Developing strong technique – the ability to connect to and vividly interpret scripts, then perform authentically and in the moment – is what it’s all about. Whether for stage, screen or mic, dialogue or copy, you must have an objective and propel a narrative. When it comes to voice-over, because scripts are mostly copy delivering a message, and not partner dialogue designed to move a scene, there are specific techniques that will help you do it effectively and consistently. Over the years as a coach, I have come up with little sayings and metaphors to help students connect better and improve their performances. Here are some of them:
You’ve got to care and can’t wait to share. Never forget that you are a storyteller, and every storyteller speaks from a place of caring with the deep need to share their anecdote. If you can believe the importance of and interest in the script’s subject, you are well on your way.
If you don’t get the joke you won’t get the job. Copywriting is a layered and nuanced art, and while scripts may often seem relatively simple on the surface, the actor always has to intuit what may be going on that is subtler or more contextualized. Most scripts (the good ones, anyway) employ conceits like word play, puns, metaphors and the like – the way a good storyteller does to layer their stories – that must not be missed in the reading. Because even a great read on the surface which misses these subtleties will not be considered for the booking.
Learn to play without a net, you won’t fall to your death. What is your objective and what is at stake if you don’t achieve it? The biggest mistake nascent talents make is putting too much pressure on themselves over the wrong things. If you don’t nail the read and book the job, it’s not the end of the world. But if you’re so preoccupied with not failing that you fail to be in the moment, make strong choices that necessitate taking risks and then tell an authentic story, you’ll never book the job. So, lose yourself in the moment, create ‘real’ stakes in the objective to be achieved in the script, and do not focus on the ‘real life’ stakes of not getting the gig. Remember, there are always new auditions and treasures to be mined right around the corner.
Listen to what you are saying, not how you are saying it. If you focus on what is happening in the script and not on how to say each word in it, you will have a much more authentic and consistent connection.
See what you’re saying, visualize it. When you read a book, if you are not instantly transported off the page to another world in your mind, you won’t read that book for long. Similarly, if you don’t connect visually and viscerally with the script you are reading, people listening to you won’t either. So, whether the script is rich with illustrious details or not, use your imagination to bring the words off the page into three-dimensional, full color images. When they connect with you that vividly you can convey them that way in the read.
Play with rhythm, play with space; play with timing, play with pace. Grammar and punctuation exist for the written word, not the spoken word. We don’t speak in complete sentences, so don’t feel compelled to follow every period and comma in a script. Effective communication is often the result of speaking with unusual and unexpected rhythms, beats and pace. That also means often adding your own punctuation where none is written.
You gotta have skin in the game. Dispassion is the enemy of a good read. Whether the subject matter is something you like or hate, know intimately or not at all, you have got to be all in on it. That should not be confused with being overly demonstrative or energetic, but you need to come at each script with a perspective that is meaningful and gets your creative juices flowing. The more fertile your imagination the better, and one way to get there is to make the story personal to you.
Try implementing some of these ideas in the exploration of new scripts. The more you connect, the more fun you will have. And, the more fun you have, the better you will get. So, go have fun!
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Alan Schwartz is a nationally recognized voice over talent who has served as the voice for Sprite, Verizon, Smirnoff Ice, and “Alex” from the Mac Operating System, among others. You can find more of his work at ajsvoiceover.com.