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Voice acting is about story-telling. There… I’ve said it!


It’s not about how you read the script. And it’s not about your performing technique. And it’s definitely not about “selling,” although a lot of what we voice actors do is communicate a “sales” message.

Nope.. voiceover is about story-telling. And the best way to tell a story is to base the story in reality. And the most effective way to reach an audience is to express the reality of the story by connecting with them on an emotional level. When your audience connects on an emotional level, nothing else matters to them. When the reality of your performance touches your audience on that emotional level, they can’t help but become involved in the story you are telling. And whey your audience is connected emotionally, the message (or story) will have an impact. As humans, we are wired to react to emotional stimulus.

So, how does that apply to a voiceover script? Read on and I’ll explain. And I know that what I’m about to say may be a bit controversial to some voiceover coaches.

Many voiceover coaches teach their students to “be the best ‘you’ you can be” when performing a script. What they are saying is this:  “Find something within you that you feel connects with the story (script) you are reading and base your performance from that feeling.” OK, that can work… to a degree. However, basing a performance strictly on your personal gut instincts, behaviors, likes, dislikes and experiences cannot help but create a limited perspective on your performing. Every performance becomes little more than a facet of “you” attempting to relate to what is taking place in the story. Now, as I mentioned, this can work to a degree, and for some voiceover copy that can work… as long as the message (or story) in the script is something you can easily relate to and the phrasing of the script is in a form that will sound believable and natural coming out of your mouth.

There are some voice actors for whom this is the only viable approach to their voiceover work. These are the voice talent I refer to as “Celebrity Actors.” A celebrity actor is someone who bases every performance on some aspect of who they are. This is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just what I believe to be a limiting thing. There are some very successful film actors who I consider to be celebrity actors. These are the actors who, when you watch their films, you see “Actor’s name here” playing the role of “Character here.” These actors do not become they character of the role they are playing. Instead, they do their best to represent the character. Also, most of the roles these actors choose have a personality very close to that of the actor. When a “Celebrity Actor” stretches in an effort to create a character that exists outside of their comfort zone, the result is often less than effective, simply because we (as an audience) are so accustomed to seeing the actor in the type of role we expect.

Now, there is an entirely different group of actors who literally re-invent themselves for every performance. These are the actors I refer to as “Character Actors.” A character actor is one who steps outside of his/her self to momentarily become the character of the role they are playing. Yes, they bring their own personality, behavior and experiences to their performance. But they go much further than that by discovering the underlying reality, emotion, and driving forces of the character they are playing. These actors have learned how to temporarily forget who they are and the fact that they are “acting.” They literally become the character! It’s easy to tell who these actors are because the best of them have risen to the top of their game. When you watch their films, you are not watching them “being” the character they are playing – you are watching them “AS” the character they are playing.

And that’s a huge difference!

For more than two decades I’ve been teaching my Seven Core Elements of Performance and I’ve included it in all five editions of “The Art of Voice Acting.” Element #6 is “Forget Who You Are and Focus”. Learning how to forget who you are is not an easy thing to do. In fact, this is one of the most difficult and challenging skill sets for any actor – stage, screen… or voiceover. But if you’re going to be seen as anything other than “you doing the character,” it is a skill that must be learned… or not. That’s up to you.

In order to master this skill of forgetting who you are, you will need to look long and hard at what you are doing now with your voiceover work, and investigate the ways in which you can re-invent your craft. You may need to step outside your comfort zone and take an acting class or get involved with an improvisation group in your area. Studying some good acting books can be a start, but you will eventually need to truly experience what it’s like to become the character you are playing as opposed to “doing” the character you are playing. And that can only be accomplished by working with an experienced coach or teacher who can help you on your journey as a performer.

Documentarian Lee Ratcliff recently produced a short film titled “How Stanislavsky Reinvented the Craft of Acting.” Now, although this short film focuses on film acting, the concept of reinventing your craft still applies to voiceover. You can learn a lot from this short film.

I encourage you to re-invent your craft to become a better voice actor. If you’d like to get first-hand experience with me as your coach, you might want to consider attending an upcoming VoiceActing Academy Performance Intensive Event.

James Alburger