Did you know I stutter? I do. I work to hide it because I have to as an actor.
Here's that story:
I often get compliments on my voice, (I consider 'you sound like a radio announcer' a compliment, for the most part) which amuses me a little, because for years I spoke carefully and deliberately. I had to. When I was a kid, I had a few different speech impediments, often stumbling over my tongue like a drunk walking an obstacle course. I'm sure I'm not the first actor to become fascinated by speech, accents, words because of a speech problem. I would use my portable GE tape recorder, trying different voices and impressions so I wouldn't sound like myself. I made up my own radio shows, writing and recording new episodes of my favorite shows (which is how I learned to do Rod Serling and Jack Benny). But that was after I fixed the 'speech problems'.
To rid myself of these problems I had to go to speech therapy class. Not sure who nominated me for it, probably the suggestion of a compassionate teacher who fretted over my struggles to pronounce the 'th' sound correctly (I would say things like 'birdday' instead of 'birthday') and to stop stuttering. Yes, I had a decent stutter back in the day. I would get excited about something and the words would trainwreck in my mouth. I went to twice-weekly classes at Mark Twain Elementary for a couple years, until I was fixed, or the program was discontinued because of budget cuts, I don't remember which.
Therapy consisted of having ‘vocabulary words’ on a list that I would have to practice and repeat. The sounds to be emphasized would be underlined and the teacher and I would go over them; me mispronouncing and the teacher correcting. In these words would be certain ‘trigger’ that were supposed to start my stuttering. I remember lots of ‘S’ words, but I don’t really remember that being a big problem. My stutter wasn’t usually brought on by certain words or sounds. We tried to make it a game, playing ‘Concentration’ but with sounds on the cards instead of pictures. I got pretty good at remembering which cards were where, but to win, you had to correctly pronounce the sounds on each card. That was the hard part.
The 'th' problem was pretty much solved after all the classes; at least I haven't been called on it in 30 years or so (some might throw in my saying 'dint' instead of 'didn't', but they're overly picky). The stutter disappeared as well. Well, it kinda disappeared. It came back sometimes, usually when I would least appreciate it, like a long forgotten acquaintance coming for an extended visit. If you've known me for a while, you've maybe witnessed it. I don't usually stammer over words (though that happens too) I will suddenly just come to a stop. It’s like my speech has hit the brakes. I literally will not be able to get a word out, just sputter at it. I'll have to think of a different word, take a breath and then continue. Sometimes that doesn't work and I'll just have to shut up.
It used to happen rarely, like a couple times a year when I was tired and not concentrating. I remember one rehearsal in college where I had to stop a scene because I just couldn't get a line out. I got so stressed about saying one word in the line (can't remember what it was) that we ended up changing it. That's really the only time I can remember it being a problem rather than just a weird conversational tic, coming out like a party trick and then put away forgotten. It was nothing like when I was a kid. Until recently.
In the last couple years stress levels have risen and so has my stutter, visiting enough that I have had to explain what is happening. Recently in rehearsal I was trying to ask a causal question about blocking that turned into an epic of stammering and explanation. I can never predict when it'll happen, it just does. Never during an actual performance oddly, probably because of the effort and concentration it takes. Thank goodness. Although, the few times I’m playing a character who is supposed to stutter out a phrase can be tricky…
One of the problem this has caused me as an actor is to sometimes be too careful with my voice, to listen to myself talking. At times I find myself listening to the sound of my own voice so much I forget what I'm saying, or what others are saying to me. I will be too careful, coming off as that 'radio announcer'. It's 'being in your own head' to a intense degree. Strangely the freest I am vocally is when I'm using an accent or a different voice. It frees me from being overly careful with my voice. It sounds odd because many actors will be too careful when using an accent or voice, with the accent taking over the performance at times. By changing my voice, I am no longer responsible for the stutter or any other problems, I can just act and not worry. It reminds of of country singer Mel Tillis; he could sing just fine (and made a very successful career of it) but had a terrible stutter otherwise. I'm not that bad by a long shot, but the principle is similar.
Now, if you see me stuttering (or anyone for that matter) let me say right now; don't try to help. Because we're all compassionate people, we start trying to suggest words. I appreciate it but that usually makes it more stressful, I just have to get through it myself. Just like I did in the tiny little room at Mark Twain, going over and over the speech cards while perched on the little wood and aluminum chair and missing out on the slide show about chickens hatching.