My 3-year- old sings and dance at her childcare and at home every day. I can see that she loves to naturally express her emotions and add all kind of imagination into her “performance”. She is so happy and free when she does that. I prompted me to ask myself:
How often do we allow ourself to play, be goofy and be truly ourselves?
When was the last time you sing out loud even when we don’t really know the lyrics or sure about the exact melody?
At what age we start to put that lid on ourselves, and no longer let ourselves to be free?
In my interview with Trish Watts, we talked about how singing is so freeing and nurturing for us. Especially when we have sadness or suffering stored as pain in our body. Not only it is healing, but it can also help us to connect and appreciate another human being. We also talked about InterPlay, an improvisation-based group play that uses storytelling, singing, dance, movement and stillness. I love how it helps people to open up and be free with themselves in the process.
Trish Watts is a singer, songwriter, and educator with extensive experience as a performing artist, voice movement therapy facilitator in Australia and overseas. Trish Co-Founded InterPlay® Australia, a community arts practice of almost years, and is a published songwriter and recording artist. She is co-created the startup of Cambodia Sings. She also partners with Empowering Youth Cambodia, the Music Arts School and Liger Learning Centre.
- Discover voice movement therapy as a way to express our emotions, explore our unconscious mind and our shadows in a safe and positive place.
- If you consider our mind is in our head and emotion is in our heart, voice is right in the middle. If one part says yes, the other says no, there is a constriction. Working with our voice can move it through and combine the two together.
- Emotional suffering can cause our body a lot of pain, singing can help to free up our body.
- Use breathing and soft singing to open up a dialogue to understand where the pain is stored in our body and to better understand what that pain is about. What aspect of human nature that represents?
- InterPlay has been established as a practice to unlock our body wisdom for about 30 years. It is an improvisational group play that involves storytelling, singing, dance, movement and stillness.
- It helps people to work on connection and “just takes the lid off”. You can then actually appreciate the beauty of being human and the beauty of another human being in front of you and who they are.
- Why it is so nurturing when we allow ourself to play and be free from judgement.
- Cambodia Sings: A youth program to bring back the joy of singing and the love of singing for all of Cambodians.
If you would like to connect with Trish Watts or any of the work we mentioned, please visit:
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Sze Wing: Hi. Welcome to my show, Trish. Today, I have a really interesting guest. I’ve never talked to a voice therapist before. Trish Watts is a singer, songwriter, educator with extensive experience as a performing artist and facilitator in Australia and overseas. She’s also a co-founder InterPlay Australia, which is a community practice of 25 years. She’s a published songwriter and recording artist. I know that you also co-created the startup of Cambodia Sings. She’s actually going to Cambodia in two days. You also partnered with Empowering Youth Cambodia, the music arts school and Liger Learning Centres. A lot of things to do with voice is happening. You sound like a really busy woman. Welcome to my show.
Trish: Thank you so much. What a joy to be able to share some of this with you.
Sze Wing: I guess, I have a lot of questions to ask you. People who listen to my podcasts often know that I like to interview people who have an inspiring and empowering journey. I’m guessing your background is, really about music, like singing, writing songs. Tell me a little bit about how you get into what you do now and in particular, voice therapy.
Trish: Yes. It’s a big journey with our voices. Probably, mine is similar to many. Growing up in a farming community, I grew up in the middle of wheat and sheep farming community. Singing was a really big part of our community. I grew up learning from the nuns, piano and singing with my dad and doing a lot of choir work. I was very fortunate to have this backbone of singing in my upbringing. When I left school, I really just knew I wanted to do something around singing and music. I studied to be a high school music teacher and did that for quite a few years and then eventually moved into youth work. Love working with young people and doing conferences and rallies and a lot of choir work again and singing myself, so I started songwriting.
Trish: I guess moving into what I do now, which is more voice movement therapy and InterPlay, has been quite a journey. I grew up in the church. I had a lot of sacred music in my background. A lot of music to do with unconditional love. I got to a point though in my life where I lost some close people close to me. I went through a lot of grief. I’ve lost my way. I couldn’t figure out how to sing what was deeply inside me that was either the big emotions, anger, sadness, depression, feeling and panicking hysterical. These emotions which are very big and often, we feel ashamed to have them, so I ask how do I express this safely. I found myself in search of a way that I could express myself safely and discover more of myself around my shadow and the things that were unconscious. That put me on the track to Voice Movement Therapy.
