” she asks. “It’s the same on our side.” I reply. “There’s a dangerous self serving idiot inciting violence as he clings to power. And I genuinely think that the worst is yet to come.”
She points at my T-Shirt. I’m wearing a Wellesley shirt that I got in my goody bag. “This college was founded ten years after the emancipation proclamation.” She points at herself. “Now I teach here. We are all in a better place than we have been. But as I say, I keep politics out of my class. Let them make their own minds up.” I adore this woman. Utterly.
I’ve got 45 minutes with them. It’s not enough, but it’s something. I take them through a full actor’s vocal warm-up. All of my voice teachers at Guildhall were incredible women too. I cannot even begin to credit how lucky our year was with that. I select from my toolbox the things they taught me that I hope might be useful to these young women going forward into potentially incredible changing existences in whatever is left of the world.
I can give them the nuts and bolts of speaking out. Resonators. Intoning to speaking. Taking up the space and the time. Connecting their voice to their breath. Basic stuff, to make sure their voice doesn’t shake when they say the important things, or that at least it doesn’t shake utterly. I want two hours with them. I’ve got time for the exercises but not the discussion and the back and forth that clarifies the exercises and embeds them. I hope they’ll take things from it. I’m sure they will. But…
Well I just got a text from the professor saying the work showed in their presentations. So there’s a start. It’s a hell of a thing to have been asked to do, and it carries a weight of responsibility, to come in as a practitioner and to work with people at this age. To try to give them their own voices. We mostly have our voices taken from us by habitual tensions over time. Everything magnifies on stage, or under pressure. It takes awareness and time to win back the ability to speak clearly in public with relaxation and clarity – without our habits and tensions and blocks coming in. But gentle awareness without judgement is a starting point. And hopefully I’ve sewn some seeds here in America at a time where we need to hope the future will grow brighter. “It’ll take two generations,” someone said. God. Really? Maybe.