The real-life experiences of…

Louise Breckon-Richards, a performer who loses her voice to a rare condition and decides to overcome it by running the London Marathon. Louise embarks on a journey to re-find her voice and meets a host of characters along the way, from voice professionals to new age healers. In a visually engaging and innovative production, live music, video projection and storytelling are combined to theatricalise this intimate yet universal story about never giving up until the finish line.

Read the ‘Can You Hear Me Running?’ article from Like the Wind #10 here:
Photography by Graham Saville.

Louise: “It’s a cold, bright, February morning. Scarf on – my Dar always tells me to wear a scarf and protect my voice. I’m on my way to an audition in the West End, my voice is feeling much better so I skip to a theatre in the West End, ready to sing an audition for Mamma Mia!.”
(excerpt from Can You Hear Me Running? – a play by Jo Harper)

Imagine losing something utterly fundamental to what you do, the very thing that defines who you are. Imagine that this is not an object or a relationship; it is something unique and irreplaceable. Now imagine that losing that thing is an unsettling, drawn-out and inexplicable process. A series of knock-backs, shocks and questions, with many moments when there is no positive outcome in sight.

For me, that is what happened when I lost the ability to speak. As an actor, not being able to speak was a crushing situation. The way we speak is quite simple. Two vocal cords. The inhalation and exhalation of breath. An involuntary exing of tiny muscles. More technically, the vocal cords are small folds of tissue which jut in at the sides of the larynx and form a slit across the glottis in the throat. The edges of the cords vibrate in the airstream as we breathe, which produces the voice.

The thickness of the material and the size of the cords give us our voices. And our voices are unique. The sound of one person’s voice is different from everyone else’s – just like ngerprints. These differences are not just because of the shape and size of the vocal cords but also because of the size and shape of the rest of the body and the way that speech sounds are formed and articulated in the throat and mouth.

For an actor, the power, uniqueness and reliability of your voice is essential. But during some singing classes with a group of children, I started to notice that my voice was failing at the upper reach of my vocal range. Not a problem, I thought. Might just be a cold. Or tonsillitis. It’ll be OK.

Dr. Sullivan: “So you were singing and then… your voice stopped? And this has never happened to you before? OK. The best way forward is that I will refer you to a speech and language therapist.

It is often said that when one sense is limited, the others develop to compensate. For me, the loss of function in one set of muscles – those that gave me my voice – was compensated in some small way by the use of another set of muscles: those that would propel me along the roads and trails around my home as I started running. The threat of never being able to act again or sing again, never to be able to undertake the activity that had de ned my life for so long, created a sense of panic. This was a feeling akin to being lifted off my feet as if my body was lled with a gas lighter than air. A feeling of not being grounded.

The process of losing my voice and all the investigations to try to establish the cause – and hopefully, hopefully find a cure – took far too long. After two years, my voice deteriorated. Doctors and specialists all made their diagnoses. Tests were carried out; some more invasive and uncomfortable than others. But no answers came.

I ran instead. The running became a habit. The less I was able to use my voice and the less faith I had that there would be an answer, the more I ran. I started writing a blog about running and my voice. The running became part of my therapy and soon the idea of running a marathon came along. Run a marathon, yes, that would be a good idea. Something to focus on.

A challenge that was within my control.

Blog post: “Wednesday afternoon and I’m running in white, making fresh trails in the snow. I haven’t much time; I wanted to squeeze in a run on my way to pick up the boys. There’s an eerie silence. Where is everyone? My voice doesn’t feel any better.”

Eventually a reason for my loss of voice was found. The feeling of understanding what was wrong, and the potential solution, felt like a runner taking off a weighted backpack: relief and hope came flooding in. An operation and enforced silence followed the diagnosis. And all the time, running was there. The London Marathon was approaching. Training ramped up. I was running towards recovery, towards a renewed self. The feeling of being grounded by running allowed optimism to flourish.

Louise: “I’m not performing. No one’s judging me. I’ve found a space to be silent – my heart beating my feet clapping the earth. And I listen to music; I’m developing the ultimate running soundtrack. I’m a runner now; my friends think I’ve been running for years.”

Fingerprints. Voices. Reasons for running. They are all unique to the individual. So what does running mean for me? Well, it is best described as a journey. Like many journeys, this one started in dark times. With loss. With the unknown. Soon running became a habit. A way to get towards a brighter future. A way to stay grounded. With a solution to the loss in sight, running remained – intensified, even. And finally it delivered me back to the start point: an actress. On stage, doing what it is that defines me. In a play about an actress who loses her voice and finds that other muscles could take the strain and lead her back to the place she is meant to be, in front of an audience telling a story.

My story.

Has running helped you to overcome something? Come to support Louise in her play ‘Can You Hear Me Running?’ – we’ll be doing a prize giveaway of 2 tickets for between 6-15th October. Find out how to win by keeping up to date with LtW on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter: @likethewindmag

Louise Breckon-Richards is appearing in ‘Can You Hear Me Running?’
Written by Jo Harper, directed by Steve Grihault and supported by the Arts Council England.
Showing at the Pleasance Theatre in London from 4-23 October 2016.

If you need any more convincing, here’s a teaser for the play, too:
Promotional video by Peter Callow.

Leave a Reply