by Raffi Wright
Instructor of Opera Lindsay Warren Baker has been part of Eastman’s Voice and Opera Department since 2001. She teaches a variety of acting and movement classes and is a key member of Eastman Opera Theatre’s production team. We are thrilled that she has developed “Acting and Embodiment for Singers” for Summer@Eastman! This acting course is open to classical singers of all ages and experience levels; students will focus on one role during the program, gaining a deeper understanding and awareness of their bodies as instruments and sources of creativity for character and performance.
The course is available as a five-day in-person institute or as a six-day online workshop. Lindsay talked with me about the intersection of music and theater and the ideas that inspired her to create this class.
RW: Please tell us about your background in music and theater. How did you begin working with singers?
LB: I’ve been making music and doing theater for as long as I can remember. (I think my mother said it formally started at the age of four.) From singing around the house and roping my sister into putting on self-made shows, to eagerly participating in music class, chorus, and school pageants and plays, to taking piano lessons and dance classes, to attending all kinds of theatrical productions … I got the bug early and it never went away.
I was very active in my high school’s music and theater programs and headed to college with the idea of becoming a high school vocal music teacher. Of course, as soon as I attended the theater orientation meeting during the first week of classes I knew I wanted to double-major. I finished college with an incredible culminating experience student teaching at a fantastic performing arts magnet high school in Chicago and then went on to do two post-baccalaureate semesters with the Eugene O’Neill National Theater Institute in Connecticut and Moscow, Russia.
After taking some time off from school to work behind the scenes at various theaters, I decided to pursue an interdisciplinary graduate degree focusing on performing arts and cultural studies. Ultimately, I discovered that I love the role of “artist educator,” working on projects professionally and teaching through the lens of mentorship. My training in vocal music and theater afforded me an understanding of both singing and acting techniques and how to communicate with the classically trained singer about the ways in which they intersect.
RW: Why is it important for singers to be comfortable with acting? What would you say to someone who thinks that acting is just a bonus in the singing arts?
LB: Singers are storytellers and storytellers are actors. Therefore, singers are already actors. The question becomes, is one’s acting technique as developed as one’s vocal technique?
Those who train their whole instrument including body, mind, imagination, spirit, emotion, breath, and voice gain the skills and flexibility to make all kinds of creative, informed, versatile choices in their storytelling.
Performing arts are physical, visual, lived, cathartic experiences. Powerful storytellers are those that communicate and connect with the audience with their entire being.
RW: What are you most excited for about this course?
LB: I’m very excited for the focused, immersive nature of the course. Those are the kinds of experiences that I still value and crave in my own training. It creates a special community of artists who support and grow together in their learning, and you are able to give yourself the luxury of focusing on the task at hand without having a schedule full of other daily obligations.
RW: What do you hope participants gain from this experience?
LB: I hope participants enjoy the opportunity to get to know themselves and the possibilities of their instruments more. Whether gaining new tools or trying them in a new way with a different frame of reference, the goal is to build a community where everyone can bravely experiment and create without the pressure of a “perfect” final product. I hope participants love the process.
Acting and Embodiment for Singers runs June 27-July 1 (in-person institute) or July 5-10 (online workshop). Registration is now open!