February 20, 2014
I, like most actors, absolutely love a chat.
Every day, I wake up and start chatting to my fiancee. Once at work I'll exchange pleasantries with my colleagues prior to rehearsals over a coffee. Lunch is a great time for a chinwag; whether connected directly with the play or just chewing the fat about the general flotsam and jetsam of life.
Where appropriate I'll enthusiastically chip in to any discussion of a scene in which I am involved and, as the day draws to a close it's always a good idea to adjourn to the pub with your colleagues and have a bit of a natter before heading home.
Add into that mix the fact that I am essentially paid to speak words and you have a larynx that does a fair bit of work day in, day out.
It is therefore unusual that, at the time of writing I have not made any audible sound via my mouth for 96 hours.
An unexpected trip to the doctor
It was during the third week of rehearsals that Emma, our voice coach, turned to me during a tea break and suggested that we have a chat. She had detected that there might be a little damage in my larynx and felt that, given the demands of the job that we are all embarking upon, it may be worth having it looked at by a professional.
Whilst it is true that my voice has had a slightly husky quality to it for some years it has always been strong and flexible in performance and in many ways I have seen it as a distinctive quality and, to some extent, a positive attribute. But I had to admit that, in recent weeks, it had been a little breathier than usual and so, a few days later, I paid a visit to Dr Rubin in Fitzroy Square to have a camera stuck down my throat.
'Well, Mr Yadoo. You have a polyp', said the good doctor; having removed said camera.
I was able to take an educated guess at the fact that the quite large, white, blistery thing on my left vocal chord was probably the thing to which he was referring.
I was fairly confident that, were it not to be there, that would be a better situation for a professional actor at the start of a 13 month contract. So we had a chat about it.
What is a vocal polyp?
A vocal cord polyp is a small swelling in the mucous membranes covering the vocal cords. People who use their voices a great deal are prone to have polyps on their vocal cords. Polyps are lesions that develop from voice abuse, chronic laryngeal allergic reactions and chronic inhalation of irritants, such as cigarette smoke; I am pretty much your textbook polyp sufferer.
Dr Rubin's diagnosis was that it had to come off; I was inclined to agree with him, apart from the fact that I could see no way in which I would be able to continue on the job.
Recovery involves a week of total vocal rest, followed by at least a fortnight of building the voice back up slowly; rather as one would do a knee following reconstructive surgery. Dr Rubin assured me that he could have me back to full vocal use in time for the first preview in mid-March but, nonetheless, I left his consulting rooms feeling despondent in the extreme.
It was a gloomy few days.
I need not have worried.
Where I had assumed that I would have to bow out of the season and try to start again with the RSC when I had recovered fully, I met instead with a unilateral commitment to getting me ready for that first preview. There was no option in their minds other than that I should have the treatment and fulfil my contract.
I don't think that there are many companies that would be willing, or able, to offer that type of support to an actor and I am extremely fortunate and grateful to be in this position.
So, I have had the operation and am now about halfway through the first week of recovery
A silent opportunity
I have been learning my understudy lines in total silence, which is a novelty as I usually march around the house proclaiming them to the walls until they stick. I do have anxieties about how it may alter the tone of my voice and whether the healing process is going well.
But, on the whole, I am seeing this reflective period of silence as an opportunity to develop new processes of working on a part, to get myself into the best condition that I can and to repay great faith that has been shown in my ability to work for this company.
And, of course, an opportunity to give everyone a break from my interminable chattering.
Image: Gray's Anatomy plate|Muscles of larynx, seen from above. Reproduced via a Wikimedia Commons licence.
by Simon Yadoo
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