B is for ...
As actors we use our bodies to express our mood, our thoughts and emotions - and of course the essence of the character we're playing. Gesture, posture, the way you walk, the speed of your general movement is a powerful way of expressing yourself. The way you use your body speaks volumes to the observer showing your age, your personality and even your outlook on life without you having to speak a word. The way the body works is an essential part of character creation - let's face it, Charlie Chaplin's whole career was linked to his unique walk.
We are all increasingly aware of the value of exercise and keeping fit and while many of us are interested in improving our physical appearance and stamina, traditional keep fit and gym training doesn't necessarily give us the kind of workout and body training that fulfills our needs as performers - needs which are quite different from the kind of physicality needed to be an athlete.
For an actor the emphasis is on flexibility, stamina, expressiveness, characterisation, on motivated movement with purpose as well as on posture, relaxation, stillness and control. But what relevance has this for a voice actor?
An actor’s body is on show and under scrutiny and unless the intention is to draw attention to a character’s particular physical attributes, then the ability to move in an easy and fluid way that doesn’t distract the audience’s eye is a valuable attribute. An actor needs to develop a healthy body and maintain it in good working order - a actor's body needs to have an extraordinary level of control and stillness and be flexible and expressive. For an actor, any exercise regime is targeted on a different set of goals than simply gaining strength or losing weight; strength and stamina are obviously important; acting can be physically challenging – dancing and fighting occur in a great many plays and films! Movement training for an actor will normally include dance (incorporating period dance), gesture, fencing, stage fighting and tumbling.
Dancing, fencing and tumbling have no immediate relevance to voice acting; indeed you may wonder whether 'the body' and its fitness and flexibility has anything at all to do with voice acting. When you're in a small padded room in front of a microphone, you can't move around very much, you can't gesture and no one can see your posture or the physicality of your character.
However - especially for long form narration, stamina is vital - so is the reduction of physical stress which affects the voice, so body training and awareness combined with specialist forms of movement and relaxation such as the Alexander Technique and the Laban method are relevant and play a significant role in a regime that helps to build stamina, good breath control and vocal flexibility - all vital requirements for voice actors.
Your body is part of your vocal equipment and you owe it to yourself to stay generally in as good a shape as you can manage. Being generally fit is a great blessing and an asset to all performers and aids stamina and the ability to breathe properly.
Let's delve a little deeper. . .
The narrator's view
Image by Shutterstock
Voice Over Auditions
These days, almost all voice actors across all genres of voice work, record auditions remotely and upload them to clients, studios, producers, directors or clients. I know of very few voice actors (voiceovers, narrators, voice talent, recording artists, voice artists - take your pick regarding what you want to be called) who don't have access to some method of recording an audio audition to send to a prospective client more or less instantly. I know of people who have successfully landed a job from a read recorded on their mobile phone and I know voice actors whose personal recording facilities rival many a professional studio.
There are exceptions to this way of working, though not often. However, some audiobook producers and production studios in UK studios still invite actors into their studio to do a sight reading before casting. The drawback of this is obvious ... especially to those of us living outside of London; thankfully there is usually some flexibility and narrators are given the option of recording their sight reading and share it over the internet.
This ability to record remotely and send an audition or a sample read directly via the internet to a client, or agent, or online casting site or producer or publisher has fundamentally change the way we work and look for work. Because it's comparatively quick and easy to record and upload your thirty second read, the temptation is to submit for every job going - a kind of knee jerk reaction - without really thinking about whether you stand a chance of getting it, whether your read is showing you to your best advantage - whether you're playing to your strengths and whether you really WANT the job.
In my opinion ... this kind of auditioning frenzy - pile em high and hope (that simply based on the law of averages) one of those reads will result in a job, is counter-productive and even damaging to your professional reputation.
Don't audition for practice ... practice in order to audition!
A is for AUDITIONS - Face to Face Casting sessions
"You only get one chance to make a good first impression. Make it count"
I would add to Johnny's excellent advice that you need to not only be choosy about the jobs you go for, but you also need to be ready and properly prepared.