Sze Wing: I think this is a good time for me to ask you these questions like what is voice therapy or Voice Movement Therapy. I have an idea, but I also want to touch on what you just said because I think, often, when we sing, when we express ourselves, people had many ways. Some people like to dance. Some people like to sing. Some like to draw, but I do find singing quite therapeutic, opening up what we are, who we are within ourselves. I personally do find that singing is very therapeutic just from the pure joy perspective. Tell me more about from your perspective as well as Voice Movement Therapy.
Trish: I think you expressed a really important one, which is joy. There’s nothing like singing to express joy, the wonder of life. It takes us into us a safe space, especially with others, where we can be more than what we are just on our own. I suppose the other aspect, there’s always the paradoxes of life, the contrasts. If we have a lot of joy, there’s also on the other side, we have a lot of suffering. Suffering is something that can cause a lot of pain in the body, emotional suffering. Whereas psyche, that’s soul part of us that’s really needing to have its voice, to have its way forward, sometimes can get blocked. Because you’ve got the head saying one thing, the cognitive, and then you’ve got the heart saying another thing. Often, they meet in the middle around the voice. One says no and the other one says yes. You get this constriction.
Trish: If you can your voice working, you can actually get the body freed up to be able to move it through, combine the head and the heart together, align, having the voice really helps to do that. When we’re going through a lot of emotion, that just feels like we’re going to drown in it. If I let this emotion out, I might drown or I might burn up if I express this much rage. There are real fears that we have as you know. In our cultures, we have certain rules around what’s okay and what’s not in the way that we express. To give people an opportunity where they come into an environment that’s safe, where they can explore all the different aspects of being human and be able to express the unspeakable, that’s what Voice Movement Therapy gives you space where you can express what is normally not allowed out in public. Whether that’s sobbing, whether that’s hysterical laughter or whether that’s a shame, whether that’s rage. Just all the big emotions, really.
Sze Wing: That’s really interesting. Now, I can’t help but to think like I know that when we’re in trauma when we have sadness when we have all these things that it’s uncomfortable to deal with, a lot of times that we’re storing them in our body, we don’t deal with it. It could become a disease or illness. It can manifest in many forms. I felt that what you’re expressing is one way to move forward and deal with that. How does it look like? Let’s say, I know I’ve gone through something really challenging, let’s say, grief or guilt or shame and then I come across your work. I think, well, maybe, I’m not ready to go to like a counsellor or I have been and it didn’t really work for me. Whatever that is. I got attracted to your work and then I come to you and say, “I don’t know what you do, but I just want to give it a go.” How does it look like when I come to, let’s say, work with you?
Trish: First of all, I will work with your breathing to see where you’re constricted with your breathing. We can-
Sze Wing: You can tell?
Trish: Oh, yes. Oh, yes.
Sze Wing: Really? As in, how?
Trish: Yeah. What I do is, I look at your body. Are your ribs expanding? Do you have any breath in the back of your body? Is the breath dropping down into the belly? Are you relaxed? Do you hold constriction? Are you held tight? Because if your body is tight, you’re not breathing very much. You’re doing shallow breathing. I work with the body to relax the body, to open it up, to let the breathing happen. That’s the first bit. The second bit is, I listen to what the person is, “Where are we?” Where is the emotion sitting? As the person is talking to me, I’ll listen to where emotion may present itself or it’s their pain in the body. We might stop there.
Trish: Can we breathe into that part of the body? Can we give it some sound? Can we hum there? Start very softly. Can we breathe first? Can we hum? Can we sigh into there? Can we find a melody? Just a few notes. Ah, ah, ah. Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha. That might be the little melody. I’ll just say, “What are you thinking? What’s going on? Tell me what’s in your thoughts.” We do a lot of unpacking with the dialogue that is going on. It’s a dialogue of the inner committee as to who’s up. Is it inner critic speaking? Is the saboteur up? Well, there are just hundreds of them. Hundreds of, we call them sub-personalities, that jump up and want our attention. Is it the mother? Is it the dark mother? Is it the temptress? There are just all these different aspects.
Trish: What I do is, I try and help them find that voice and that character and that movement. How does that person move? How does it embody in your body? We find that voice in that movement. The idea is that once we start hearing that voice, we can then befriend it rather than push it all away, push those voices away. We say, “Oh, I see you. I hear you. Thank you for showing up. I’ve got this.” You listen for the next voice. It’s getting to know the different aspects of your own psyche and who’s in charge so that the more we befriend all these different parts of ourselves, the easier it is to integrate our life experience.
