Even after nearly forty years and hundreds of students, my studio training work with singing actors remains one of the most exciting aspects of my professional life. Over the years, I’ve developed the SAVI System of Singer-Actor Training to codify many of the techniques I’ve passed on to my students. Statements I’ve made over and over have been distilled into axioms, and discoveries that seemed especially promising have been refined into techniques, procedures that can be routinely followed to attain reliable results.
The SAVI System is a method of training the (singing) actor that emphasizes a deep and particular understanding of the text and construction of a song and cultivates the performer’s ability to create and organize behavior in a way that communicates the song effectively to the spectator.
It offers a set of exercises, études and procedures designed to advance the singing actors mastery and creativity in pursuit of these goals. It is outcomes-based, that is, it provides a concrete set of standards and criteria (a “rubric,” for those pedagogues in the crowd) by which the singing actor’s work is to be assessed.
The term “SAVI” is an acronym, the four letters of which refer to the attributes of effective singing-acting: Specificity, Authenticity, Variety and Intensity.
- Specificity – specific to the dramatic event, the moment in the story, the given circumstances. Communicating the specific content and meaning of this particular phrase with an awareness of how it differs from the previous phrase.
- Authenticity – conveying a compelling sense of personal truth, and free from unintended behavior that cries “bullshit!”
- Variety – each phrase presents a particular set of opportunities. Change is the law of nature, and contrast creates meaning. Effective singing acting will have phrase-by-phrase variety, conveying the sense that the present moment is distinct from previous moments.
- Intensity – the SAVI singing actor is able to create intensity by bringing “more” when needed: more volume, more behavior, more range. Conveying intensity means being comfortable going to extremes without unnecessary tension.
Of course, it’s a happy accident that the acronym “SAVI” is a homonym for the word “savvy,” and the SAVI System is designed to train savvy actors – that is, actors who have practical knowledge, or “street smarts.” (The word “savvy” comes from the Spanish “sabe,” a descendant of the Latin “sapere,” meaning “to be wise.” Don’t you feel wiser already?)
The SAVI System was originally developed in a conservatory setting as part of a comprehensive course of study for the singing actor. I worked with students who were receiving first-rate instruction in singing and acting as separate disciplines, yet struggled when applying their singing and acting technique in repertoire and productions. The challenge of integrating singing and acting – doing both at the same time in a way that was coordinated and artistic – led me to develop my pedagogical methodology through a process of observation, trial and error as I guided my students toward being integrated singing-actors. This is not to say that the SAVI System, studied on its own, is not capable of producing meaningful results, but that students who apply its principles and procedures will get richer results if they are also involved (or have been involved) in technical training in the separate disciplines of singing and acting.