Seven questions with… Shevaun Pope, music theatre performer and speech pathologist-in-training

By Stella Joseph-Jarecki

You have performed in many music theatre productions, not just the traditional musicals from the 1950s and 1960s, but also in many newly-composed musicals. How do the two styles compare, do you have a preference for a certain style of music theatre?

It’s so hard to compare those two styles as I think that musical theatre has become an umbrella term for a range of different styles and genres. I think musical scores started to become very clever after the golden age of theatre, with composers like Stephan Sondheim ruling the scene. To this day I think musical theatre continues to develop its styles and there are some amazing composers out there who are writing challenging and clever music. One of my all -time favourite composers is Adam Guettel who wrote the score to The Light in the Piazza.

I don’t have a preference of musical styles, but I recently played Mabel in Pirates of Penzance and I absolutely loved performing those beautiful soprano songs!

When did you realise that you wanted to study and pursue speech therapy?

I realised I wanted to study speech therapy when I discovered my love for voice and vocal technique during my singing lessons towards the end of my high school studies. I got to a point in my training when I was just craving information on how the voice worked and how I could change my voice to create certain sounds. I was lucky to have such inspiring vocal teachers throughout high school who constantly challenged me to develop my voice and learn more about my own voice and how I use it.

Aside from the singing aspect of speech pathology, I really wanted a career where I was going to be able to help people and make a difference.

Shevaun performing in WTC’s ‘One Night Only’

Why are you passionate about speech therapy?

Speech pathology is all about promoting communication. Being able to communicate is a Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It’s really easy to take our ability to use our voices to communicate and express ourselves, for granted. For me, it was not until I started studying speech pathology did I realise how many people do not have a voice or a way to express themselves. This is something that is really at the heart of why I chose to study speech pathology, to help people communicate with dignity and to flourish within their society.

I’m passionate about the research behind the evidence-based intervention in speech pathology that enables frequent voice users to use their voice effectively and with care. Vocal health is so important for frequent voice users, it’s so easy to use and abuse our voice without even thinking about it. In regards to singing, I believe it is so important that singers learn how their voices work. It’s something I’m very passionate about. Having an understanding on how the larynx and the muscles surrounding are working not only allows a singer to know and become familiar with their voices/body, it allows them to adjust their technique with the help of vocal teachers or speech pathologists to ensure they are optimising their vocal health and efficiency.

I’m sure there are quite a few overlapping ideas with speech therapy and studying singing. Has coming at speech therapy from a singing background assisted with your studies?

Definitely! I think my knowledge of my own vocal technique definitely benefited my studies when completing anatomy subjects. It has also surprisingly come in handy when analysing the perceptual vocal, resonance and prosody features of patients with neurological damage from brain injury or stroke.

Shevaun as ‘Gingy’ in Williamstown Music Theatre Company’s production of Shrek.

A lot of evidence-based methods that I have used in the past with singing teachers, such as the Estill Voice Training method and Accent Method, are promoted in speech pathology intervention too which has definitely benefited my knowledge of different therapy techniques.

How do you envision incorporating music performance into your future? Will you continue to perform for fun/ professionally as you also get work doing speech therapy?

Right now I’m really enjoying performing in my local theatre shows! I would love to one day perform professionally, but right now I’m really motivated to develop my speech pathology career.

In future I would love to study music therapy and incorporate music into my speech pathology practise! I would love to create a social group for kids with special needs that focuses promoting wellbeing and friendships through the use of music and creativity.

What is your favourite thing about performing in shows?

My favourite thing about performing in shows is being able to express myself through music and dance. There’s no better feeling than standing on stage and getting to sing amazing music with talent and inspiring people.

Shevaun performing in WTC’s ‘One Night Only’

How do you find time to nurture the musical side of your life, while studying speech therapy and working? How do you approach vocal practise and repertoire learning?

It’s definitely a challenge. Studying full time is a hard gig, adding work into the mix is even harder. But when you love something you always find time for it. For me, my singing lessons and rehearsals are my break away from my busy life and my time to be present and to be around people who are likeminded.

Keeping a consistent vocal practise routine is definitely difficult with a busy uni schedule, but I dedicate one night a week to my personal vocal practise and repertoire learning. This is usually in the form of a singing lesson, a few hours of practising my repertoire songs or even just vocal rest if I have had a busy week of using my voice. I’m very lucky to have a Speech Pathologist as a singing teacher who’s always giving me new tips on how I can optimise my vocal health. Recently I’ve implemented morning vocal warm up with the use of a ten minute straw phonation exercise, I do this every morning before I start my day!

Keep up to date with Shevaun’s musical adventures through her Instagram, here

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