Sze Wing: That’s really interesting. Do people often come to you out of curiosity or they have something stored and want to explore? What about for those who may not have an apparent problem or issue that just want to be more creative or express more in the other direction, is there more for me?
Trish: Yes. Yes. Great point. Yes. I work a lot with that. Often, people come to me who are looking for their creative voice, who may have swallowed down, had to push down their creative voice because they’ve had to show up in another way for family or parents. We work a lot with boundary setting, setting with boundary, what’s mine and what’s theirs and getting clear around that. Who’s in my space, who do I want in my space? Who do I not want in my space? How do I give more room for my own creative voice and how to stand in that and feel your spine and feel your backbone in your own knowing, your own truth. That can take time. It’s very relational and work. It’s very respectful because we were all at different stages of growth. Me too, I’m a learner as well. I’m a student of this work also. We’re always learning and respect that we can never assume where another person is at, but to give people space to discover it for themselves and respect it.
Sze Wing: Yeah. That’s why I think a lot of times that you would say you’re like a facilitator because you’re helping people to discover or uncover something.
Sze Wing: If we may switch gear a little bit, I know you co-founded something called InterPlay in Australia.
Sze Wing: I want to hear a little bit more about it because it’s local. People who are listening or watching us should know that if they’re Australia they can connect with you online or in person, I don’t know, but we talk about the idea, about InterPlay, since, is something you do as a community at practice in Australia. Tell us a bit more about InterPlay.
Trish: Yes. Yes. InterPlay is very much about unlocking the wisdom of the body and being truly yourself, being able to come home to yourself that you can trust your own body if you come in relationship with it and practice that. It’s very much improvisational based. What we do is, very sequentially, you learn these practices where you can practice storytelling, singing, dance, movement and stillness. They’re the four forms that we use and the other one is connection. Connection waves between all of them. These are actually the five freedom piles that you’ll find in all tribal communities. In any arts communities that are healthy, you’ll find these five elements in there. The other one I think I’d add would be rhythm, adding rhythm and drum beat. InterPlay has been … yes, we are coming up to 30 years of InterPlay as a practice. We have communities around Australia in different capital cities. what else can I say about it?
Sze Wing: Is it, often, like a group work? As in, that would be like event and a circle or some sort, and then those are the elements that you mentioned. We come together. If you’re interested in this activity, then you go there, you play as a group.
Trish: Yes. Yes.
Sze Wing: You play with somebody.
Trish: Yes. It’s play as a group. You work in duets, you work with partners, you work with the ensemble and then you work with the whole group. You also do work on your own. There’s space for each and you got your own pace. It’s very respectful, also, of where people are at. Some people come and they’ve got chronic fatigue or they may have a broken foot or a back injury. Sometimes they might just come and lie on the floor, but they can join in all the activities from there. We work with disabled people. It’s intergenerational, children right through to adults. We mainly work with adults.
Trish: I think the other wonderful thing I love with InterPlay, it’s all about making life easier than harder. Life doesn’t have to be so hard. We can break open the myth that artistry is only for certain people. Artistry and the beauty of expression is for everyone. Creative expression is for every human being. It’s our right. It’s our birthright to be able to express and to have fun, to take the seriousness out. Everything is so serious these days. We have a lot of things going on in the world that are very serious. To approach a problem that’s presenting through the doorway of play, opens up wonder and it opens up the gift of the moment, and the surprise of the moment. It opens up a way that creates more ease rather than stress. That’s what we focus on so that you can actually enjoy your life more.
Sze Wing: Let’s say, I come into your InterPlay session with the community, then, is it always with all these elements that there would always be some form of storytelling, singing, dancing? I forgot the other one. There was one more elements apart from rhythm.
Trish: And stillness.
Sze Wing: Stillness.
Sze Wing: You will have activities or exercise that goes through all five elements?
Trish: Yes. Yes.
Sze Wing: What about storytelling, do people tell their own story or someone is telling a story? How does that-
Trish: Yeah. Yes.
Sze Wing: … storytelling work?
Trish: Yeah. Yeah. The storytelling one is really fun because you go backwards and forwards. You might just start for 30 seconds, “Tell me everything you know about tomatoes.”
Sze Wing: It’s random improvisation.
Trish: It’s random. We give them a word and they had to talk about French pennies, talk about maps. You just build up things that are quirky or you might play with a word, give them a made up word, and then they have to talk about that.
