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Vocal Hygiene for the Revolution
by Milia Ayache (posted 24-08-20)
Artwork by lina ghaibeh
As an actor, your body and voice must be in tiptop shape at all times, even when you are not currently performing; your next gig might be right around the corner! Even though acting jobs are few and far between, you should still make a concerted effort to practice proper vocal hygiene. What happens, however, when you are in the middle of watching a play in a rickety, cliquish theatre and all of the phones in the audience start to light up and the sounds of sirens and blasts rattle the formica stage? The revolution has begun. You never thought it would happen here in the last country on earth ready for revolution. And yet, here you are, rising up alongside people you had thought far too complacent. But this is no excuse to wreak havoc on your voice. Here are some tips for actors participating in revolutions, which are becoming more numerous as the world attempts to resist the dehumanizing effects of neoliberalism.
- Warm up (fig.1). Although you are called to fill the squares and to block roads at ungodly hours, make sure to warm up your voice before setting garbage bins on fire and blocking roads with your bodies. Usually these revolutionary interventions are accompanied by revolutionary chanting and singing. In these early days of the revolution, there will be much celebration, so much in fact, that others will discredit the revolution as “one big party.” Do not lower your voice because you believe them, but because, as an actor, you cannot sing this loud so early in the morning and with such frequency. Therefore, use some of these demonstrations as rehearsal runs and mark through as much as you can. Without sufficiently warming up you risk failing the revolution by losing your voice before the government resigns.
- Stay hydrated (fig. 2). Make sure to drink around eight glasses of water a day. Despite the fact that the government does not provide clean drinking water (one of the many reasons you are protesting, as your country is blessed with ample rainfall that floods highways and pumps raw sewage out into the streets), there are always children selling plastic bottles of water wherever protests spring up. Put money aside to buy water throughout the day so that your vocal cords do not dry out. As for the empty plastic bottles, dispose of them in the makeshift garbage bags throughout the usual revolutionary spots. Usually these end up getting burned when the garbage bins are tipped over and set aflame, when the only way the government will listen is through setting the city on fire, forcing them to make a gesture and finally step down. During the century before this one, this would have been enough to constitute a “revolution,” but you know better and know that the work will only get harder in figuring out what comes after, how society should orient itself. But in the meantime…
- Avoid inhaling the toxic fumes of flaming garbage bins and tires. While you support the revolution and all of the citizens taking back the streets, you wish it could be done in a more eco-friendly way. The government you thought had resigned just reincarnated itself into a more diverse-looking one (with six women!) and has left you with no other choice. You are forced to offer continued support of this dangerous revolutionary tactic. In this case, step away from the fumes and breathe through your kuffiyeh or scarf placed over your nose and mouth. If you find that upon blowing your nose, your mucus is ashen black, you have breathed in the chemicals. Remember that before the revolution, your mucus was often the same shade of black due to the private generators spewing smoke throughout the city, so it’s really not that much worse.
- Say no to caffeinated drinks. Although you will find it hard to stay awake after a full two months of being on the streets, caffeine severely dehydrates the vocal folds and makes it difficult to sing revolutionary songs and hurl profanities at the politicians sleeping in their apartments. This is a new tactic that you are using because many fellow citizens are horrified that life does not go on as normal during the revolution and blocking roads has become too much of an inconvenience. So you have divided the protesters to stand in front of the luxury homes of the ruling class. Instead of caffeinated drinks, try to consume ginger lemon tea which is soothing to the voice. Just make sure you have enough time to go home and brew it, as not many street vendors carry fresh ginger and lemon and your favorite coffee shops are shutting down since the economy has come to a halt and the owners can no longer afford rent. All that is for sale, now, is muddy Turkish coffee, which is bitter and effective, but ultimately counterproductive to the actor during the revolution.
- Get plenty of sleep. It might be hard to tear yourself away from the streets, as this might be the last chance to save the country, and all of your friends, colleagues, and ex-lovers are awake protesting, but you must. Physical strain has detrimental effects on the voice—vocal fatigue is real! Therefore, do not turn on the television upon returning home. While the protests may be audible from your apartment, you can always put in earplugs or earphones to drown out the cries of the people. If you watch the live reports on the television, it is infinitely harder to fall asleep, as you will see many people you know kicking canisters of tear gas and getting brutalized and arrested by the riot police. In the slight chance that you have heaved yourself from the couch in front of the television into your bed, do not stay awake wondering how this all will play out, whether a regional war is looming like everyone says, wishing you weren’t from this dratted country, and hating yourself for thinking that. Recalling that people in revolutions all over the world are experiencing the same thing helps a little, but it’s too late: sleep is nearly impossible after having these thoughts.
