Voice-acting tips from
"The Art of Voice Acting Workshop"


By Penny Abshire
Creative Director, VoiceActing.com

There you are…standing in the booth facing the microphone – Everyone in the studio is waiting to hear from you.  The director tells you to slate and begin.  You take a deep breath, set, and start your performance.  Three words in, you stumble badly.  You quietly curse to yourself and begin again.  This time you get to the second paragraph before you hear those voices in your head telling you “be careful, you’re gonna blow it again!” and as soon as you start listening, sure enough, you do.  By now your body is so tense you can hardly breathe.  Every time you try again, it just gets worse  - you find yourself babbling and missing words and phrases that never gave you problems in the past!  Those voices are really getting persistent now and you have an almost uncontrollable urge to run from the booth to the parking lot!  Would the client be relieved to see you go?  Would your agent understand?  Will you ever work again? This isn’t your first experience at voice over, so what the heck is going on?

Usually the reason for this type of experience comes down to just one, simple thing.  You’re not in character.  When an actor is in character he’s someone else, right?  It’s Basic Acting 101. So ask yourself, would my character have trouble saying these words?  Would he be self-conscious or nervous?  For example, let’s say it’s a conversation between the character and his best friend.  Does his heart pound and does he even think about how he’s pronouncing the words when he’s talking with his friend?  Would your character, in this circumstance, worry about other people listening or how many times he might flub the delivery of a word and have to repeat it?  For that matter, would he worry about ANYTHING?  No, because he’s just talking to his buddy.  If you are truly in character, there is no reason for you to be afraid, self-conscious, or worried about your performance OR someone else’s opinion of it.

As another example, let’s say you’re reading corporate narrative copy with lots of medical or technical terminology.  Who is your character?  Generally speaking, he’s the expert, isn’t he?  Would an expert be nervous talking about his particular field of expertise?  Would he have trouble pronouncing the words?  Certainly not, he’d be confident, self-assured and in complete control.  Therefore, if YOU are that character, YOU are confident, self-assured and in complete control.

Most of us would agree that if you could step out of your body and become someone else, you’d be more willing to take chances. When performing for voice over, if you can allow yourself to “become” someone else and fully embrace the character you have chosen, your performance will always flow more easily.  You’ll feel free to experiment without the fear of failure because you know your character can’t fail.

Your brain is the most incredible biological computer ever conceived, and, like its mechanical counterpart, it can be re-programmed.  You see evidence of it every time you observe a person moving from one “role” to another.  For instance, a mother who has worked as a corporate executive all day changes dramatically when she steps into the role of “mommy”.  A bank president’s demeanor changes completely when he puts on his “scout leader” hat.  Better yet, ever watch a group of children playing? Remember what it was like when you were a kid?  No limits!  You could be ANYBODY you chose to be – a fireman, a princess, an astronaut, or even the President of the United States. And you were completely believable in every role you played.  As a young girl, I wrote, produced, directed and starred in elaborate productions in my backyard!  I recruited a number of neighborhood children to be in the cast and all the parents were invited to the opening.  In our young minds, we BELIEVED we were the characters we portrayed and that we were ready for Broadway!  There were absolutely no limits to our imaginations or creativity! 

You still have the ability to “trick” your mind into believing you are someone else – just like when you were a kid.  You see, your mind (on a subconscious level) doesn’t know the difference between fiction and reality.  If you pretend to be the character, so far as your subconscious is concerned, you ARE the character.  It’s only when the conscious mind tries to take control that you begin to have problems with delivery (i.e. you think too much or your listen to those inner  “voices”).  Belief in your imagination is just the first step to letting go of whatever inhibitions you’ve been carrying around with you.

So, how do you find your character?  There are lots of techniques and it seems to be different for everyone.  One of the techniques I use is to give my characters names.  For instance, Marjorie is a loud, obnoxious New Yorker who lives for the jewelry sale at Macy’s  – Emily is a quiet, shy librarian who wears a pink sweater with pearl buttons – Selma is a gravel-voiced, hardened woman who has smoked way too many cigarettes and been hurt by way too many men. Pansy is a genteel southern lady who sips mint juleps in public and straight Southern Comfort in private.  There are many others as well.  When I need a character quickly, all I have to do is recall my little “group” of ladies and I can usually find one that will work well with the copy.  Because I already have these characters firmly in mind (what they look like, how they sound, their general attitude about things, etc.) I can get into character very quickly.  This works for me – but remember that everyone has his own technique.  You have to discover what works best for YOU. Check out Chapter 7 in “The Art of Voice Acting” by James R. Alburger, entitled “The Character in the Copy”, for some great ideas and tips.

Remember that every time you walk into the booth – it’s fantasy time – just like when you were a kid.  If you are truly in character, you are NEVER yourself – you are ALWAYS playing a role and pretending to be someone else – regardless of what the copy may be.  When you are truly in character, and everything about that character is real and believable to you, the character will appear to take on a life of its own – expressed through your body and voice.  When you are TRULY in character, you will feel as though you are not performing, but rather experiencing your own reality.

When you can discover your character and embrace everything about him – his looks, how he’s dressed, his belief system, his background.  Shoot! - Even what he ate for lunch - you will find your true power as a performer. And when you do, you will be amazed at the creativity and freedom those choices will give you.  You may find your stage fright completely disappears – yes, even the butterflies.

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