Elizabeth Smith: articulating the actor Essay

Published: 2021-06-29 01:28:39
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Category: Film

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George Bernard Shaw once wrote of Henry Higgins in Pygmalion, “The reformer we need most today is an energetic phonetic enthusiast: that is why I have made such a one the hero of a popular play.”
Today, Shaw’s hero could easily be Elizabeth Smith. For more than 30 years, Smith, a vocal consultant and dialect coach, has been teaching actors across the country to speak clearly, project their voices, control their breathing and articulate the written word. It seems appropriate then that one of Smith’s most recent projects was coaching Richard Chamberlain and Melissa Errico for their roles as Higgins and Eliza in the new Broadway production of My Fair Lady.
Smith speaks modestly about what she does and insists the actors are the real heroes. But when renowned actor Brian Bedford, who worked with Smith more than 10 years ago gets on the phone and quickly slips into “buh-duh-guh-dah, guh-duh-buh-dah,” the vocal routine she taught him when he was playing Hamlet in Stratford, Conn., you know Smith’s influence is far-reaching and vast, and you get a sense that she’s helped mold a few flower girls into duchesses in her day.
“Liz is great,” says Bedford. “I worked with Liz’s mentor, Clifford Turner, at the Royal Academy in London, and I actually thought Liz was better because she improved his training techniques. The sound Liz achieves is more natural and dynamic.”
Smith, who has instructed such actors as Kevin Kline, Kelly McGillis, Tom Hulce, Stacy Keach, Amy Irving and Dustin Hoffman, says the fascinating thing about voice is that there aren’t any blueprints. Everyone is different. There are nonetheless certain basic principles, and as Smith tries to explain them, she gets frustrated trying to put into words what is best conveyed one-on-one in the private time between a teacher and a student. “I really hate talking about voice because it always sounds vague and mystical and part of it is mystical,” she says. “The mind and the heart and the spirit are very much involved in it.”
George Bernard Shaw once wrote of Henry Higgins in Pygmalion, “The reformer we need most today is an energetic phonetic enthusiast: that is why I have made such a one the hero of a popular play.”
Today, Shaw’s hero could easily be Elizabeth Smith. For more than 30 years, Smith, a vocal consultant and dialect coach, has been teaching actors across the country to speak clearly, project their voices, control their breathing and articulate the written word. It seems appropriate then that one of Smith’s most recent projects was coaching Richard Chamberlain and Melissa Errico for their roles as Higgins and Eliza in the new Broadway production of My Fair Lady.
Smith speaks modestly about what she does and insists the actors are the real heroes. But when renowned actor Brian Bedford, who worked with Smith more than 10 years ago gets on the phone and quickly slips into “buh-duh-guh-dah, guh-duh-buh-dah,” the vocal routine she taught him when he was playing Hamlet in Stratford, Conn., you know Smith’s influence is far-reaching and vast, and you get a sense that she’s helped mold a few flower girls into duchesses in her day.
“Liz is great,” says Bedford. “I worked with Liz’s mentor, Clifford Turner, at the Royal Academy in London, and I actually thought Liz was better because she improved his training techniques. The sound Liz achieves is more natural and dynamic.”
Smith, who has instructed such actors as Kevin Kline, Kelly McGillis, Tom Hulce, Stacy Keach, Amy Irving and Dustin Hoffman, says the fascinating thing about voice is that there aren’t any blueprints. Everyone is different. There are nonetheless certain basic principles, and as Smith tries to explain them, she gets frustrated trying to put into words what is best conveyed one-on-one in the private time between a teacher and a student. “I really hate talking about voice because it always sounds vague and mystical and part of it is mystical,” she says. “The mind and the heart and the spirit are very much involved in it.”

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