Sze Wing: I got to ask you this. You know how sometimes people can be so serious. As you say, you bring play and then you may somehow attract someone who is probably not myself, very analytical, very critical and “Oh, I think I need more creativity.” I walk into something like that, but then with that mindset, you ask me to talk about tomato, I’m going to stare at you, right. When someone is not open but somehow stumble across your work, how do you help those? Because I think it’s fun to just let loose.
Trish: Yes. Yes.
Sze Wing: What do you do?
Trish: Yes. We always start with a warmup. We warm the body up. We always just stretchers and we really get the body moving. In that moment, you can see the people that are stiffer. The more that you can loosen up … Okay. We just have a little bit of things that everybody can do and to do it at your own capacity. With the storytelling thing, you might not start off, we’ve talk about tomatoes. You might say, “Okay, with your partner, tell us how you got here today.” The first step might be, “How did you get here today?”
Sze Wing: You get them to open up and talk-
Sze Wing: … and warm up the interaction.
Trish: Start with a, “Oh, I came by train. I drove my car and I got lost.” You might say, “What did you eat for lunch? What did you have for lunch?” They talk about that. It’s very step by step. You might say, “Well, tell us about” … Well, what could be a next one? It might be-
Sze Wing: Well, there could be tomato in their lunch.
Trish: Yeah. Yeah. That’s right. Or it could be, “What’s your favorite holiday? What’s your favorite book?”
Sze Wing: It’s really getting people to warmup to share.
Trish: Yes, to share. You just gradually … and before you know it, people are sharing things about themselves. They don’t even know how they got to that, but they’re doing it unconsciously.
Sze Wing: Are you saying they’re going deeper than they think they would?
Trish: Yes. Sometimes, yes.
Sze Wing: Interesting.
Trish: Yes. Sometimes, because you’re going through a different door way, you’re not going head on.
Sze Wing: That’s what I think too.
Trish: You’re just going through … you build it. You build the blocks.
Sze Wing: To be honest, sometimes the thing the most unexpected circumstance, you may tell a stranger the most horrible thing that you experienced. Just because the circumstance, when you feel safe and you feel there’s not much consequence, you wanted to tell somebody and you open that doorway. Sometimes you say the most unexpected things that you will share with a stranger.
Trish: That’s’ true. I think a lot of it is about reception from the other person. If you’ve got someone listening who’s truly listening, as one person speaking, the other one’s listening. You’re practicing your listening skills as well. You’re really receiving the other person. It’s usually delightful. You go, “Oh, I’ve done that too. I’ve got stuck in the traffic too.” You find that we have more in common stories than we realize we do. It’s a lot of common. It drop the performance aspect that we’ve got to perform for each other.
Sze Wing: When it comes to the dancing, nobody too self-conscious?
Trish: No, because we start with warmups. You start on your own. You have your own little dance first. It might be just a hand dance. We don’t ask the whole body to dance. We lead people through a hand dance, draw circles in the air, draw sevens, be jerky, be smooth, put your hand on your body, put your hand on the earth, hold stillness.
Sze Wing: Yeah.
Trish: Then we put it all together.
Sze Wing: I love that, it’s the connection aspect that you’re really creating.
Sze Wing: Because I’ve been dancing for a while. Not in the recent past because too busy with everything else, but I met my husband and a lot of friends through dancing. I think, often, people are very conscious about how they look, how they behave, how they perform, how do they move and to sing with people who are singing. There’s a lot of people who love to sing, but they say, “I can’t sing. I’ve got a bad voice,” blah, blah, blah. There’s a lot of very conscious critical self talk in our head and that limit us from doing something most natural. My daughter sing and dance all the time and she seems to think she’s really good at all of those.
Trish: She is.
Sze Wing: Yeah.
Trish: She is and we all are, but we’ve been so conditioned that it has to be a certain way. What I find with InterPlay, it just takes the lid off that so that you can actually appreciate the beauty of being human and the beauty of another human being in front of you and what they can do-
Sze Wing: Yeah.
Trish: … and who they are.
Sze Wing: Really, the connection is really missing. I find a lot of times that people are so into their own phone or iPad, especially younger people like kids.
Sze Wing: Then a lot of problems come about because they don’t know how to communicate. They don’t know how to express. They don’t know how to connect. Activities like that on a paper, a kid will say, “Oh, where am I going to get out of it?” It’s not like that. It’s an experience. You cannot quantify an experience necessarily like that. I think it’s really important to have fun and play. It’s self-nurturing aspect.
Trish: Fair enough.
Sze Wing: Sometimes we just don’t even know how to nurture ourselves.
