Every actor knows that there are a number of fundamental techniques and processes that must be understood, mastered and applied in order to create a compelling and believable performance. If you’ve studied voice acting at all, you’ve probably been taught at least a few of these techniques and you may have even developed your own process for wood-shedding and creating your performance.
Every once in a while, it’s helpful to review some of those things we already know, if for no other reason than to simply remind ourselves that we are on track and working in a way that is moving us forward.
If you’ve read my book, “The Art of Voice Acting,” or if you’ve attended a VoiceActing Academy P.I.E. workshop, you already know what follows. If so, please allow this to be a reminder or to reinforce what you already know.
If you haven’t read my book or attended P.I.E., what you’re about to read is just scratching the surface of voice acting. but it will give you a head start with any other study you might pursue. If you’d like to study with VoiceActing Academy, you’ll find everything you need to know at www.VoiceActing.com.
The Seven Core Elements:
The “Seven Core Elements of Performance” is a process we’ve developed to allow a voice actor to very quickly define the critical elements of a performance and develop a strong and effective interpretation, resulting in a compelling performance. Once understood, you can use these 7 steps to quickly analyze, or woodshed, just about any script in a matter of seconds. It’s almost magical!
A = Audience: Who are you talking to? It will always be only one person. Your audience is the perfect person who needs to hear the message. Define that individual and give him or her a name. Doing this will make your delivery more conversational and believable.
B = Back Story: The back story is the specific event that took place immediately before the first word of copy. It’s what you are responding to. The back story is the reason why your character is saying the words in the script. If the back story is not clearly defined in the script – make one up! This is a very important aspect of performing from a written script because the back story sets your character’s motivation, attitude and purpose for speaking.
C = Character: Who are you as the speaker? Define your character in as much detail as you like. The more details you can come up with, the more believable your character will be to you and to your audience. Every script has a character, regardless of how poorly the script may be written or what the content of the script may be. Find that character and give it life to take the words “off the page.”
D = Desires: What does your character want and need as a result of speaking. This is your character’s intention or objective for speaking.
E = Energy: There are three levels of energy that must be present in a performance in order to communicate effectively:1) Psychological Energy – the thoughts behind the words. A thought, or subtext, is the underscore of the interpretation or attitude that is necessary in order for the listener to understand the meaning. 2) Physical Energy – gestures, facial expression, posture, body language, and other physical movement. In everyday conversation, you are constantly moving. You must also be moving as you work from a script. Physical energy breathes life into the words. 3) Emotional Energy – how does your character feel about the subject or message being spoken. This has nothing to do with how you feel about the message, but rather how your character feels. These three levels of energy can change during the course of a script to create a “flow” or “arc” that results in a dynamic delivery and interpretation.
F = Forget Who You Are and Focus – One of the most challenging aspects of all forms of acting is mastering the ability of “getting out of your own way.” The basic process is that you (as the actor) step aside and allow the character you are creating to become real. Focus simply means that you must be paying attention to what you are doing with your performance. At first glance, this may seem like a contradiction. However, when the technique is mastered, Focus becomes a natural aspect the performance.
G = Gamble – Be willing to take the risk to get out of your own way and give yourself permission to do whatever is necessary to create a believable and compelling performance.
M.O.V.E. to more effectively communicate your message:
M.O.V.E stands for Movement Orchestrates Vocal Expression. This is another way of looking at the Physical Energy in a performance. The degree of your physical-ness, or physical movement, can directly affect the expression of your emotion and attitude. Movement includes facial expressions, the movement of arms, head and body, and even the posture of your body as you speak. Make some choices as to what your character’s emotions and attitudes are concerning the copy – even down to how you feel about a specific word or phrase. Every emotion has a related tension someplace in your body. Look within yourself as to how you personally feel about the copy – experience where the tension is and hold it there as you move and speak the words in the script. You may be amazed at the difference in honesty, sincerity and believability that results from simply moving your body.
Warm up before each session or performance:
Dancers, singers and athletes warm up. Voice actors should too! After all, you are using very specific muscles to perform your craft. Keep yourself “toned up” by using warm-up exercises. Stretch your face, relax your neck and shoulders, yawn, or do your favorite tongue twisters. Warming up will not only help you speak more clearly, but can also serve to relax you as you enter a studio for your session – and being relaxed is extremely important in order to be able to quickly find your character.
My favorite warm-up exercise is one I call “The Cork”. Get a cork from a wine bottle and place the cork between your teeth (I’d suggest saving the wine for later!). With the cork between your teeth, read some copy out loud V – E – R – Y S – L – O – W – L – Y. Over-enunciate every vowel, consonant and syllable in every word, and make sure you clearly speak the ends of words. Be careful that you don’t rush through little words like “a”, “in”, “the”, “if”, and so on. You’ll find your cheeks, jaw and tongue will start to get tired after just a few minutes – but you’ll also notice that after this exercise you will speak much more clearly without sounding forced. I have one student who uses this exercise by reading traffic signs on his way to the studio. Another of my students keeps his cork on a chain around his neck. This is a good one – use it.