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Masks, Voices & Selves

Summer is over and I thought it’d be nice to write about one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.

At the end of August I went to a workshop called “Masks, Voices & Selves” held by british actress, coach and playwright Sam Chittenden, in collaboration with actor, teacher and playwright Fabio Ambrosini.

10380477_10204860320012174_6609202424836623253_oI joined it expecting something along the lines of a workshop about masks (eg. Johnstone’s trance mask) but knowing that Sam and Fabio were working on combining their knowledge on the matter. While I already knew that Fabio is an improvisation teacher and held a lot of trance mask workshop, I discovered just before the workshop that Sam holds a series of creative workshops, including “The Mastery” in Brighton, where she lives.

If you’re interested in finding out about “The Mastery”, you’ll find more and better information here http://brighton-mastery.co.uk/ and here www.differentdevelopment.com (Sam’s websites), or generally on Google. To make this post comprehensible I’ll say it’s a series of techniques used by actors (and non-performers) to develop a better understanding of their own psychology, and therefore the psychology of every other human being. And I’m sure you understand how important it is for an actor, whose work is supposed to be impersonating someone else, to deeply understand and be able to portray someone else’s feelings and thoughts.

Sam’s work is not only based on the Mastery workshop. She also collected information and techniques from other sources (including Johnstone’s trance mask) and mixed all them together in a new brew, in which every part helps the others. A part of her work is based on Voice Dialogue (for example as described by Hal Stone and Sidra Stone in their book: Embracing Ourselves: The Voice Dialogue Manual.

It is also based on Systemic or Family Constellation work, and the sub-personality workshop Selves in Action, created by Adrian Longstaffe that Sam co-leads.

Now it took a pretty long premise to get to this book, but I ask you to understand, even if my words won’t be enough, how important the theory of this book is for me now, after that workshop.

So, what is the voice dialogue?

I’m not able to explain it correctly to you, but I’ll try to share how I “feel” it. It’s not complete. Maybe it’s not even correct. But I think it’s the best I can do with written words.

The voices dialogue is something that happens in ourselves everytime we face a decision. Even the slightest.

Doesn’t make any sense? Ok, let’s step back.

Assume that you are not a monolithic entity, a single mind working for you and making your choices. Assume that you’re more likely a collection of various “characters”. So maybe there’s the Grumpy, who wants all the things to be stable and predictable, and needs to be in control of everything. There’s also the Child, who wants to have fun, and needs to be listened to. And so on. Now imagine you look outside of the window and it’s snowing.

What would happen inside of you?

Maybe the Child starts to jump (metaphorically of course) and wants to go out and play, while the Grumpy wants you to put on a jacket and move the snow away from the path to the door. Sounds familiar? I understand, I felt the same a lot of time. And usually there’s one who shouts louder than the others and ends up being the one listened to.

How can this be helpful to an actor?

This is just a stepping stone for that. What makes it useful for an actor is the work Sam did. She took this, some of Johnstone’s teachings, some other stuff from her Mastery workshops, blended them all together and the resulting cocktail is an injection of “skills” that would help any actor.

1540520_10204860321012199_2981809866597322932_oIt’s in part the ability to recognize (and listen to!) our inner Voices, and on that build a character instantly. What does your character want? What does she need? Find the answer and react accordingly.

And yes, it is “that” simple. At least it is if you’re willing to try. Ah, fear of failure, my old friend. She (My fear’s a woman? Interesting…) is not something outside of me. She’s part of me. She’s a voice inside myself. She’s one of my voices. What does she say? What does she wants? And, more importantly, what does she needs? I’ve learned that I can listen to her, but I don’t “need” to. And now, everytime she shouts I can shut her down, and listen also to the others.

And that’s magnificent. I realized that most of the characters I improvise suffers from that “fear”, even if they’re supposed to be different from me. But that fear, the everlasting fear of failure, was always in me, even when I was able to step on stage and improvise. She hadn’t left my side, I just jumped in ignoring her, but she’s there anyway, and she “bled” into the characters I was portraying.

It took me this workshop to understand this. And now I’m more confident that I can shut her down as needed even when I’m not myself, but a character on stage. Because now I better understand what I am: a collection of different needs, sometimes clashing sometimes co-operating. And so are my characters when I’m on stage. They may show a specific “need” when they appear for the first time, but it’s the tension between that “need” and other “needs” that creates and interesting story. And the “other needs” may be from other characters, but not necessarily. My character will be more interesting and more developed if I’m able to show the tension between her own “needs”.

10636834_10204860320932197_8643790649846250810_oDuring the workshop I realized that’s what makes me cling to the chair when I watch a really good play. The tensions inside the characters, and those between characters. And I’m interested because I can relate, in some way, maybe having experienced the same tension between some of my Voices.

This of course is a metaphor. I don’t actually “hear voices”, but the feelings I get when I “listen” to the various needs I feel, sometimes clashing sometimes cooperating, it’s like listening to a committee. There’s Grumpy Old Gran that doesn’t wants to change home, because it took her so much time to adapt to this one. And there’s the Lady With The Flower Dress that instead is really excited about the idea of a new home, because she’s grown bored of her current one. And there’s the Calm Engineer who tries to explain costs and benefits of the operation to everyone, so everyone can make an informed choice. And so on. And then one starts to shout, and his or her voice is so loud the others cannot be heard anymore. And then a decision is taken, mostly based on those last, noisy words.

Now imagine a play in which that happens. Suddenly a character starts to shout louder than the other, and the audience is attracted by that character because she has more charisma. And then the play ends, and the audience remember clearly the words of the loud character, but not the others. And the story is missing something, because there’s no tension when a single need is listened to. The audience needs to listen to more than one need, and emphasize with them (either or both, depends on the audience and the story).

And, if you’re an improvisation actor like me, this it’s the first lesson you learn: listen, cooperate, let yourself be surprised by others. And I’ve learned it another time, from another point of view. But this is a point of view inside of me, and maybe that’s the reason it continues to echo in my thoughts even a month later.


So, I hope I’ve been able to explain why Sam’s workshop has been so important for me, and why the theory of the “Voices” is something I consider “life changing”.


Again, if you’re interested in knowing more about the matter, I’m sorry but I’m not the right person. All I can do is share more words with you about my feelings and my experiences.

But you can check these links:

Sam’s websites http://brighton-mastery.co.uk/ and www.differentdevelopment.com or http://differentdevelopment.bigcartel.com

Fabio’s websites http://www.stille.productions/ and http://www.ontheflytheatre.com/

All of Johnstone’s work with trance mask http://www.keithjohnstone.com/ , and I suggest you to start by reading Jonhstone’s book Impro


Also please consider taking a look at, sharing, and eventually back Sam’s Kickstarter project in which she’s going to self-publish her book about seeing leadership through the lens of poetry.



Posted on October 2, 2014 in improv

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About the Author

Design, book layout and typesetting are my passions. I love to take a work and make it as readable and appealing as possible. Right now I’m working on several projects as a freelance graphic designer and book layout artist.

Response (1)

  1. PatriciaPi
    January 19, 2015 at 1:09 am · Reply

    Pretty! This was a really wonderful article. Many thanks for providing this information.

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