Trish: Yes. You’re spot on. It’s so nourishing. It’s about self-care and really listening to your own body because there might be times we might say, “Move your arm,” and that person might not be able to. We just say, “Can I just lift your shoulder? If that’s all you can do, if that’s what you can do today, that’s absolutely fine.” You do what you can do on the day, but that nourishing when we’re always in the performance world. People burning out and giving too much. Yeah. To remember that there is a wonder and there is fun to be had with each other.
Sze Wing: Yeah. I liked it because I think a lot of times people want to make sure they look good or they are doing it right and that rock from the experience when that’s all you think about. Am I looking good? Am I doing it right? Do I look like I have fought? They can’t dance or they can sing. I think it’s really not freeing us when we have that.
Sze Wing: I think this is a full opportunity. Now, let’s switch gear again. Before we wrap up, I want to ask you about your work in Cambodia. You work with young people, youth.
Sze Wing: Again, with music and arts. Tell us, what’s happening there. I know you’re going to Cambodia. You’re doing some youth work there?
Trish: Yes. I was very fortunate to be involved in setting up Cambodia Sings with a friend, Elaine Yoon. What we aim to do is to bring back the joy of singing and the love of singing for all of Cambodians. That’s the vision. We work with young people from the age of 4 to probably 17 in non-government schools and their schools that teach English and computer skills. We go in and use singing as a way of teaching English. We, also, are singing Cambodian songs as well, but it’s been an incredible experience to be part of this and to be with these children who have the talent, but they don’t always have the opportunity. To give them the opportunity to have their voices and to feel the connection with each other and to feel the power of that. It’s very empowering in a country that has been so muted through war and civil war and dictatorship to actually give them the opportunity to express is very important.
Sze Wing: You can see that transformation or changes in the young people when they allowed to use the voice even though it’s just singing, but it’s a way of expressing themselves.
Trish: Well, singing is also acceptable. To have a group singing, you would think it’s not … how do I explain this? It’s a sneaky way of building community. Because I find now, the little areas where we work, which are in slum areas, these communities, these children are giving a reason other than survival and having to work, go out and work at a young age, they’re actually bringing some music and singing on the back of motorbikes. These kids are singing to their parents. It’s making a difference. They’re amazed. The parents are amazed. My child just sang to me, my four year old, on the back of my bike. I think, wow, that’s just so fun. He was amazed that this little kid could do it because he’d never done it as a child. He wasn’t allowed to.
Sze Wing: It’s interesting what you said. I think it’s a way to unite people in some sense.
Trish: Yeah, and heal. It’s very-
Sze Wing: And heal.
Trish: … very deeply healing. It’s so soothing. Singing is such a soothing, healing thing for communities that have been so violated.
Sze Wing: Wow. I think it sounds like a really meaningful work. I think a lot of our listeners, probably Australian based or sometimes US and UK, but for people who want to connect with you, let’s say, whether it’s to work with you on Voice Movement Therapy or hear more about InterPlay. InterPlay, it’s definitely happening in Australia and is an in person event, so tell us how can people connect with you online or in person so they can get some information?
Trish: Yes. Thank you for that. I’m on Facebook. It’s Trish Watts Soul Voice.
Sze Wing: All one word or four words?
Trish: Four words. Four words.
Sze Wing: Okay. I’ll put a link at the bottom of the podcast as well.
Trish: Thank you. And then InterPlay Australia has a website. If you just put in InterPlay Australia, it will come up and it tells all the events and the workshops that are on. Voice Movement Therapy: Oceania is the Australian website for Voice Movement Therapy. If you’re interested in international, it’s the International Association for Voice Movement Therapy. That has more details around Voice Movement Therapy work.
Sze Wing: Yeah. Not a problem. I’ll put all the links at bottom of the post.
Trish: And Cambodia Sings.
Sze Wing: Yes.
Trish: Cambodia Sings has one as well. Yeah.
Sze Wing: Yeah. I will put all the websites and links there so people can check it out and find out more about Trish’s work.
Sze Wing: Thank you so much for today.
Trish: Thank you very much. This has been a joy.
Sze Wing: It’s so different. It’s such a different type of therapy or just play.
Sze Wing: I’ve interviewed a lot of people maybe doing more physical type of therapy or aromatherapy, massage or coaching, but this is something quite different. I hope all people would be open to try and maybe when they have the self-care day or learning day, they try something different and surprise themselves with play. Well, we’re working so hard all this time, so play is important.
Trish: True. True. It is. It is. Thank you so much, Sze Wing.
Sze Wing: Thank you.