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


Jill Russel of San Diego writes:

What happens if you get to a reading and find out that you can't get your heart into an advertisement - because either you don't believe in the product or don't agree with the script about the product? Or what if the claims about a product are simply not accurate? Isn't there some sort of ‘Truth in advertising" law?’

James Alburger replies:

Yes, there are "truth in advertising laws". However, they apply to the advertiser and not to the performer. As a voice-actor, you are being hired to play a character with the purpose of delivering a specific message. In most cases, it is not your place as a performer to question the copy. If there are blatant misrepresentations or errors in a script, you can use your  best judgment to decide whether or not you will discuss them with the producer or writer. There may be some reason for the copy being written the way it is that you are not aware of, and that may make perfect sense once explained to you. That's another reason why it's important to ask questions before you go into the booth. Ultimately, the accuracy of the copy is not your responsibility as a performer.

It is pretty rare that you will encounter false claims in a commercial, however, there will be times when you may not agree with the advertising approach, copy points, advertising philosophy, or the product itself. A perfect example is political advertising: let's say you're booked to VO a series of radio/TV spots for a candidate, and you don't agree with that candidate's philosophy. Do you agree to do the VO, or not?

The simple answer: assuming you know what the advertiser or product is in advance, you have a choice to accept the project or not. For most bookings you will know what the product/service is at the time you are scheduled. It's usually pretty easy to simply say you have other commitments and decline the booking. If you encounter the script at an audition it's not a problem - you can make your decision at the time you are called for the booking, at which point you may be able to request an advance script, or simply be unavailable. But there are times when you may be called at the last minute without knowing what you are being asked to perform, and you don't find out until you arrive at the session (or until it is e-mailed or fax'd to you). What then?

If you've accepted the booking, and you disagree with the product, service or advertiser, you've got a problem! You have committed to the session, so technically and professionally, you are obligated to do the voice work. It may be necessary in this case to put your ethics aside for the moment.

Jill continues:

Any way, I just wonder how do you motivate yourself to get into the character of someone you just don't believe in...

James Replies:

This brings us to the more complex answer to your original question. From day one of our Art of Voice Acting workshop, we talk about the fact that as an actor you are playing a role of the character in the copy. It's not you saying those words! OK, sure it really is you in front of the mic speaking, but the intent and subtext is coming from the character you are playing - not from the real you. This is probably the single most difficult and challenging concept in all forms of acting: how do you get out of your own way to let the character come through?

Motivating yourself actually has little to do with creating a believable performance. OK, for a paid session, the money might be a nice motivation. The real issue when playing a challenging role is to get out of your own way so the character and her motivation can be realized. Actually, the only way to successfully get out of your own way is to completely understand your character, her purpose for existing, why she is speaking and who she is speaking to. Sound familiar? It's the A-B-C's: audience, back story and character. If the character you are playing has a personality, belief system, or speaks in a manner that is in direct opposition to the real you, it will most likely be more challenging for you to get out of your own way. Your ego, inhibitions and personal feelings will want to make themselves heard and can prevent you from creating a believable performance.

Getting out of your own way, to let your character come to life, is what acting is all about. Shirley MacLaine once said: "It's all about listening and forgetting who you are." The “forgetting who you are” part can be very challenging. The best way to achieve this is to constantly take yourself outside your comfort zone. Stretch your expression of emotion and attitude to the point where you feel absolutely ridiculous. Your inner voices with speak up, but just thank them for sharing and keep at it. It may take some time, but sooner or later you will find yourself feeling comfortable doing and saying things you never dreamed you would do. And you may never be totally comfortable in certain areas.

If you are focused on your disagreement with a script, character or philosophy, you will never be able to adequately perform the role. It is absolutely essential that you learn how to get out of your own way if you are going to successfully perform roles that are a stretch or uncomfortable in any way. This is why, in our workshops, we are constantly recommending that you take other classes in acting, improv and voice-over. The more acting techniques you have available, and the better you are at using them, the easier it will be for you to take on any role - whether you agree with it or not.

Of course, you can always simply refuse to do any script you disagree with, but that could have an adverse affect on your career. When I've discussed this issue with other professional voice actors, the most common response is, and I paraphrase: " . . . just do the session the best you can, let it go, forget about it and move on." Unless you are a high-profile voice talent, there will only be a small number of people who might recognize your voice anyway, and if you're playing the role in true character, your voice may not even sound like the real you.

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