Does Improvisation Make
You More YOU In Voice Over?
By Rebecca Haugh
Voice Actor & Improv Coach
Most people in voice over know that improvisation is an important skill for their success. My main point about learning improv is that it helps you be more you.
There are a variety of benefits we get from improv in addition, but I believe this is the 'gold.
Why is 'be more you' important?
Most VO coaches and teachers and agents will tell you that in a class or webinar. I've heard it hundreds of times, and now say it, too. And it's true!
If you don't understand why "being more you" is the bottom line, you are probably either new to voice over or a naturally-born great actor doing it instinctively!
PUT AUTHENTIC YOU IN THE SCRIPT
The importance of "be more you": The people hiring you want to hear the alliance of authenticity plus the meaning of the scripted words, as intended, come through your voice.
This is why I say you are "performing" a script, not reading it.
The difficulty for voice actors is nailing that alliance in a natural way with words that we don't naturally use in conversation. Oh yeah. That!
What does 'be more you' mean for voice acting, then? The short answer is, you are performing a script as if it were real words you just thought of, as if in a conversation.
Authentic. Believable. Natural.
Isn't that what you already do when you read a script aloud? You'll have to answer that question for yourself.
Some think their answer is 'yes.' Are they being hired again and again and making a living at voice over?
Some think the answer is 'no.. That when you read aloud you are not speaking as if you are in conversation, naturally. You might sound clear, articulate, with some emotion.
But in the majority of cases, I believe reading aloud is different than excellent natural acting. For me, and many other high level voice actors, the target is personal authenticity aligned with the intended meaning of the script coming through your voice.
IMPROV IMPROVES ACTING
Acting is a skill. So is improvising.
And when I read the books of Amy Poehler and Tina Fey, I believed them when they said that improv made them either better actors or helped them actually act.
Improvisation is a bridge to better acting. I believe this.
Acting, as defined by Meisner is "living truthfully under imaginary circumstances."
After studying hard, with some struggle, I found golden moments while studying Meisner in Hollywood back when I lived there. I felt that 'knowing' feeling of living truthfully while pretending under imaginary circumstances.
You learn to tap into your instincts, your gut, your whole life experience to play pretend with someone else's words.
For me though, I found that process difficult and slow, and sometimes even emotionally painful. It was also expensive, and didn't seem to work as much with voice over.
I think Amy and Tina had an outstanding point. In my own words, I think improv helps you put your life experience into your skills as an actor, or voice actor, if you are willing. Just like Meisner, but easier, and usually more fun.
BRING YOUR LIFE TO IMPROV
I think improv is the way to find the alliance of authentic and scripted meaning for VO.
Rather than simply following the adage for voices actors that says "picture you are talking to XYZ friend/family member/loved one," improv gives you a strong foundation to create that imaginary circumstance.
And improv lets you use your life experience and interests to do that. Even if it does take practice getting good at it. It's fun!
Are you into knitting, or rebuilding engines, or bar tending when you have guests?
Do you spend time playing video games or reading history or playing with your kids?
All of this is beneficial within improvisation. You bring your life to improv and play with things you love. And that, my friends, helps you bring your life - YOU - to voice acting.
IMPROV: FREEDOM AND PLAY
You can jump into improv with thrill and gusto, knowing everything you have ever experienced can be used in it!
That, friends, lets you then apply improv freedom to the structure of a script. For some, this means a sense of freedom, and of play.
Great! Wait - hang on.
For others, it's a bit scary because it's like uncomfortably exposing the real you to the world!!!
Or it feels that way. You worry: What if the real you isn't interesting enough, or not good enough? What if they think you are weird? What if...
OVERCOMING IMPROV FEAR
Fear scares a lot of people away from improv. In these cases, you need to begin your improv journey in a safe space with a group leader who understands and teaches you to push, but not break your comfort zone.
Learning a new skill as adults can sometimes make a person feel vulnerable or uneasy when thinking approval from others is needed.
The people in your training and the teacher's strength to guide can make a big difference.
You will be asked to stretch and pull at your comfort zone in expressing yourself, when led by a good improv teacher.
GIVE IT A SHOT
Don't let fear stop you! Do a little research about where you want to study improv, and give it a shot. Passion from your life experience can be very contagious and uplifting for all!
Your own unique view will add new perspectives to improv scene work that cannot be duplicated by anyone else when you are truly authentic. Your unique points of view will always add good flavor to the improv meal.
And that, my friends, leveraged to your voice over scripts, will have "you being MORE you."
There's always a little more to this, and you do need to know your VO basics in tech, microphone proximity usage, and script analysis to know the writer's intent. I suggest you learn all that first.
And then when you are primed, embrace the opportunity and the fear, and learn improv.
Rebecca Haugh - aka Love that Rebecca - is a full-time voice actor working from her professional studio affectionately known as "the padded room." With a love of improv, she founded LoveThatImproVO in 2013 as the online training center for voice actors to learn and practice improvisation - and how to apply it to voice over. "For me," she says, "improv is many things - sparking creativity, making the neurons and synapses to fire in my brain differently, feeling and embracing the risk, getting thrilled by the wild abandon and scaling to new heights!" Sometimes, she adds, that includes "overcoming barriers and making discoveries about acting. And it always includes putting it all back into the beautiful work created with voice." Prior to voice acting, Rebecca appeared on stage in regional comedy theater in California, and on-camera as an actress and host for television, indie film, and commercials.
Web (VO): https://www.lovethatrebecca.com
Web (Improv training & community): https://www.lovethatimprovo.com
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