John Patrick is a vocal coach who has worked in film, theatre, and television. He served as the vocal coach for A Number with PlayMakers before working on The Parchman Hour.
The voice carries on it the expression of an experience. Each voice is different just like each person’s perspective is different. The human need for individualized expression is beautifully juxtaposed against the power found in solidarity in The Parchman Hour.
As vocal coach, my job is to support and guide the actors to vocal choices and discoveries that further reveal and communicate the present experiences of the given characters and story, all under the guidance of our esteemed director Mike Wiley. Oh, and to make sure the audience can understand what the actors are saying, lest the artistic choices be for naught.
The unique challenge of working on The Parchman Hour was the sheer amount of characters the audience has to be able to discern from one another. Each with a unique sound and dialect and sometimes one actor may play multiple characters. We live in exciting times with abundant resources for research in this capacity. Audio and video recordings of some of the voices of the actual Freedom Riders exist online. We also have a plethora of recordings of natives from all over the country so we can find dialects that sound indicative of very specific areas of Alabama, Mississippi, and New England where the vast majority of characters hail from. The actors heavily drew on these resources for inspiration in creating living and breathing vehicles for the voices of some historical and fictional characters.
But to simply do an impression of someone historic would not take into account the heart and soul that can only come when an actor identifies personally with the traits and perspective of a character. This marrying of external postures with internal life is a nuanced and exciting journey. We play and make mistakes until a choice is made that resonates deeply with the actor, the ensemble, and ultimately the audience. Then we know we have something powerful to share. Embracing diversity was one of the many tenants of the Civil Rights era so in finding the voice and body of these brave characters we must honor the diverse actors that inhabit them. The actor’s voice must be heard through the dialect and vocal rhythms of the character to celebrate the connection between the two.
The actors do ALL this work. It is my honor to guide and point towards possibilities that the actors already have inside themselves. They may need help shedding light on the sometimes dark and messy catacombs of the creative process, but in the end, the actors make the choice to breathe and dangerously reveal their unique expression of a moment filtered through the perspective of the character they inhabit for a time. How exciting! I am in awe of what actors do and I cannot wait to hear the voices of the Freedom Riders live on in a new generation in The Parchman Hour.