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Inside the Archetype Studio

Description of Vocal Archetypes Work Session by Chris Morris


While all studio sessions for this work are unique, they typically share a common structure:

  • general vocal and physical warmup

  • vocal/physical preparation for the specific archetype

  • the Archetypal Journey

  • stepping out

  • reflection and discussion

            The work is most effectively initiated and explored in a group setting. As the teacher/leader (henceforward called “the leader”) begins working with a new group, rules of working are articulated regarding parameters of the space, safety (physical and vocal), use of a sound instrument (typically a rattle, drum, or bell) to stop and/or guide the activity, and the protocol for “step out.” Stepping out, inspired by the work of Susana Bloch and Alba Emoting, is a structured physicalized breath exercise. Two original elements were added to stepping out for Vocal Archetypes; Steven Barker created removing the mask and Olisa Enrico developed sending the energy of the archetype upward for future retrieval. As an essential part of the in-role/de-role embodiment of the work, stepping out is taught at the very beginning before any archetypes are introduced.

            Following the warmup and preparation period, which may last anywhere from fifteen to forty minutes and may consist of individual and/or group work, participants are instructed to take their place in the room. Sometimes a specific physical posture may be suggested as a starting point. With one exception (the archetype of the Sensuous Dancer, aka the Lover) most often work is done with eyes open, allowing a “real time” interaction with the environment and others. 

            Once participants are in place, the leader begins the Archetype Journey, a narrative that serves as the guide for the participant, who embodies the story simultaneously with its telling. It is in the early moments of the Journey that the archetype is named and described. While some leaders may introduce the name and characteristics of the archetype at the beginning of a session, experience has repeatedly shown that students tend to enjoy the “reveal”, reporting that it allows them to experience the preparation more freely, and to begin the Journey without expectation or judgement. It is this freedom from expectation that is a hallmark of the work, akin to what children may experience as they pretend and role-play in the yard, in their rooms, or on the playground.

            Most of the Journey narratives developed thus far are contained in the book Acting and Singing with Archetypes. Originally conceived by Frankie Armstrong (who leads archetype journeys without the aid of notes or prompts), they were shaped and written in collaboration with Janet Rodgers. The narratives are read aloud or spoken from memory by the leader, who usually stays in one place in the room, often using a music stand as a convenient anchor for notes and prompts. Some leaders use recordings of curated music to support or feed the narrative, with ready access to controls for on/off and volume. The language of each journey is simple and direct, most frequently linear, and deliberately rather formal in the style of an ancient tale or legend.

            During the Journey, participants are directed to move and to vocalize; sometimes they are given prompts to perform tasks, to enter the storytelling themselves. Depending on the details of the Journey, participants may interact with one another, or work alone and simultaneously with the group. 

            All of this happens simultaneously with the leader’s narration and instruction. From time to time, the leader may use the rattle (or drum or bell) to pause, to side-coach, or to re-direct. Some journeys are quite vigorous, some very quiet; the ending is guided by the leader and followed with a period (usually 1-2 minutes) of silence, usually with eyes closed. 

            At this point, the session may go in one of several directions. The leader may choose to initiate stepping out, allowing participants to shift immediately into “de-role” mode, then perhaps moving into a discussion of what just transpired in the Journey.

            Often, it is useful to stay “in-role” for a while longer, especially if a tandem activity such as writing or drawing is to be part of the session. In that case, participants are instructed to get their notebooks/journals (or the leader may provide writing or drawing materials) and a period of writing/drawing ensues; five to fifteen minutes seems to be the optimum amount of time for this. Participants may wish to record details of their experience, or they may wish to allow the relaxed creative state induced by the session to fuel their expression on paper in other ways, through poetry/prose or drawing. Students often share vivid and surprising writing samples and drawings produced during this period. 

            If writing/drawing is pursued, the stepping out will occur afterward. This may be done individually (as participants finish their writing/drawing) or as a group. After the step out, it is useful to have a group discussion about the session just completed. The group generally comes into a circle for this, sitting on the floor or in chairs.

            Group discussions often benefit by beginning with the exercise “Popcorn” (from the work of Dr. Tawnya Pettiford-Wates’ Conciliation Project) as participants are invited to toss a single descriptive word into the circle by speaking it aloud: ideas, images, or feelings sparked by the session that just occurred. Students are encouraged to fully share these words, really hear one another, and fully articulate themselves. This helps what may still be very private – the experience of the Journey, which may be quite profound – become more public. After a period of “Popcorn”, which may last for several minutes, single words begin to naturally give way to phrases, then sentences, and the discussion may continue freely for as long as the leader and group may wish. Depending upon the makeup of the group, the discussion may extend into questions of application, specific theatrical roles, or other areas. 

            Observers and participants alike often comment on the efficiency of the archetype work in accessing full vocal and physical expression without hesitation or fear. Participants tend to engage whole-heartedly, and old habits frequently are bypassed as full engagement in the work requires that one listen and act impulsively within the parameters of the Archetypal Journey. Performers at all levels are sometimes surprised by the energy and truth of expression that the exuberant freedom of the archetype work often allows. As one participant described the work “it has been a defibrillator for my creative spirit.”