Most people in voiceover know that improvisation is an important skill for their success. My main point about learning improv, is that it helps you be more you. There are a variety of benefits we get from improv in addition, but I believe this is the ‘gold’.
Why is ‘be more you’ important?
Most VO coaches and teachers and agents will tell you this in a class or webinar. I’ve heard it hundreds of times, and now say it. And it’s true! If you don’t understand why “being more you” is bottom line, you are probably either new to voiceover or a naturally born great actor doing it instinctively!
The importance of “be more you”: The people hiring you want to hear the alliance of authenticity plus the meaning of the scripted words, as intended, come through your voice.
This is why I say you are “performing” a script, not reading it. The difficulty for voice actors is nailing that alliance in a natural way with words we don’t naturally use in conversation. Oh yeah. That!
What does ‘be more you‘ mean for voice acting, then?
The short answer is, you perform a script as if it were real words you just thought of, like in conversation. Authentic. Believable. Natural.
Isn’t that what you already do when you read a script aloud?
You’ll have to answer that question for yourself. Some think their answer is ‘yes’. Are they being hired again and again and making a living at voice over?
Some think the answer is ‘no’. That when you read aloud you are not speaking as if you are in conversation, naturally. You might sound clear, articulate, with some emotion. But in the majority of cases I believe reading aloud is different than excellent natural acting.
For me, and many other high level voice actors, the target is personal authenticity aligned with the intended meaning of the script coming through your voice. Acting is a skill. So is improvising. And when I read the books of Amy Poehler and Tina Fey, I believed them when they said that improv made them either better actors or helped them actually act.
Improvisation is a door opening to ‘be more you’ when acting.
I believe this. Acting, as defined by Meisner is, “living truthfully under imaginary circumstances”. After studying hard, with some struggle, I found some golden moments while studying Meisner in Hollywood back when I lived there. I felt that ‘knowing’ feeling of living truthfully while pretending under imaginary circumstances. You learn to tap into your instincts, your gut, your whole life experience to play pretend with someone else’s words.
For me though, I found that process difficult and slow, and sometimes even emotionally painful. It was also expensive, and didn’t seem to work as much with voiceover. I think Amy and Tina had an outstanding point. In my own words, I think improv helps you put your life experience into your skills as an actor, or voice actor, if you are willing. Just like Meisner, but easier, and usually more fun.
I think improv is the way to find the alliance of authentic and scripted meaning for VO.
Rather than simply following the adage for voices actors which says “picture your are talking to XYZ friend/family member/loved one”, improv gives you a strong foundation to create that imaginary circumstance. And, improv lets you use your life experience and interests to do that. Even if it does take practice getting good at it. It’s fun!
Are you into knitting, or rebuilding engines, or bar tending when you have guests? Do you spend time playing video games or reading history or playing with your kids? All of this is beneficial within improvisation. You bring your life to improv and play with things you love. And that, my friends, helps you bring your life – YOU – to voice acting. Jump into improv with the thrill and gusto of knowing everything you ever experienced can be used in it!
That, friends, let’s you then apply improv freedom to the structure of a script.
For some, this means a sense of freedom, and of play. Great! Wait – hang on. For others, it’s a bit scary because it’s like uncomfortably exposing the real you to the world. Or feels that way. What if the real you isn’t interesting enough, or not good enough? What if they think you are weird? What if…
Fear scares a lot of people away from improv.
In these cases of fear, you need to begin your improv journey in a safe space with a group leader who understands and teaches you to push but not break your comfort zone. Adults learning new skills sometimes feel vulnerable or uneasy, thinking approval from others is needed. The people in your training and the teacher’s strength to guide can make a big difference. You will be asked to stretch and pull at your comfort zone in expressing yourself, when led by a good improv teacher. Don’t let fear stop you. Do a little research about where you want to study improv, and give it a shot.
Passion from your life experience can be very contagious and uplifting for all! By sharing it, you add new perspectives to improv scenes that cannot be duplicated by anyone else when you are truly authentic. Your unique points of view will always add good flavor to the improv meal! And that, my friends, leveraged to your voiceover scripts, will have “you being MORE you”.
There’s always a little more to this, and you do need to know your VO basics in tech, microphone proximity usage, and script analysis to know the writer’s intent. I suggest you learn all that first.