Professor Lisa Nathans' Hecuba Project: Freeing women's voices

August 17, 2017

The Hecuba Project was created by Lisa Nathans, Rachel Park, and Christine Breihan as a performance laboratory geared towards exploring the full range, resonance, power, and potential of our own female voices as both performers and educators. Lisa's research, investigating a ‘Modern Greek Chorus,’ will be used as a means of aiding other female professionals in finding their own vocal power and presence beyond their habitual, societal, speaking norms. 

Hecuba takes place just after the Trojan War. The story depicts the grief of Hecuba, over the sacrifice of her daughter Polyxena, the fall of her city Troy, and the murder of her last living son Polydorous. Although bleak, it is also a story about how Hecuba and the captive women of Troy seek revenge for these losses. 

Performing Greek choral text is like marathon running for the performer. It places extreme emotional demands on the voice and requires the application of heightened vocal expression, volume, and nuance while speaking. For example, death and the grieving process are a huge focus in this play, and therefore regular themes explored in the spoken text. Lisa's research begins by unpacking how the emotion and sound of extreme grief can be expressed safely onstage without minimizing or even silencing the female voice. Further, what about the themes of revenge, and the emotions of betrayal, and outright rage that enter the text? How can the guttural, deep sounds inspired by these emotions be used to expand and stretch the range of speaking pitches that are most commonly used by female voices beyond what is habitual and still be shared, loudly, safely, and fully with an audience?

​Linklater suggests that “the deeper ranges of the voice connect with the self at a fundamental level of power and many women avoid the feeling and expression of power because they do not want to dominate… [But what if it was] possible that if women’s voices were free they could transform the reputation of power from despotic to an articulation of powerful gentleness, powerful caring, powerful joy, powerful laughter and the powerful vulnerability that is the prerequisite for powerful compassion.” (Linklater 2013; 29)

The Hecuba Project puts Linklater’s theory into practice, and creates space to research implementing strategies for teaching voice and speech in a way that helps empower women to use their voices more fully and openly.

By Lisa Nathans