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Freeing the “authentic” voice

Moving into character like flipping a light switch, Antonio Ocampo-Guzman is first a young woman conversing on the Green Line in high-pitched banter, then an affect-less male in his 20s chatting with friends in a hushed monotone.

For Ocampo-Guzman, an assistant professor of theatre, individuals—like the ones he impersonated for a visitor to his office—often model communication after what they hear and see at the movies or on TV, and slip into clichéd or habitual ways of speaking.

“Most people are terrified of speaking with their most authentic and natural voices to say what they really mean, and to really mean what they say,” said Ocampo-Guzman, who teaches the Linklater voice practice, a method for anyone—including students of theatre, politicians, preachers and journalists—who wants to have a more expressive voice.

“It’s for anybody interested in having a deeper relationship with their voice and improving the ways in which they communicate verbally so people can hear and understand them,” he explained. The method focuses on freeing the voice from physical tension and psychological limitations through a series of relaxation exercises for the breathing musculature and the body.

“Other methods are interested in the emotional release of the voice or in sounding beautiful,” he said. “The Linklater technique is more specifically about sounding authentic.”

With the approval of Kristin Linklater, a theatre professor at Columbia University who developed the technique in the 1970s, Ocampo-Guzman recently started training six Mexican theatre professors to teach the method exclusively in Spanish.

Backed by Northeastern’s theatre department, Ocampo-Guzman has been teaching the instructors through Mexico City’s Center for the Study of Voice for the past year.

Though it usually takes four years for anyone to fully grasp the Linklater technique, Ocampo-Guzman, who became the first Spanish-speaking Linklater teacher in 1998, is trying to train his disciples in half that time, a daunting task on a pedagogical level, he said.

“There are 100 Linklater teachers in the world and each one of us is very different, with our own experiences and teaching methods,” he explained. “It’s a fascinating challenge to help teachers in Mexico develop their own teaching personalities so there are no cookie-cutter teachers.”

Ocampo-Guzman, who moved to the United States in 1993 from Bogota, Colombia, where he trained at the Teatro Libre, has written several articles about the practice in Mexico’s premier theatre magazine, Paso de Gato. Recently, he finished the manuscript for the first book on the Spanish version of the Linklater technique, which will be published next year by National Autonomous University of Mexico.

Over the last decade, Ocampo-Guzman has found that using the Linklater technique makes acting easier. “Acting is very simple,” he said. “All you need to do is play with the idea that you don’t know what’s going to happen next. Releasing your breath by using the Linklater technique allows you not to control what’s going to happen next.”

Next summer, he’ll organize a conference in Mexico City for teachers at the Center for the Study of Voice and the Voice and Speech Trainers Association, which brings together teachers from all over the world to share ideas and methods.

Ocampo-Guzman has worked professionally in theatre in the United States, Ireland, Greece, Sweden, Colombia, Panama, Mexico and Spain. In February, he’ll make his Northeastern directing debut with “Blood Wedding,” a tragedy by the Spanish playwright Federico Garcia Lorca.

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