Being an actor means more than applying a set of skills, it’s about bringing who you are, what’s inside you, to your work.
To become a voice actor means first to become an actor.
But what does that mean? Is an actor someone who performs a checklist of actor-y things– who takes acting classes, reads acting books, hangs with other actors, auditions, mails send outs, things like that? Not necessarily. Becoming an actor is more than a mere collection of stereotyped activities, more than a checklist. It’s more than ambition, more than having a demo and an agent and a willingness to do what a director tells you to. It’s not just reading words off a page.
You can be doing all these things and not really be an actor, just like someone who owns a paintbrush and an easel who slaps paint on canvas isn’t necessarily a painter.
So, what is an actor?
An actor is fundamentally an artist– someone who breathes life in, digests it, and then exhales a performance that reflects that life with authenticity and honesty and immediacy.
Acting is part mirror and part invention that requires a direct tap on your inner self, your inner fullness. Acting isn’t a mere “skill” or expertise that anyone could learn. That’s why acting is not merely a skill, it’s an art.
And an artist needs fuel.
I’m not talking KFC or tabouli. I’m talking about an artist’s oxygen–what you take in from your life besides food– the things that move you, that ignite you, that piss you off, make you scream with laughter or brings you to tears. It’s the people in your life, that you work with and live with. It’s what and who you love, what you fear, what you abhor, what drives you out of your mind, delights you, miffs you, makes you feel good.
An artist must have this all “on tap” to bring anything real to your art.
The life that you take in is the raw material at the heart of your acting. It is the inner fuel that enables you to commit, to express with passion and honesty, to go all-in with your performing, to connect and find ideas that feel convincing and authentic.
And because this artistic fuel is finite, you must develop the habit of filling your fuel tank–and replenishing it.
Whatever fuels your artistic fires will be unique to who you are. It entails tapping into what you love, what turns you on, what freaks you out and excites you so you can take it in, digest it and then channel it back into your art.
This could mean reading, making music, art, sky diving, sculpting, star gazing, fishing or singing. It could be an athletic activity, a philanthropic enterprise, a person or group of people who bring out your best or your beast or your wild or your wacky. It could be a place, a poet, a pet, a religion, nature, a song. It is something that uniquely feed you.
I believe to be an actor you must be searching for this so you can find it, know it and grow it. It’s like a garden you must constantly cultivate. An actor’s job is not just to get work, it is also to cultivate and feed your inner artistic flame, your voices, your enthusiasm and passion, your sense of the absurdity and wonder of this life.
This is your actor’s mission, your eternal assignment: Seek out your own unique “life sources,” whatever and wherever they are, and make their intake and their enjoyment a part of your life-habit, in addition to doing the more obvious “actor things.”
No matter how unrelated to “acting” or “voice acting” it may seem, if it feeds you and fills you, it will always strengthen your art as well as your career.
Your artistic growth and career are founded on this over-flowing inner spring– your fuel. Without it, your words, your performance, and your art will be timid and malnourished and will fall flat.
Make a habit of refilling your “inner well” so you are always ready to give deeply, fully and all-out in your work.
I have never commented on an Internet article before. I have read your entire site front to back/back to front ( you told the reader to do so). I would like to thank you for the invaluable amount of information that your site provides. You could have easily written a book and charged for the information provided. You have presented complete and straight to the point educational material ( the meat and potatoes) regarding voice over work/acting. I greatly appreciate the honesty in regards to the fact that acting/voice over work while fun is serious work. You have made it clear that you if a person is not 100% dedicated then this is not the right proffesion to pursue. I hope that when you are able to you continue to add more topics/ information to educate your readers. The subject that stood out to me the most was the above discussed topic of “fuel” and how that relates to a performer. What you said was actually very beautiful and can be and should be applied to all aspects of life. Once again, I want to thank you. Not only are you an extremely talented and gifted performer but very selfless in sharing your knowledge with others.
…thank you for devoting so much of your time to writing up everything on this site!
Let’s say someone who is bullied / ostracized in life has developed an anxiety disorder around being around other people in fear of being humiliated, or verbally assaulted, so they don’t go out much to protect themselves, causing them to have a lack of social and life experience.
Wouldn’t this make it hard to succeed as a voice actor?
It’s hard for anyone to succeed as an actor. For some that’s a deal killer. Others don’t seem to mind the challenge or are encouraged by it.
Recently I attended an acting AUDIT and the instructor’s focus on acting is heavily centered on fun. This changed my perspective, but it also gave me insight. I do voices for fun, but when I tried acting and improv classes, I chose not to have fun which made me feel miserable. I saw acting as a “be better” kind of approach, but it robbed me of my joy. But now when I am part of a film group, I feel hesitant to start performing. Acting doesn’t feel fun anymore to me. Should I step back or find an acting class that is fun, or just give up this passion entirely?
I’d always rather do it than study it.
Classes are fine if they are constructive and enjoyable and bring tangible results and progress. But a classroom is a simulation of acting, not the real thing. The set up is different from a real audience or a gig.
Most voice actors didn’t become voice actors by taking a lot of classes. The path seems to usually be an amalgam of live audience performing and collaborative creating that leads to becoming an actor- perhaps with some refining or just showcasing in a class or workshop setting.
A few voice actors are fully conservatory trained actors. Most are informed by an eclectic string of performing experiences.
Whatever your path, I advise experimenting to find what benefits most and what is fun (though learning isn’t always pleasant, sometimes it’s a lot of hard work!).
I always had more fun and learned more from doing a play (learning from other actors), an open mic, stand up or whatever gig I could find that seemed fun, paid or not. Writing and performing with friends on stage, at a mall, at a cafe, a restaurant, on radio, podcasting, etc.
Ultimately, what you want acting to be may reveal as a different than your expectations. But you won’t know how that suit fits you until you try it on. You roll with the journey and find your way of doing it, that suits your talent and brings joy and meaning for you.