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25th Feb 2011Posted in: Blog Comments Off
The Quiet Americans

An artist finds his calling and changes the world.

The Kings Speech

Geoffrey Rush portrays actor-turned-speech therapist Lionel Logue

By Bridgit Antoinette Evans

In viewing the trailer for the Oscar-nominated film, “The King’s Speech”, I assumed it was a film about a British monarch (Colin Firth) fighting to overcome a terrible speech impediment. On the surface, yes, but I soon discovered it’s also the tale of an artist – an amateur actor from Australia – named Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) who applies his drama training to establish a fledgling speech therapy practice in London. In so doing, he discovers his true calling, and ultimately, his greatest purpose through an unlikely friendship with Albert, Duke of York (later King George VI) during one of the most dramatic periods in modern British history.

Logue’s methods are unorthodox, and his irreverence for the etiquette of British royal life piques the curiosity of the would-be King, who Logue insists on calling ‘Bertie’. Logue understands, as most actors do, that our voices are the gateways to our inner life. In order to speak freely, on stage and in life, we must first liberate our minds and bodies from the deep and incidental traumas we’ve experienced in our lives.

No easy task. In her book, “Freeing the Natural Voice,” master voice teacher Kristin Linklater notes that newborn babies instinctively know how to express their wants and needs. Infants have yet to learn that sometimes love is withheld, that parents can be overbearing or even abusive, that peers can be shockingly cruel. Babies know only that when they are hungry, afraid, wet, sleepy, joyful, or sad, they should tell someone. And they do – often loudly.

But you and I, all grown up and marching defiantly through our messy lives, are survivors of these childhood betrayals. We’ve learned not to ask, speak, or reach out when the risks of rejection are too great. Our bodies, loyal servants, are happy to follow orders. Strangle those cries! we bark. Stop those tears! This is why our throat muscles clench when we’re angered, trapping rage behind our lips. Or why we hyperventilate when panicked, our chest muscles tightening to repress our need for help.

And in the case of the Duke of York, why he stammers when he has important things to say. Like pesky stains, painful memories stick to Bertie’s psyche. He will always be the ‘weak’, stammering boy tragically out of place in his royal family.

Enter Lionel Logue, with his nosey questions about Bertie’s childhood, his dilapidated office, and his insistence that shouting curse words at the top of one’s lungs is a legitimate mode of therapy. Together, these men break down barriers and ascend to their higher purpose. One becomes a voice of calm for the British people during the bloody and terrifying era of World War II. The other becomes his constant friend and advisor, coaching him through countless wartime speeches and public appearances.

Lionel’s journey from performer to valued servant of the royal court is both unique and all too common when you survey the ways artists routinely contribute to society though their work on stages, in films, in galleries, and, through less recognized work conducted in their communities. Whether it’s the recent drama school graduate who teaches poetry to teen girls in Harlem, the Pulitzer Prize winner whose play raises funds for rape survivors in Kinshasa, the rock musician whose iPhone app teaches youth to fight human trafficking, or the filmmaker in Queens who documents the work of a sculptor painting life-like prosthetic limbs for Iraqi war veterans, artists are shaping society, educating young leaders, and promoting greater humanity through their work.

Despite this legacy of public service, American artists once again stand at the center of a political battle, facing off with lawmakers who aim to eliminate all or most of the budgets of the National Endowments for the Arts and for the Humanities, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and virtually every state arts commission. Art is a frill, politicians insist. This is a ‘no frills’ season in America.

For actor-turned-speech therapist Lionel Logue, art was no frill. His artistic background helped him heal the wounds of soldiers returning from war, children silenced by their peers, women repressed by their social position, and finally, a monarch crippled by his past. He never boasted of his remarkable achievements, indeed few people knew of his service to the royal court and his impact on modern British history. Likewise, the average American may not recognize how deeply artists permeate our daily lives. But quietly, persistently, we are there. In schools, libraries, hospitals, nursing homes, places of worship, on Sesame Street and even in the White House – we are hard at work. Encouraging your imagination, improving your lives, and strengthening our communities.

Bridgit Antoinette Evans is a professional actor and the Founder & President of FuelChange.net. She is co-executive producer of the charity music single “This Is to Mother You” featuring Sinead O’Connor, Mary J Blige and Martha B; executive producer of the South African staging of Suzan-Lori Parks’ “Venus”; and creator of the Live for Darfur Artists Campaign chaired by Don Cheadle.

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