You'll save yourself a lot of heartache, stress, and feelings of rejection and doubt if you concentrate on always playing to your strengths and if don't waste your time in auditioning for jobs that don't really interest you or that you don't stand a cat in hell's chance of actually getting. Of course you want to stretch yourself, to take on new and challenging projects ... but an audition studio is not the place to try out something new or to experiment with new genres. Really it isn't!
If you follow a lot of the online advice regarding acting, voice acting, auditions, success and applying for jobs, you might get the impression that all you need to do in order to gain success and recognition is just to want it enough. There is a lot of propaganda floating around that seems to imply that all you need to do in order to succeed is:
A: A firm belief that you can do it
B: To register for lots of coaching or classes
C: Record a voice reel (often 'the carrot' offered free that pulls you in and encourages you to enrol on the course) D: To work really really hard,
E: Do lots and lots of auditions and just keep on believing!
No mention of talent or even an interest in a particular job - but I digress.
I've divided this article into two sections - live face to face auditions first, then recorded auditions for voice overs.
Back to auditions . . . firstly ... live, face to face casting and auditions.
A is for ... Acting
A is for ... Accents
WHAT IS AN ACCENT?
The term 'accent' describes the combination of pitch, stresses and rhythm of someone's everyday speech, as well as how they pronounce their vowels and consonants. Everyone has an accent. You speak with an accent even if you speak like all the people around you and even if you speak modern (or traditional) received pronunciation; defined as: “the regionally neutral, prestige accent of British English",
An accent is not, strictly speaking, the same thing as a dialect though they are often confused and it is difficult to imagine a dialect that is not associated with an accent. Strictly speaking the definition of a dialect is:
‘A dialect (or patois) is a particular form of language which is peculiar to a specific region or social group.’"
Everyone has an accent to a lesser or greater degree – no matter in what language they are speaking; French with a Parisian accent is very different from French as spoken in the Marseilles, Catalonian Spanish is different from Andalucian Spanish; The American of the Deep South is very different from the accent of the New York suburbs … and so it is the whole world over.
Even the classic neutral voice as heard in news bulletins and documentary narrations, in theatres and on radio in every country in the world, is in itself a kind of ‘accent’.
We are all judged to some degree by our accent. Some judgements are positive, others less so. Certain accents are seen as more 'authentic' than others - but surely, your voice is your voice. Or are are we all naturally bilingual?
Listen to a child playing with their friends - they will almost certainly speak differently in the playground than they will when speaking with their parents or grandparents. I did when I was a youngster - my Northern flat 'A' 'bath' and 'path' with my friends, 'bahth' and 'pahth' at home. Both are my 'authentic' voice - I am not putting on either - it just depends who I am speaking to - and because of the kind of work I do - the neutral RP voice is the one I use most, though not exclusively..
'A' is for Accuracy
An Actor's Voice
I am so grateful for the in-depth voice training that I received when I was at Drama School from some of the best voice teachers in the UK. The lessons I learned then have stood me in good stead over a career spanning almost fifty years. Through two years' of daily voice classes together with singing classes, I learned to use my voice effectively and safely and thanks to preparing carefully every day, doing a vocal warm up before recording, and generally taking care of my voice, my pipes are still in good working order and are earning their keep!
In addition to that formal voice training all those years ago, I have learned so much from voice coaches, directors, fellow actors and narrators over the years and I'd like to share some of that knowledge. Hence this blog which I hope will be useful to fellow actors (both voice actors and stage actors), public speakers, and indeed, anyone who speaks in public or into a microphone.
So ... I'll be covering all the basics of vocal training and using the voice in performance - starting with the letter 'A'. So I'll be looking at Accents (how and when to use them, how much is too much?); Accuracy (why accuracy is important both in writing and reading); Acting - in particular how to use your voice effectively - and why muttering is not acceptable); Also ... Adaptability; Ambition; Articulation; Audio; Audibooks. and what appears to be the latest buzz-word Authenticity.
I hope you'll join me over the coming weeks.
Photo Credit: Paul Haynes
I've gleaned quite a lot of knowledge over the years, knowledge that might be of interest to others, especially authors, actors and voice actors. Because I read so much, for pleasure and professionally, I also occasionally write reviews of what I read - so they're here too.
My opinions are mine and my views are my own!