When Deb Linda Lost her Voice (No, that’s not a metaphor.)

My fellow Debs have all written wonderful posts about voice this week. “Voice” in the authorial sense—that certain something that permeates a writer’s literary works. The cachet attached to the words. The white on the snow, the melody in the birdsong, the stink on the skunk … okay, you get the drift. Everyone seems to agree that it’s difficult to define “voice,” but that it’s easy to recognize it.

So I won’t be going there.

Well, except to reiterate that it’s something that develops with practice. The more you write, the more defined—recognizable—your unique voice will become. (So get cracking!)

Today, however, I’m going to take the topic literally rather than literarily, and tell you about a time my voice failed me. Big-time.

It was early in my post-college theater days. My day job was teaching at a private Catholic high school. (No, I’m not Catholic. But that’s not really relevant, so never mind.) But my evenings were spent indulging in my lust for the stage.

This particular acting job was at Melodrama Theater. (Those of you who’ve read my bio know that’s where I met the theater god I wound up marrying. Speaking of lust … but, again, not really relevant.) My roommate (she was a teacher, too) and I decided to audition because the director of the show was a guy we went to high school, so we figured we had an in. (What? Blackmail is an “in.”)

We were cast as showgirls Flora and Fauna in a sparkling little gem of a play called Shoot-Out at Hole-in-the-Wall. (Yes, it was every bit as cerebral as that makes it sound. Oh, and I was Flora. In case you were wondering.) We had one big song and dance number: “If You Wanna Catch a Fish You Gotta Wiggle Your Bait.”

Neither of us being especially adept in the carry-a-tune department, my roommate/fellow-showgirl and I rehearsed. And rehearsed…and rehearsed. And then we rehearsed some more, after, of course, teaching (i.e., talking) all day. So, just in time for opening night, we both got (wait for it…) laryngitis.


I don’t mean the “Gee, I’m kind of hoarse” laryngitis. I mean the nothing but a squeak comes out when you try to talk kind of laryngitis. And the only thing the doctor could do for us was tell us to rest our voices.

We—the director, the rest of the cast, Fauna and I—thought we were so screwed.

But then my hero, the theater god, came to the rescue. (And we weren’t even dating at this point!) He had the brilliant idea that the director could sit on the piano off to the side of the stage and read our lines for us as we moved our lips. The piano player accompanying him with the old-timey, melodramatic music added to the atmosphere.

Yes, it looked like a badly dubbed Japanese movie … and it was freaking hilarious. (Especially the musical number.) The audience ate it up—they loved it! Thought we were doing it that way on purpose.

Would our solution have worked with a serious play? No, of course not. But it fit quite nicely with the over-the-top funny voice of the melodrama. Which just proves you can get away with anything, as long as your “voice” works.

Hmm … I’m thinking that applies to writing, too.

Tell me, have you ever lost your voice (literally or literarily—take your pick!) at an awkward time?


33 Replies to “When Deb Linda Lost her Voice (No, that’s not a metaphor.)”

  1. Oh my gosh, that sounds hilarious!!–Heh, “sounds”. No pun intended. LOL

    The only time I lost my voice for a bit is when I had throat surgery. When my voice slowly started coming back I sounded like Minnie Mouse or at least more so than usual. 🙂

  2. Once or twice I’ve lost my real voice, mostly due to colds. I think I’ve found my literary voice, at least I hope I have. Took a while. But it’s there.

    1. Finding your literary voice is an amazing feeling, isn’t it? Even better than when your real voice returns after a bout of laryngitis. 🙂

  3. I love your theater tales!! Forget breaking a leg–break that voice box, folks!

    I can’t recall any stories from my theater days of losing my voice on stage–but I went recently to the wonderful South Carolina Book Festival with a bad cough and was on a panel and SO nervous I would get a coughing fit (because I’d been having them all the way up until the time the mic came on) but somehow I managed to get through without one! Mind over matter, maybe?

  4. I suspect there are few people out there who WISH I lost my voice now and then (I’m one of them, along the lines of “gee I wish I hadn’t said that”). Alas, sarcasm seems to be available to me whether I need it or not.
    Then only time I lose my voice is when it’s time to say, “No, I won’t volunteer for that ____ project.”


    1. Ha! I hear you. I used get volunteered for everything back when my kiddos were in school. I eventually learned to say “NO!” very loudly, and with authority. It was self-preservation. *grin*

  5. When I invent time-travel, I’m totally going back to watch that play. Hilarious! I live in the middle of nowhere and stay home with my kids. My voice only gets a workout when I raise it. (Which, admittedly, is more frequently than I’d like.) Overall, it’s pretty well rested. I can only assume that means I’m ready for my solo.

