Cicely Berry Voice director at the Royal Shakespeare Company

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Cecily Berry is the “grande dame” of the English theater. In England, and in the United States, she formed the biggest actors (Sean Connery, Helen Mirren, Jeremy Irons, Jo and Ralf Feinnes, Emily Watson, Ann Brancoft, Kenneth Branagh …) As a preparer for voice and text she made work important person like: Jessica Lange and Anthony Hopkins. She has worked with directors and stage directors like Peter Brook, Bertollucci, Sam Mendes, Julie Taymore, Michael Attenborough and authors like Edward Bond. Having taught in Anglo-Saxon countries, also in Russia and Asia, Cicely Berry internationally recogniezed in the field of voice actors preparation. In 1946, Berry graduated as a vocal technique teacher, by the Central School of Speech and Drama, of London, one of the few schools in the world to develop specific training in vocals for the theater professions. In 1948 she began teaching at the Central School of Speech and Drama and later she taught in several institutions in England as well as in many countries. Individually, she also developed with actors monitoring work and adapted to the specificity of their voice.
In 1969, Berry became vocal preparer of the Royal Shakespeare Company. In this company she has cooperated with several directors, including Peter Brook. She is until now Voice director of the Royal Shakespeare Company. All those years in this prestigious company alloweded her to develop a remarkable basic work on Shakespearean text; However, her approach is far from limited to this author, and her intrinsic combination of body movement and voice proves as very effective she is on contemporary texts. Socially and politically engaged, Berry has also passed on her knowledge in disadvantaged areas. Several times she has conducted workshops in prisons in England and since the 90s she leads mastersclass focused on Shakespeare, in a poor neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro, in a social project of theater education, which has trained many professional actors. Other experiments marks Berry’s career as her vocal preparation work for the cinema’s actors.
She was for example dialogue coach for films such as The Last Emperor and Stealing Beauty directed by Bernardo Bertolucci and also in Titus, Julie Taymor film. The working method of Cicely Berry was systematized and published. Her works – Voice and the Actor; Your Voice and How to Use It; The Actor and the Text; Text and Word Play in Action: A Handbook for Textual Directors and Actors – have become benchmarks in the Anglophone world. The rhythm of the spoken voice is one of the main bases of her research: the pace is part of the meaning of a text because it has a meaning that goes beyond the meaning of words. The rhythm can strengthen, complement or deepen the meaning of words but can also contradict, creating ironic effects. Each author has an intrinsic rhythm to his writing, which is closely linked to its language. So one of the challenges of teaching Berry is to lead the players to get carried away and guided by the rhythm of the text. This is also done through the mastery of the metric of the sentence and its correlations with the meaning of words. Another feature Cicely Berry’s work is the relationship between voice, text and play, which never worked separately. Similarly, the meaning, shape and sound of the text are always discussed together.
Ana Wegner