Voice actors rarely get the prep time that traditional actors get before auditioning for a play, film, or even an on-camera commercial. Plus, the voice actor is rarely trained in the kind of prep skills that are a regular part of the traditional actor’s education and practical work experience. Given that auditioning is the primary means for voice actors to get work, it’s important that they develop a powerful, robust process that will give them the winning edge.
Rehearsal. In the world of acting, rehearsal is not to be confused with practice. Practice is simply performing an activity, i.e., a soldier assembling a rifle or a student playing scales on the piano. One practices an activity repeatedly, learning by rote, until one becomes proficient. Rehearsal, on the other hand, is a spontaneous, magical, inspiring endeavor that is full of the unexpected. Rehearsing is a process of finding your way into an experience that has yet to be realized. Rehearsal is a process of investigation and discovery. It begins by lightly sketching out what may eventually become a finished performance. “Finished performance,”by the way, is to be taken with a grain of salt, since every performance is only your most recent rehearsal.
Warm up. Perhaps, because speaking is such an everyday activity, voice actors assume that they are ready to perform at the drop of a hat with little or no preparation. In truth, many actors can render an adequate cold-reading of a script, but rarely can they get beyond adequate. It’s important to do a vocal warmup before you start your rehearsal process, and certainly before you step in front of the microphone. If you look at anyone at the top of his field, you will find that he has a preliminary ritual that allows him to perform at his best. Can you imagine a major league baseball pitcher climbing out of bed and going straight to the pitcher’s mound, expecting to throw 95 mph fastballs across the plate? Sure, if he doesn’t mind blowing out his shoulder in the first inning. Voice actors routinely step into the booth without warming up. They don’t blow out shoulders but they blow auditions without ever knowing why. If you take two expert voice actors of equal talent and give them the same script, the one with the better warm-up technique will book the audition. Yes, that’s how vital the warmup is. The warmup relaxes your vocal cords, wakes up your articulators, stimulates muscle memory, and opens your creative spirit. Your home studio is not just your workspace. It’s your Carnegie Hall. Go in prepared.
Immersion. If only for an instant, you are an actor the moment you immerse yourself in the world of “what if.”Like kids playing make-believe, all you have to do is pretend. Pretending is responding to imagined circumstances as if they are real. The rest is gathering experience as you go. Successfully immersing yourself in the world of make believe is what a rehearsal process leads to. Actors don’t step onto a movie set and just act as if they are in love. It takes a rehearsal process to discover the emotional attributers of love in the context of the script or scene. As a voice actor, you must delve into the questions that give you your existence in the script. What is the circumstance that provokes the words you’ve been given? Who are you talking to? What do you want them to do? What is your intention? How do you want them to feel? Immerse yourself fully in these questions and let your genuine response spill out of you. This is acting, plain and simple. The rest is gaining experience through doing it. Many voice actors express trepidation about learning acting. The good news is that learning acting is a methodical process in which most anyone can successfully engage and it’s a fulfilling, life-changing experience.
Performance. For many voice actors, the rehearsal process goes like this: Decide what the script should sound like, record a number of takes, play back the takes, and choose the one that best fits your preconceived idea about how the script should sound. This leads to a mechanical and empty performance, because “how it sounds” doesn’t contain any discovery. Again, that’s basically parroting a notion you have in your head. A successful performance makes the listener feel a particular way and provokes him to do take a specific action that is congruent with the actor’s (the script’s) intension. What distinguishes a performance from a rehearsal is the existence of an audience. In fact, for the actor, a performance is simply a rehearsal where you don’t get to redo anything and where the added dynamic of a living, breathing, thinking audience stimulates unexpected discoveries that show up in the work. Even if the actor is alone in his home studio, there is a point at which he or she must allow the heartbeat of the audience to be present.
Trust the process. Process is both the natural way a performance evolves —unencumbered by assumptions and self-consciousness—and the parameters by which you insure that your rehearsal is thorough. There is no one way to rehearse. There are only ways that work better for different people. One type of voiceover script may dictate a different rehearsal process than another, as is the case with movies and plays. The important thing is to honor the power of a rehearsal process and put it into practice. The worst that can happen is you book more auditions.
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Joan Baker is the author of "Secrets of Voiceover Success," and the winner of multiple Promax and Telly awards for commercial and documentary voiceover performances. She is an actor, voice actor, and teacher. Baker trains individuals and groups in the craft of voice acting and VO career management. She has written trade articles for Backstage, Adweek, Multichannel and Broadcast & Cable.
Rudy Gaskins, is an Emmy Award-winning creative director and branding expert. He launched Push Creative Advertising in 2001, after holding executive roles at Court TV and Food Network. His accounts span American Express, Tribeca Film Festival, Lexus and BET. Rudy has written, produced and directed hundreds of commercials, promos, and marketing campaigns and has directed documentaries for PBS.
Joan Baker and Rudy Gaskins are the co-founders of That’s Voiceover!, an annual career expo, and the creators of the newly formed Society of Voice Arts and Sciences and the Voice Arts Awards.
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