- Do your best to avoid getting tear-gassed. Tear gas sticks to the moisture on your body and can cause extreme eye and respiratory pain. Since coughing agitates the vocal cords, it is better to move to the side when you sense that crowd is getting rowdy and forced dispersal is imminent. This may sound difficult, but after being on the streets for months now, you have become quite good at reading the signs: when protesters start hurling plastic water bottles at the security forces, you’re safe. When they begin to shoot fireworks at them, get ready to exit the crowd quickly. And when they start with the rocks, run for your fucking life. Yet even the best of us can misinterpret the situation, just like the other night when four canisters fell around your feet while you were casually catching up with some friends you hadn’t seen from before the revolution. Remember, although tear gas is used to disperse crowds regularly, your government is using warfare-grade tear gas against civilians and the rumors are the government’s special recipe includes traces of cyanide. After being hit with the gas, temporary blindness can occur causing disorientation. If you are disoriented, it is easier for them to shoot you with a rubber bullet in the face (this goes against the United Nations Human Rights Guidance on Less-Lethal Weapons in Law Enforcement but that does not seem to matter), and it is easier to get caught. If you are caught, riot police will beat you with batons. Since you must protect your body, as an actor, it is better to not get caught. If you do get tear gassed, make sure to stay calm, to rinse your eyes with water or Pepsi or some strange concoction that neutralizes the effects (there aren’t many medical studies on the effects of tear gas), shed your clothes as soon as possible, and take a cold shower.
- Do not smoke or expose yourself to second-hand smoke (fig. 3). You may be shaken up after the ordeal of getting tear gassed and beaten, but if someone offers you a cigarette to calm your nerves, politely decline. Smoke is known to irritate the vocal folds and dry them out. Nicotine is also highly addictive, so if you take up smoking during the revolution, it might be hard to stop when you have a new government/new society that respects and funds the arts and you can get back to practicing your craft on the regular. N.B. People might offer you a drink, as well. In this case, know that alcohol is a depressant and is dehydrating, so even if it is tempting to want to “relax” after the protests, try to find a healthier method, like meditation. Or reach out to your friends in Iraq, Chile, or anywhere else where revolution is happening to swap stories and ask for advice on any issues you might be facing (i.e. how to relax), as your revolutionary friends across the world were already so helpful when they taught you how to blind drones and the riot police with laser lights and bang on pots and pans to cause a ruckus. Explain to your friends from far away that there are rumors that the government has a novel plan to bail the country out of all its debt which doesn’t include reaching into the pockets of the politicians, and it will be to tax alcohol and cigarettes: the only thing keeping the people in your country going.
- Avoid overuse of the voice. It is easy to get caught up in this revolutionary moment. You have waited so long for something to rupture in society for some time now and you are not giving up just yet. However intense this feeling, it is important to not give every protest your one hundred percent. Trying to shout above other voices, to let your voice mingle with the others in their rage and their emotion, or even whisper plans for the protest tomorrow, might be too much strain. The extremities of your voice should be used sparingly: both the whisper and the shout. And although you know how to support the voice through years of training, nothing has trained you to keep up with this. Learn to rely on the other voices even though they aren’t as numerous as towards the start of the revolution, which can be discouraging. In any case, here, you are not the star, nor are you a member of a small ensemble; this is so much bigger than that. The revolution will not cease if you die. But don’t die. You can’t act if you die.
Bonus tip (in case the revolution itself dies)
Abstain from chronic throat-clearing; it does more harm than good. In the afterworld of the revolution where pandemic, inflation, hunger, electricity cuts, and the disturbing feeling that all your honest-to-God efforts might have only amounted to LARPing, you have developed a tick that makes you flick away the buildup of phlegm that has pooled on your vocal cords with a tiny cough. The hollowed-out public squares and deadened eyes of the population force you to ask yourself what was that thing that summoned you to the streets? And as you are about to utter “thawra,” “uprising,” or “movement,” (with or without quotation marks?) your tick manifests. You wonder which term to land on, but nothing comes out, the words sticking to the sides of your throat, teaching to you, perhaps, to avoid mentioning that time altogether. It doesn’t mean that you aren’t haunted by it, though, so you clear your throat to dislodge a word, but your voice is too hoarse to produce sound. Instead of clearing the throat then, learn to swallow whenever the itch to label appears, alleviating the vocal cords from the friction of exploding air through such a small opening. Swallow the failure, swallow the flop, swallow the spectacle, because tomorrow you might be called to do the same thing once more, but by then, all you will have left will be your voice.
Reporter: Did you lose your voice out of all your anger today and how much you screamed or…?
Citizen: No, actually I lost my voice not only because I’m so angry but because we were part of the first group of volunteers on the ground after the explosion to clean the port and search for victims of the blast. This is not our job. I lost my voice after what I inhaled. For us today, they want a revolution? This is a revolution. We paid the price with all those who were lost. We paid the price with Beirut. They blamed us for vandalizing the city but they blew it up.