As an actor, few things are more important to your career than taking care of yourself. When you’re feeling good, energized, and are well rested, you’re better equipped to assess opportunities and give an audition your best shot. That said, actors who don’t have full access to their voices are at a disadvantage no matter how well they’ve prepared a monologue or evaluated a role. The following three tips will help keep your instrument in good working order for when you need it most.
1. Know your instrument. Do the roles you audition for reflect your vocal strengths? If you’re having less success than you hoped for, it’s time to take stock of where your natural abilities truly take flight. For example, you might be a great singer, but if you can’t dance like a star, auditioning for “West Side Story” is not likely going to end well. Knowing where your voice shines brightest and respecting your instrument only helps—especially when it comes to voice acting. Everyone has a vocal comfort zone, referred to in Italian as your “tessitura.” Venturing too far outside your tessitura may result in trouble down the road. Ever heard of the Bogart-Bacall Syndrome (Muscle Tension Dysphonia)? Legendary actors Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall quite enjoyed the lower ranges of their voices, indeed so much that over time, their instruments suffered. Don’t let this happen to you!
2. Respect its limits. Your voice has a range, and within that range resides your aforementioned vocal comfort zone, flanked on either side by both physical and artistic limitations. If you’ve played the piano, you know that the longer your fingers, the easier it may be to play. Similar to Bogart and Bacall, Robert Schumann, a 19th century romantic era composer and pianist, also sought to expand his reach, that is to say, literally extend his reach. Schumann attempted to do so through the aid of a device he created to help stretch his fingers. In addition to being a painful endeavor, the contraption ultimately crippled him as a concert pianist. The takeaway? Be grateful for the instrument you have and use it as it was intended to be used. Doing so will help prevent avoidable (and unfortunate) vocal issues.
3. Steer clear of vocal and respiratory irritants. While everyone knows that smoke, alcohol, and other substances have a tendency to affect your voice, who would have thought that sugar could be added to the list? Recently, I was at a recording studio in New York attending a Voices.com meet-and-greet. The good tea drinker that I am, there was always a cup at the ready, made just the way like it, multiple spoonfuls of sugar included. After speaking for prolonged periods of time, my voice became slightly hoarse and noticeably tired. A few days later, I returned for another meet-and-greet but was told that this time honey, and not sugar, was on the menu to sweeten my tea. I knew honey was better for me than sugar, but it wasn’t until I heard how much sugar negatively impacted my vocal performance that it hit home and I made the switch. This may not be the case for everyone, as no one person is the same (don’t get me started on dairy!), but for me, swapping granulated sugar for local, unpasteurized honey gave my voice a new lease on life and made talking that much easier.
Voice care is absolutely paramount for any actor. If you think about it, your voice is nearly half of your instrument! Save for a silent film revival, the “talkies,” and with that, your ability to speak comfortably and confidently, are here to stay. The human voice is so expressive and can be used in many ways. Using these tips and seeking other resources for taking care of your voice will put you on the right path.
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