The Wolf in the Voice
Created by Martin Julien & Brian Quirt
Featuring and created with Thom Allison, Neema Bickersteth, Jane Miller
A singing voice breaks. Is it the sound of a soprano reaching for the top of their range? A voice growing older? A boy becoming a man? A singer risking too much, or holding back in fear… That’s The Wolf in the Voice.
This intimate new work unveils the connection between music and emotion through personal stories, song and staging as we examine the intricate dynamics of the human voice. The Wolf in the Voice explores the human experience through the ‘vocal break’ – that fragile, vulnerable, and dangerous spot in a singer’s range that is normally deeply hidden yet also reveals how all people must negotiate fear and doubt as they seek to express themselves.
The Wolf in the Voice asks performers Thom, Neema, and Jane to negotiate entertaining but hugely demanding arrangements of music from Bellini arias to a wild jazz arrangement of a Gilbert & Sullivan classic; from a Latin madrigal to a not-to-be-missed new version of ‘Bat out of Hell’…with Dave Brubeck’s ‘Blue Rondo’ and the gorgeous musical theatre gem ‘Believe in Yourself’ added to the mix. As they do so, the science of the voice plus their own hilarious and moving stories of vocal emergencies take us deep into the wolf at the heart of all of our voices.
Dramaturgy and process
Inspired by our work on Blue Note, Martin and Brian set out to explore two pathways: first, the nuances of how a trio of singers works together by negotiating the complicated and at times vulnerable push/pull of how three people collaborate; second, the vocal break that so often reminds us of the fragility of the human voice, as in adolescence when the voice ‘changes’, even for altos or sopranos.
How do singers make those extraordinary sounds…and at what cost? With Wolf, we’re seeking ways inside the human voice and its vulnerabilities, and in doing so asking us all to think about the fragile parts of our lives and loves.
Created during a series of workshops and public presentations, our process mined scientific research about the voice, the physical mechanics of singing, and stories about the relationship of singing to fear and doubt. The Wolf in the Voice has also explored a wide range of repertoire as Martin, Brian and collaborators sought ways to invite the audience into the hidden world of singers’ anxieties, and invite them to consider their own vulnerable places.
The Wolf in the Voice is part of a long-term commitment Nightswimming has made to exploring singing and the human voice. Our work on this piece has been inspired by and shaped by our discoveries creating Blue Note, Why We Are Here!, These Are The Songs That I Sing When I’m Sad, and The Nest.
The Wolf in the Voice benefited from the contributions of many artists during the creation process, especially Kate Hennig, along with Micah Barnes, Gloria Mok, Leslie Haller, Nathaniel Hanula-James, Emma Mackenzie Hillier, Jeff Ho, Megan Johnson, Michael O’Hara, Myekah Payne, Imali Perera, Jonathan Tan, Rupal Shah and Rachel Steinberg.
The Wolf in the Voice received a workshop production featuring Neema, Jane and Thom, presented to a public audience at the Redwood Theatre on Toronto, December 14, 2019.
Most recently, Nightswimming returned to The Wolf in the Voice after a long pandemic-induced hiatus, in a workshop at Factory Theatre in December 2021. During the workshop, the collaborators discussed how their relationships to music, singing, and their own voices had changed during the pandemic. The collaborators also watched an archival recording of the 2019 workshop production and imagined how The Wolf in the Voice might evolve in future iterations.
The Wolf in the Voice is an experimental theatre/performance piece, devised with three singer/actors. The term “wolf in the voice” was discovered by Brian as a description for that vocal ‘break’ between chest voice and head voice, most notable in men, but existing in most vocal instruments. This infamous, mysterious, and contested ‘middle voice’ is also an in-between territory, a place of vulnerability and transition. A group of three is the smallest possible ensemble, a vulnerable assemblage of individuals prone to constant social transition and negotiation, a constantly jockeying, an in-between territory. That is the territory of the ‘wolf’.Martin Julien