    1. LOL! I’ll search my memory regularly, and see if your face suddenly crops up in the audience. If so, I’ll know you succeeded in you time travel aspirations. 😉

  6. i actually lost my voice completely (for the first and hopefully last time ever) this past spring. i was under the weather, but i’ve gotten colds before and always maintained my voice. not that i have an unusually loud voice to begin with, but yes, a squeak was all i could manage. it was kind of scary to have that form of communication taken away so abruptly.

    come to think of it, it would have been hilarious if i allowed a piano player to sit on one side of my office and someone else to act as my voice. my office could use some melodrama!

    1. LOL! That would have been a riot! But, yeah, it is totally frustrating to lose your primary form of communication, isn’t it? I hated it.

  7. It was such a relief to start writing fiction so I could let my writing voice come out to play. After years of technical writing in someone else’s (boring) voice, it was heaven to just let ‘er rip.

    I’ve literally lost my voice a few times, but it doesn’t bother me much. I spend most of my time sitting silently at my desk anyway. And oddly enough, Hubby doesn’t seem to mind if I lose my voice for a few days…

    1. Ha! Yeah, nowadays it doesn’t matter so much if my real-world voice goes wonky. But if anything happened to my typing fingers, I’d be lost.

  8. I love this tale, and the creativity that lies behind it. Truly – in life, as in art, sometimes the “crisis” pushes us to something creatively better in the long run! As for writing voice – I found mine when I decided to accept who I was (on the page, at least) and stop trying to pretend I was somebody else.

  9. Boy, that’s one play I wish I’d seen. Must’ve been a hoot. Only thing funnier is seeing a person with laryngitis get mad… nothing like an furious face accompanied by little mouse squeaks of indignation. I’ve lost my own voice a couple times, and my husband enjoys the respite entirely too much. He, however, lost his voice when he was in basic training. There were several cases of meningitis on base at the time, so when he came down with a high fever and serious URI, he went to sick bay. The doc gave him a note saying he had to rest his voice … ABSOLUTELY NO TALKING… and sent him back to duty. He didn’t say a word while the drill sergeant, a gentleman known for shall we say bouts of anger, got right in his face and screamed at him for being tardy. He continued screaming, with the whole veins bulging and red face scenario, while my husband (knowing him, he was probably smirking) said nothing. Finally, he whipped the note out of his pocket and gave it to the sarge. Poor guy got a week’s worth of k.p.

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    1. Not about the CD, which I haven’t heard, but about the book you mention in the intro: Echtzeitmusik.I’m half-way thugorh it and am loving it. Great to read so many varied perspectives on the history of the Berlin scene since the mid-90 s. Some of the contributors’ names are new to me, but virtually everything I’ve read so far has felt worthwhile. I suppose it’s easy to get tired of the same old arguments on the websites and forums in the English-speaking improv world, and Echtzeitmusik offers a set of fresh perspectives, some of which express things beautifully. I love the fact that the book isn’t organised around an orthodoxy or a single over-simplified narrative, but allows conflicting opinions and histories to emerge. And I love the way that instead of being centred on profiles of stars or a list of recordings, it recognises the music as coming from a range of specific and various practices within a community whose development has been tied in with the emergence of different venues at particular moments in the city’s recent history.Thoughtful, critically acute and inspiring. As examples of some of the things I am enjoying in the book::Sabine Ercklentz’s description of what I sometimes clumsily call post-reductionism’: Some years ago there was a sort of style which placed great importance on silence. There was actually no clear pitch; meter was more or less forbidden; there was a very strong reduction to sound. There are reasons why this has changed again; however, I think that this aesthetic is formative as an experience for a group .And you can reflect on why it isn’t like that anymore. Was it perhaps too narrow? Did people want to take in other elements again? All the same, it was a pivotal experience. Which is followed a few pages later by Bjorn Gottstein’s similar but differently referenced articulation of the same moment: Pousseur once said about the music of the 1950 s that there were two or three pieces that were the needle eye thugorh which music had to pass. And from there on one was able to advance again. The needle eye of silence somehow all musicians had to pass thugorh it, and once one had found one’s way thugorh, one could become louder again. One was able to play in a more gripping manner, play emphatically, and the prohibition of tone wasn’t that important all of a sudden, because you had lived thugorh that. Beautifully put great stuff.

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