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Voice Skills for Poets: an interview with Nicola Collett

Hi Nicola, we’re delighted you’ll be offering a one-day workshop in February. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Nicola: Yes, I started off as an English and Drama teacher, teaching the 11-18 age group, in comprehensive schools in Harlow and London. Eventually, I became fascinated with the way in which a teacher’s voice could create and shape classroom environments and how it could open up imaginative space. I subsequently applied for a place on the MA in Voice Studies at Central School. Since graduating, I’ve been teaching Voice for Actors, in FE/HE settings.

So, what exactly is a voice teacher?

Nicola: There are two types of voice teacher; those who teach practical voice, i.e. how the voice works and how to develop it, and those who specialise in teaching dialects and accents. Teachers of practical voice work with actors to get them ready for performance and for using their voices in heightened contexts. Voice work expands an actor’s playing range and enables them to sustain a role night-after-night in the theatre.

A voice coach is employed by a theatre company or an individual to work on specific vocal issues relating to the demands of a play or character. They may be asked to teach the actors an accent.

So, why might poets need a voice workshop?

Nicola: Whether you do regular readings or are just starting out, I think all poets would benefit from a voice workshop in order to spend time reflecting on the demands of speaking their poetry to an audience. Voice work can improve confidence and help people to become aware of any unconscious vocal or physical habits which might interfere with the delivery of their work. Poets know better than anyone that there is a huge difference between writing a poem and speaking it to an audience. Voice work explores the physical shapes of vowels and consonants; you can feel the words in your mouth and where sounds are made; you notice whether the word moves from front to back or back to front. Poets seem to develop a deeper appreciation of language and the specific qualities of words when they study voice and speech. I think that poets are getting better at reading their work for audiences, as there seems to be a growing awareness of the voice and how to use it expressively.

What techniques will students develop or improve on your workshop?

Nicola: I hope that the workshop will help people to become more aware of their posture/stance and give them tools for releasing tension in their bodies. Participants will develop awareness of their own breathing habits and learn how to stay connected to their breath as they speak their poetry. They will do exercises to free and release the breath and improve their appreciation of how sound is made, and how pitch, range and resonance relate to vibrancy and colour in the voice. They will also work on improving their articulation, so that skills in communicating clearly and effectively are honed!

What kind of people do you normally work with? Have you worked with poets before?

Nicola: I normally work with young adults who are aspiring actors. Currently, I teach at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama and at East 15 Acting School. I sometimes give one-on-one lessons to students wanting to prepare for drama school auditions.

However, I also run a monthly voice workshop for a group of four experienced poets in North London. We’ve been meeting for well over 2 years now. I have really enjoyed working with this group. They have responded in a different way to actors, but are fully engaged with the work.

You ask participants to wear loose, comfortable clothing. Why’s that?

Nicola: Loose clothing helps because we tend to breathe more easily if we’re not wearing tight-fitting jeans or belts; our bodies are freer!

Who are some of your favourite performers?

Nicola: Poets or actors? Well, my favourites are the poets who’ve been part of the ongoing voice group!

My favourite comedian is Tim Vine, because he’s daft! Kirstie Simson is a wonderful dancer and I very much like the work of actor Toby Stephens. Years ago I used to know Patience Agbabi and I thought she was a fantastic performer. I love John Hegley, too!

If you could give a reader advice on their performance in one word, what would that word be?

Nicola: Huhummmuh!!!


Develop more confidence and enhance your performing skills in Nicola’s one-day workshop, ‘Improve your Performance: Voice Skills for Poets’. Book online now or call 0207 582 1679.


  • Shazea Quraishi

    Just came across this workshop on an earlier campus blog, and it’s exactly what I need as it addresses an area I’ve been wanting to improve – reading/performance . Have just booked a place and can’t wait!

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Credit: Matt Paish