Dee Bradley Baker's "All to Know About Going Pro in V.O."

Acting Exercise #1: Switch Up Your Read

A big part of being a good voice actor is both taking direction and proactively “switching up” your read on multiple takes– essentially directing yourself. This gives each take a fresh, distinct life or flavor.

This simple exercise works this skill. Here’s how it works:

Take a simple sentence. It can be anything. Let’s choose a command, for example:

“Go see who’s at the door.”

Now, perform the sentence over and over, each time applying the next line from the descriptive list below. As you’ll see, you can “flavor” your simple sentence in infinite ways.

Notice how it’s more interesting to “switch up” your read with a modified verb. E.g. “Building anger” or “explosive anger” is more specific and descriptive that just “angry.” It also yields a more interesting performance. This is part of why you should ask for specifics before reading your lines that have no stage direction or context. Specificity is key.

Also, you can choose to add extra to the script: “pre-life” or repeated words, for example. You might choose to read it, “Go! –go see who’s at the door,” or “Just…(inhale then resigned sigh), go see who’s at the door.” You can perhaps add breathing, a chuckle, a growl, a mouth click, hesitation, etc. before, during or after the line. It’s all fair game to add if it fits the script– unless they insist they just want it “as written.” A writer or writing team may have spent months crafting their script and may resist anyone “improving” on their work. Sometimes, a little pushback on your part is still not a bad thing and may show them a new angle on their script that is better than they thought it could be. Give them maybe two as written then sneak in one with your idea on the third take. Variety is the spice of acting.

In any case, this “switch up” is an important acting skill- the ability to vary your performance- it’s energy, it’s pace, it’s intent, when asked– and even when not asked. There are many ways to fulfill your character’s role in the scene and you actively help find this in your takes. You are creatively engaged in bringing these words to life. This is what an acting pro should bring to the table

An actor’s work is fundamentally creative, playful and inventive. Each time you read that sentence, it’s like a little experiment that you switch up until it feels right, or at least leave them with a few enticing choices to choose from.

If you only read your copy three times the same way, you’re sunk. If you aren’t able to veer from your original idea when directed to, you are also sunk. Don’t give the “robot read!” Play with it! (Improv experience is great training for this kind of thing!)

Note that some directions are either vague or open to interpretation or just confusing. This happens in real life! Just try whatever strikes you! If there is little or no direction, you must pick up the slack!

The exercise:

Try picking different sentences from any of the practice monologues I’ve posted and try it. Have fun!

Suspicious     grim     cheerful     diabolical intent     tentative     ready to attack

Building anger    lethargic w/ headache     “Terminator”      miffed     delighted

Winded     slightly hung-over     sense of wonder     barking an order    flirty

calm      beside yourself     dawning realization     pleading     aristocratic

bombastic    mildly fearful     wildly fearful     resigned     brightening

dainty     condescending     wistfully nostalgic     trying to contain a snigger

heroic     at the end of your rope     Deathly ill     spiritual     loutish

measured annoyance      befuddled     reaching for comprehension     drawl

smitten     sleep deprived     utterly idiotic    put upon     back woods     primitive

disgusted       car salesman     completely moronic     crafty fair weather friend

deflated     relieved     well-rested     obedient half-wit     scheming crony     helium

dawning sense of horror     hopeful wisdom     grasping at straws     preoccupied     

Any one of these can be further crafted by varying the pace. For instance:

a bit faster     a bit slower     stumbling read     fast as you can     etc.

You can also further color the acting of your sentence with accents or regionalisms:

mid-western, New York, Western, British, French, German, Southern, Aussie, New England, Chicago, Russian, etc.

The main idea is to purposefully play with underlying meaning and intent of the words you are given. You are actively serving the script with your choices, so it’s not arbitrary. It’s intentional. That is fundamentally an actor’s job.

Practice actively switching up your ideas and it will pay off in your auditions and work. This is another reason why good improv training is always a great idea for an aspiring actor.

2 Responses »

  1. Thank you for taking the time to write all of this out. As a result of your awesome site, I’m practicing reading aloud daily and I’ve also signed up for a 6-week improv course. In addition, I’ve got my first singing lesson coming up on Monday. I’ve used the information you have provided to decide upon very clear goals and objectives for the beginning stage of my VO career. As they say in Lithuania, I’m picking up what you’re putting down.

    PS – They may or may not actually say that In Lithuania.

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