Should I Voice That Political Ad?
As with anything else in show-business (and make no mistake, voiceover work is part of show-business), there at are at least two ways to approach a role or performance. The way in which you approach your work for political ads and certain controversial products and services can have an impact on your personal life and may be worth considering whenever you are auditioning or are asked to voice projects that you may not agree with.
The first approach to a performance is from the point of view of you, the person, "doing" the part. In my book, The Art of Voice Acting, I refer to this type of performance as a Celebrity Voice. The voice talent is identifiable by their vocal performance style and/or tonality. This is often case for voice talent who have limited acting experience or have a vocal instrument that has inherent limitations (i.e. a gravelly, or other unique sound that may be difficult to change.) Although the voice artist may have substantial range and variety of delivery, their performance often centers from who they are in real life. Most film actors who also do voiceover fit this category because the sound of their voice and delivery style are easily identified with their on-camera presence or “celebrity” status. Other Celebrity voice talent may not be as well known, but their primary work still comes from the way in which they use their natural voice in a performance. When a performance is centered from the “real” person, personal beliefs, attitudes, and feelings become an intrinsic part of the performance. In other words, their performance originates more from within themselves than from acting or creating a character. This is a completely valid, and occasionally the most appropriate, type of performance. However, centering a performance (whether on-camera, stage, or voiceover) from the “real” you can present some problems.
If you are asked to voice a script for a product or service that you personally disagree with, your personal ethics kick in and you can easily get stuck in a quandary. Even though the paycheck may be good, if you choose to voice the project, you may have regrets or feel that you will be perceived as personally representing that product or service. This may or may not be the reality, but if you think this may be a problem, it is. If you are a Celebrity voice artist, the ultimate solution falls into one of three options: 1) you make a choice as to what you will support and decline offers for opposing work (choose your party), or, ) you choose to not accept jobs for any projects you might personally disagree with (i.e. – you simply choose to not voice political ads), or 3) you accept the job, bank the paycheck, and deal with your inner, personal conflicts later.
The second approach to a performance is what I refer to as a Character Voice Actor. Bob Jump is a great example of a character actor. Listen to his demo at www.bobjump.com and you’ll find it difficult to identify the “real” Bob. When you create a character, each performance is centered from “who” the character is and what the character thinks, believes, and feels about the product or service. Although you, the actor, bring a lot to the performance, the “real” you steps aside to let the character become real through attitude, delivery and vocal style.
If you accept that every script contains a character that must be brought to life through your performance, then your personal beliefs, attitudes, feelings, and ethics take a back seat to the job at hand – that of creating a compelling and interesting character for the purpose of telling a story (or delivering a message).
So, when it comes to voicing political ads or any other controversial project, the decision to take the job - or not - really comes down to how you, as a voice actor, choose to do your work. Both of the above approaches are completely valid and effective. If you believe you (as a person) may be perceived as representing one party or the other, or that by voicing a political spot for the “other” party (and that you might, somehow, offend those of your party), then you may want to re-think your approach to voiceover work. On the other hand, if you approach your work as an actor, whose job it is to create compelling characters, then it really doesn’t matter which side of the issue you choose to work for. The “real” you is not even part of the performance. You are an actor creating a performance, and the voiceover role you are creating is really no different than any other character you might create for a play, film, or commercial.
The bottom line is that you can’t be all things to all people, and you can’t (or shouldn’t) work both sides of an issue or for competing clients in the same market – that’s just not good business. However, there’s no rule that says you can’t voice a Republican spot in one state and a Democratic spot in another state – so long as the candidates are not running for the same office. Ultimately, you need to make choices that you can live with, that make good business sense, and that support the way you choose to approach your voiceover work.