Photo credit: Dmytro Vietrov /

Patsy Rodenburg is widely regarded as one of the world’s leading voice coaches with over 40 years of experience of bringing people “into the center of their voice and presence.” She served as the Head of Voice at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, and Director of Voice at Michael Howard Studios in New York from 1982-2020. Her students include Daniel Day-Lewis, Daniel Craig, Orlando Bloom, Nicole Kidman, Joseph Fiennes, Ewan McGregor, Hugh Jackman, Natalie Portman, Fay Ripley, Judi Dench and Ian McKellen. The London native has authored several books, including The Actor Speaks: Voice and the Performer and Presence: How to Use Positive Energy for Success in Every Situation.

Patsy’s workshops and exercises
Rodenburg offers workshops across the globe, as well as online. “The boring bit about my work is that you have to do a bit of repetition every day,” she concedes. “But every great speaker has to prepare; they have to know how to warm up and prepare.” Her exercises empower students to stay connected to their breath and project their voice by using different sounds. “An actor has to repeat a series of exercises so that it becomes organic, so that you don’t actually have to worry about your voice. And the exercises are very simple in the end. You can stand on stage and worry about the acting. It’s about whether you’re being clear.” Rodenburg’s job is to analyze the various ways people hold tension in their bodies, and to offer ways to release the tightness.

Here is a great clip demonstrating one of Rodenburg’s intone exercises.

The three circles of energy
Rodenburg has worked on a theory for decades; she believes people operate within three circles of energy. In each circle, individuals have a way of handling their breath and voice along with their listening, feeling, and thinking abilities. “Let’s get this very clear: We need all three,” she insists. “We can move very rapidly between the three. We can be very good physically in a circle and not very good in another way, if I divide us into the physical, the intellectual, the emotional, and the spiritual.”

First circle energy
Rodenburg describes first circle as having an inward focus. “First circle energy falls back into you, often in the body.” She explains, “You’re pulling your energy in so that your breath gets tight, and your body starts to be imploding, and your voice falls back. So some people say, ‘I don’t know why people aren’t listening to me.’… And in fact you’re pulling your voice in….This is a huge generalization, but a lot of women are first circle. They’re often listeners, but we can’t hear them.”

Second circle energy
“A great performer is in one circle all the time and that’s called the second circle,” Rodenburg asserts. She believes we are all born in the second circle, fully present from our first breath. Speaking to students at Michael Howard Studios, she explained, “The second circle is being present, being in the moment, being engaged, being connected.” She believes as a society we’re losing our presence. “Actually, as an actor, performer, or sports person, if you’re not able to get present, you cannot succeed,” she cautions.

Third circle energy
“This is generalized energy that’s pushed out—the people who take your space. Do you know those people?” Rodenburg asks. “It’s often in the body, the chest is up. Voices that are too loud. Have you noticed how so many Shakespeare productions, they’re just all up in third, shouting at each other?” Although people sometimes need third-circle energy, she warns, “Third circle is very dangerous because it seems like it’s energized, you know? The energy is going out.…It’s very controlling.” Speaking in general terms, she says, “The third circle is where a lot of men go which is pushing out, being too loud, talking but not listening.”

A word on tension
When something or someone makes you uncomfortable, Rodenburg says to pay close attention to where you hold the tension in your body. “Next time the person you can’t bear walks into the room, just notice what happens to you. Chances are you stop breathing, so your power stops or you tighten your shoulders or you look away,” she notes. “Just find out where your tensions are that make you uncomfortable, and that’s what we might have to work on. And this work goes into the breath. Where do I breathe? I want to breathe very low. If you hold your stomach, which is what we’re all taught to do, you can’t breathe properly, and you can’t use your voice. So you have to understand these things.”

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