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Backstage Experts

Can Talent Be Taught?

Can Talent Be Taught?
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I’m often asked, “What are the odds of ‘making it’ in voiceover?”

Honestly, you can have all the talent in the world, but it’ll die on the vine without drive and momentum. Passion and instincts account for a great deal, but neither will get you anywhere unless you dedicate yourself to sharpening your skills and relentlessly pursuing the work.

So let’s assume you have a work ethic that won’t quit and everyone says you have a remarkable voice. That’s as good a place to begin as any. I say ‘begin’ because I believe, like my former improv/acting coach and mentor Paul Sills, that everyone has talent. But talent, like any muscle, demands continued use and development or it will atrophy. Skill, on the other hand, can and should be taught. However, both require continued application to remain sharp and useful.

Additionally, whatever you repeatedly do and wherever you focus your attention will ultimately become your greatest skills and assets. So exposing yourself to a variety of disciplines is essential as a budding talent.

The problem is that we often fool ourselves into believing that after taken a class or two, we’ve mastered the form. Or, just as bad, that we’re no good at it. You may have had some exposure to the genre or style, but it falls to you to continue to develop with further practice and exposure. You’d think it could go without saying, but trying something only a few times doesn’t necessarily determine a skill or define a talent.

READ: Voiceover Auditioning by the Numbers

Case in point: most of us have been raised on TV. We’ve spent years becoming fully invested in sitcoms, daytime dramas, commercials, and commercial styles. We recognize them for the genres they are and they’re usually familiar to us, but auditioning and getting cast in them challenges our perceptions of the medium and of our selves within that context. You may audition for a commercial and feel like a cat in a dog suit during the process. The whole experience seems strange. You struggle with what is it they want from you.

A month later the spot airs and the concept that eluded you suddenly zooms into focus. Why didn’t they tell you about it at the audition? You would have done that! Why didn’t they direct you to do that? Now you see yourself within this reality, this genre. You would have killed on that thing had you known about it in advance. The truth is you got all the same info as the talent who booked the job received. The difference may simply lie in how the talent who landed the job saw themselves and embodied the project, concept and all.

How we see ourselves and the genre we’re attempting to tackle determines much of the outcome: a successful audition, a remarkable callback, a long-shot booking, and ultimately how successful the final product is. Each aspect challenges and changes us as actors. Each requires that we grapple with familiarity versus unchartered territory. Each determines a body of work that ultimately creates a career. It never goes away.

So again, the question begs: Can talent be taught? I wouldn’t rule it out.

Talent can give you confidence when experience is lacking. Skill and technique are what sustain us when the floor falls out from under us during the production (as it inevitably does on nearly every project), requiring you to be sharp, prepared and reliable. This acting business is a team sport.

But just because you don’t have an immediate intuitive response to a performance, genre, scene, take, character or type doesn’t mean you never will. How you see the story, style, format and yourself within that context all play a part in the outcome. So expose yourself to the styles you honestly intend to master and be relentless about it.

Consider this: if you’re only at a mic 10-15 minutes a week in a workshop, that hardly gives you enough opportunity to work your performance muscle enough to truly develop it. If you were taking piano lessons instead of voiceover, it would take a decade or more to get there if the only amount of time and attention you’re dedicating to developing your talents and master your skills is a few minutes a week.

Taking workshops and participating in groups helps develop a sense of community and can feed your perceptions regarding voiceover as a subject, but those perceptions may be assumptions rather than true insights, which may or may not work to your advantage down the line. This form of training can be a double-edged sword. Which is why private instruction is imperative to every talent to sort out what’s best for you, specifically, from a coach who thoroughly understand the industry, and your role in it.

Kate McClanaghan is a casting director, producer, founder of Big House Casting & Audio and Actors’ Sound Advice, and Backstage Expert. For more information, check out McClanaghan’s full bio

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The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them,
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.

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