Even for the most seasoned actor, the audition room can be a nerve-racking space. The key is to not let it show. That’s where insight from vocal and speech coaches can come in handy. Backstage spoke with voice professionals John Armstrong, of New York Speech Coaching, and Los Angeles–based voice coach and author Patrick Muñoz about their secrets to always sounding your most confident best.
Despite being an intangible craft, there are physical practices when it comes to breathing, vocal warm-ups, and personal meditation that can strengthen actors’ muscle memory in speech and interpersonal communication to keep their voice unwavering, even when their heart is racing.
“Voice and acting training [is] all about catharsis—[it’s] about emotional connection and getting those emotions out,” says Armstrong, who has a background in acting and musical theater. “But oftentimes, we get that at the expense of storytelling and clear communication of the text…. A clear understanding of how your voice works gives you a sense of control. If you can rely on that as a foundation, that gives you a sense of confidence because it will never leave you.”
Armstrong enhances clients’ understanding of their voice through the mastery of “respiration, phonation, resonation, articulation—those are the four steps of voice work,” he says. One of the best ways to check in on your respiration is to measure your larynx’s glottal stops. An actor who’s breathing deeply and speaking properly won’t have any. Actors can watch out for this by making sure they’re breathing while others are talking, whether they be scene partners or casting directors or friends over dinner. Another way is to weed out vocal stutters, pauses, and extraneous filler words like “uh,” “um,” and “ah,” which anyone is especially susceptible to when nervous or forcing emotion.
Much like Armstrong’s mantra of respiration, phonation, resonation, and articulation, Muñoz adheres to his doctrine of BAR—breathe, articulate, and reach out with your voice. Muñoz, whose past clients include actors Penélope Cruz and Eva Longoria, says that breathing deeply and regularly keeps a voice centered and grounded while helping reduce nervousness and bettering articulation.
“People go into auditions and they get nervous and they might speak too fast or start and restart their sentences,” Muñoz says. “What they can do is reconnect to their body and take a moment to slow down, use their articulators to communicate, [and] connect to their want, to the intentions, and most important, to the other person. Really use that as a moment to be crystal clear in your speech, because that will help you start to feel in command.”
Breathing and articulation will then come together and allow the voice to resonate and fill the room—to “reach out.”
Some tricks to seeing these improvements in your vocal presence—besides being prepared with the material, of course—is to bring better breathing and articulation into your everyday speech. Do vocal warms-ups like yawns, tongue twisters, and trills each morning; make BAR second nature. Muñoz also suggests starting some kind of meditation practice.
“Work on centering yourself. That can be with yoga or walking your dog, taking long walks. Some of my clients love to surf; others hike, go to the gym. Whatever it is that can clear your mind and connect your mind and your breath and your body,” he says. “Get away from this fast-paced life we live in and take time to connect to that power within, because everybody has a powerful voice.”
In the end, Armstrong says, a successful audition isn’t all about an actor’s confidence and voice, but making your physical presentation a constant can better prepare you for other variables that make or break your shot at getting cast.
“The intangibles—the emotional connection, the imagery, how it feels in the room or how you feel like you’re being perceived by the audition panel—those things can really mess with you; they’re not consistent,” he says. “But the body, the breath, the voice can be.”
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