Finding the Truth in Our Voice

What makes a truly great performance? There are many elements, but I believe bringing our truth to the script is most important. Believability is paramount to the listener – but sometimes our body holds us back from telling the truth.

Finding and sharing our truth in a given script is a very humbling experience. We may find ourselves feeling emotions that we’ve buried, and start to worry about making a fool of ourselves in front of others. This can trigger anxiety, which can cause us to shut down.

Leave your baggage outside the studio.

Early on in my voice-acting career, I experienced so much performance anxiety; I would walk out of many auditions and bookings, feeling as though I’d been hit by a truck. My throat and body tightened up, my breathing was shallow and I sometimes found it hard to concentrate on what the director was saying.

Now, as a voice-over coach and demo producer, I see these same symptoms in my students. This isn’t healthy, and when it happens we can’t be giving our most truthful performance.

It’s fascinating when we realize that the desire to perform and be a voice actor can exist within us, even though we struggle with stage fright. This is because the root causes of anxiety go much deeper than our immediate fears of what may happen in an audition or booking.

Robin Christian-McNair, the voice, speech, and accent instructor in the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, said about finding the truth in our voice, “Training your voice for acting is as much about unlearning old habits as much as it is about acquiring new skills. As we grow up, we start having these physical places of holding.”

We can’t simply tell ourselves not to be anxious. Anyone who’s tried this knows what I’m talking about. Anxiety is an automatic response that happens when we find ourselves in situations we feel we can’t control. Its roots go way back to our youth. As children we are free – for a very short time – of the baggage that comes with being human; but, as the years go by we accumulate, or hold in our bodies, the pain, loss, disappointments and fears we experience from life.

Our task, as voice actors, is to learn to recognize when anxiety surfaces, and channel that energy into a moving performance. This is something many great actors have learned to do.

Here are some techniques for managing anxiety that have worked for me:

  1. Admit you are anxious. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.
  2. Start observing how anxiety affects your body. Jot down each and every physical sensation you experience after an audition or performance.
  3. Notice how your body reacts in day-to-day interactions and tense situations (like getting in an elevator, going to the doctor’s office, or in a confrontation).
  4. When you experience anxiety, stop and notice the physical sensations and make time to really think about the roots of your feelings. As Sanford Meisner once said, “Don’t go bigger; dig deeper.”
  5. Read up on how common performance anxiety is with many famous actors, and how they deal with it – you’ll be surprised at how common it is!
  6. Consider taking improv classes. Improv trains you to react instinctively, and as you progress you will learn to trust your gut and even enjoy taking risks!

The pursuit of the truth is a lifelong journey, and we will become better voice actors by letting go of what we’ve been holding onto over the years.

What if we could, day-by-day, just start leaving one piece of baggage by the roadside?

Check out our free PDF with pro-tips from real working voice-over actors here!

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