I'm standing on the stage at the Music Hall of Williamsburg at the Moth Grand Slam storytelling competition telling my story. I have told this particular story many times. Then I hear myself start to adlib by referencing the story that just proceeded me. Whose voice is that? Whose quick wit? That's not me? Whom does that voice belong to?
My voice has been a sensitive subject for me as long as I can remember. I think back to when I was a kid and other boys saying to me that I sounded like a girl. Then into adulthood often times on the phone or at a drive through I'd be mistaken as a woman. This used to bother me and I would make a conscious choice to "butch it up" when talking to customer service folks. I recall working with more than one theatre director that asked me to deepen my voice. One rolled his eyes and with his natural lisp said "Oh that voice!" Another said "I need you to sound less "faggy". Keep in mind that was in 1985 and the word faggot was not so taboo back then. I was faced with the dilemma of wanting to speak in front of people but felt like I was prejudged the minute I opened my mouth to speak.
Dance was a way to express myself without words, but then I felt like I was not flexible or strong enough technically to gain my full range of expression by moving alone. So I started to combine voice and dance. Somehow, this balance worked for me. I studied how to combine the two with dance theatre professionals. Through these studies I found new tones and strength in my voice. When I moved to New York I assembled a cadre of performers who, through trial and error helped me to develop and codify my own method of improvising words and movement. I also had the good fortune to work with amazing vocalist such as Maryanne DeProphetis, Kyoko Kitamura, Terre Roche, Kendra Shank, and Fay Victor. These great women informed the way I color my words when speaking.
Then there is my mentor, Deborah Gladstein. She is a soft spoken creature with a kind heart and like me, naturally sensitive. She taught me to speak when it was the hardest. To trust my voice and to use it with courage and conviction. My first Grand Slam I told my story with confidence and conviction and I received some of the lowest scores of the night. I was gobsmacked. I ran into Deborah on my way to the bathroom where I had planned to have a good cry in a stall over a glass of Cabernet. Deborah stopped me and grabbed me by the biceps and looked me square in the eye. With a solid tone of conviction in her voice she said "Do not let this get you done. Be who you are. Let your voice be heard. It is an important one." So approaching this last Grand Slam I went in with Deborah's voice guiding me. That advice gave me comfort and I approached this round of competition with a much more relaxed attitude. I drew my placement number from the hat and picked 6. Number 6 opens after intermission. The stories that proceeded mine were brilliant. One in particular that struck me was by Elana Lancaster. In his story he is trying to share an important change in his life with his brother and his voice was just not flowing. Eventually, the perfect moment arose and he found the courage to speak. I was inspired, and thought of Deborah's words once again.
When it came time for me to tell my story, through a sore throat and fatigue I mustered up the adrenaline to get the story out. I seem to remember laughter and gasps. It was if I was sitting inside my head observing this creature that is my voice do it's own performance. I heard all the folks I studied and performed with in the past and also the drawl of my Southern family gathered around a kitchen table weaving their tales. Then I was shook back into my body with the delicious sound of applause. I went to take my seat and await the scores. Now I would be lying if I said I didn't care about the scores, but also part of that moment was the satisfaction of knowing I simply shared my story-my voice. The emcee for the evening Dan Kennedy approaches the mic and says "That was a beautiful story.You know what I love about Mark Lamb? His voice." Dan went on to ellaborate by using lines from my story to illustrate his point. After that the scores did not matter.
I want you to know that over the years when I have to talk to someone over the phone who does not know me or my gender yet, I don't change my voice anymore. Often times they call me M'am and I do not correct them. Once they ask for my name they apologize realizing I am a man. My standard answer is "It's O.K. I consider that a compliment."