Bringing Your Read to Life
Don’t just read the words. Wield them!
The voice actor as chef
A voice actor is a specialized chef who creates made-to-order plates of irresistible food. Each meal (audition) is crafted to unique specifications and each order calls for unique seasonings applied with an artist’s vision and intent.
The best chef will create a dish that pleases their own palette, while also (and especially) the palette of the customer. Both are important to the task at hand.
A professional voice over chef isn’t serving a meal from a can. They are tailoring an edible work of art for the ears and mind.
Voice acting is more cooking than baking. Baking is all about following the exact recipe. Cooking, like VO, is freer, more improvisational.
To use another comparison, voice acting is more Thelonius Monk than Mozart.
Back to the kitchen: Most voice actors auditioning from home may not realize that they have a cupboard of seasoning at their disposal to bring their auditions to life. Many have been making the same, monotonous bland dish without realizing that but a few sprinkles of seasoning can awaken a life to their read.
With cooking, you have the polarities of sweet, salty, bitter and sour (okay, five if you count “umami”). If you add but one of these to counter a dish dominated by one of the others, you can awaken and transform a flat or boring taste into a delicious and engaging one. It can be a simple addition that yields a profound transformation.
So too, we voice actors must have a cupboard of seasoning at our disposal to make our reads come to life- to artfully deviate from the recipe to bring it all to life, so to speak.
Here are some of some of the main seasonings at your disposal:
Elements of Choice for Voice Acting:
It’s rarely one note or one level that brings a sentence or a story to life. A less advanced auditioner may not grasp why their auditions feel flat or dead or blah. I want to offer a possible explanation: You need to add seasoning.
To free your read from being predictable, flat, generic or monotone, reach for that creative shelf inside you and explore applying these always-available acting modifiers:
Beyond the words on the page, vary your read by selectively adding, changing or switching up:
pre-life, laughter, sighs, hesitation, etc.
repeating words, stuttering
improvising (if appropriate)
vary word of emphasis
Sound level or “presence”
Who are you talking to and at what distance?
Any action or environmental elements to accommodate/incorporate?
Is performance fully extended/energized for scene/blocking?
wind up- a quicker escalation that pays off w/ a physicalization or other “topper” event
incorporate the script’s scene direction or implied action, physicalization
(i.e. vocalize what is happening. What is the blocking or movement?)
Changing or exploring variation of intent
(What are you trying to get, accomplish or change? What do you want?)
Switchsubtext, innuendo, implication
Apply a new adjective subtext or tone
Transition from one adjective subtext to a different one
“The turn”- (an unexpected 180 degree flip of tone to pay off a joke)
Modify the character:
Accent or dialect
placement or focus in mouth/throat/nose
Change relationship to the scene partner
Dial in an impression or other character reference, pop culture reference
These are all elements of choice that you can apply to your well-tuned imagination, that has hopefully provided you a lucid lock on the idea, the image and tone of what might work when you set about rendering the words on the page in front of you into life.
“The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.”
© Dee Bradley Baker 2023