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Voice as Musica Universalis in MAGELLANICA

January 10, 2018

by Mary McDonald-Lewis, Resident Artist and Voice & Text Director

Magellanica lives inside a kind of dark and stormy snow globe. It opens in a small space, stuffs us into an even smaller place and then leaves us, for eight and a half months, in a cramped and cold research station in Antarctica, surrounded by thousands of miles of... nothing.

Solitude and isolation are our bedfellows here, with strangers made stranger over clashing cultures, passions, and pursuits.

Our snow globe is a Tower of Babel, too. Words obscure instead of clarify, languages confuse. These trapped women and men are Russian, Bulgarian, British, American, Norwegian, Chinese, and "a little of this and a little of that." They are devoted to their sciences and seeking to both stay hidden, and to be found. They use more than words to tell their tales: their voices sing in their bodies, emanating from their chest or gut; are caught in their throat or spill out in wrenching confession.

As resident artist, voice and text director at Artists Rep, my job on any play is to create a spoken landscape that amplifies the inner and outer worlds of the people in it. So I begin with our speakers and their sounds much like a composer does with her score. Who is our shadowed and secret instrument, who is high and elusive? How do the voices move from chorale to cadenza and back again? How do the contrapuntal harmonies create tension, break and resolve?

With Magellanica, first the characters started to tell me a bit about themselves. Then Dámaso, the director, added his vision, and the actors brought their characters' back stories, inner worlds, desires and trials. From this comes our composition and our orchestra.

Now comes the conducting. As with our scientists in the research station, we first work alone, my actors and me. We explore the character: their heart, their scars, their virtues and sins. We let a voice emerge, slowly, that speaks to that person's soul. That is as authentic as their walk, as organic as their temper. And gently, very gently, we tend that voice, and help it grow. I bear all the characters in mind as we work, so that when each actor returns to the rehearsal hall and rejoins the story, the sound of these voices swells to a musica universalis: the music of the spheres — eternal, connective, balanced, true.

When I think of that little snow globe, a dim light in the vast white, it doesn't seem small, or cramped, when I recall the stories inside it. Above it is the Aurora Australis, and beyond those Southern Lights, the stars and planets whirl on and on.

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