Professor gives student actors voice, discipline

When Donna Snow studied voice techniques under Catherine Fitzmaurice at American Conservatory Theater, the Fitzmaurice technique was brand new and looked upon skeptically. Now, the technique is recognized around the world and Snow is a master teacher.

The Fitzmaurice vocal technique is meant to teach actors the most effective vocal technique.

Snow, a professor at Temple for 26 years and head of the undergraduate acting program, uses the technique in her Voice for the Actor class, which prepares students both physically and mentally to perform on stage.

Because the Fitzmaurice technique utilizes techniques like yoga and causes body tremors, it prepares her students for nervousness and shaking on stage.

She compares it to the fight or flight instinct that people associate with tremors and shaking. While an actor is on stage, she said there is a fear that makes their brain consider leaving. The technique allows actors to familiarize themselves with those emotions beforehand.

“When you finish doing those exercises, you’re all calm,” Snow said. “As much work as you’ve put out to get on that stage, you’re not going to leave.”

Brock Meadath, a 2014 theater and speech-language-hearing science graduate, said he still uses the Fitzmaurice technique as a speech-language pathology graduate student at the University of Iowa.

“The Fitzmaurice Voicework that Donna teaches … is a wonderful way to get grounded and relax after a stressful day,” Meadath wrote in an email.

Another idea Snow explores in her Voice for the Actor class is the effect of decreased social media usage on one’s life and performance. Snow encourages her students to think of how often they are using social media and cut that time in half.

Part of her reasoning is that it encourages more discipline in the actor.

“A singer warms up before a performance,” Snow said. “A dancer warms up. A musician warms up. Very often an actor doesn’t warm up. It’s very important to me – the discipline of warming up for an actor.”

Decreased social media use also allows for better acting, Snow said.

“If you cannot do this work for 45 minutes to an hour … if you have to have this iPad or this cell phone around you all the time because you’re bored with your own inner voice because you constantly need this distraction, how can you go out on stage and expect 500 other people to listen to you?” Snow said.

Snow said that often her students report less depression and more productivity when they follow her request.

“I have great concerns that this constant looking at a screen and this sort of static … prevents introspection, prevents reflection,” she said. “As an artist, if you don’t reflect, you don’t have anything to give.”

Snow’s students read “Fahrenheit 451” and the short story, “The Machine Stops” by E.M. Forster.

Snow said these pieces of literature are centered around dystopian societies that depend on too much technology.

“You’ve got to have an investment in other people, in what’s going on in the world, you’ve got to – because otherwise what do you have to say?” Snow said.

Other than Voice for the Actor, Snow teaches Acting V, a class that prepares undergraduate students to audition for graduate programs. Snow said that over the past 10 years, dozens of students have gone on to the Top 15 theater programs in the country.

She describes the class as a “rite of passage” for students, through which they are able to showcase themselves to agents in New York at the end of the semester.

Many graduates of Snow’s class have gone on to do respected work in acting and theater. Her former student, Maggie Bofill, recently had her play “Winners” adapted off-Broadway. Others she has helped coach have starred in television shows like “Downton Abbey,” “The Big Bang Theory” and “Grey’s Anatomy.”

Vince Bellino can be reached at

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