What stage acting, screen acting and voice acting have in common. Part 2 of 2.
Nov 29 2016
NOTE: This is the second post in a 2-part article. Click here to read part 1!
Once upon a time, before the age of microphones, singers had to make themselves heard. In a band setting, some (like Rudy Vallee) even resorted to using a megaphone. But along came Bing Crosby, who became famous for his ability to sing with a new form of expressivity, thanks to his using a microphone. However, they had one thing in common. They could sing.
Similarly, actors on stage, on screen and at a microphone all face differing arrays of challenges. But all three disciplines also have many factors in common.
Acting is acting. All three types of actors are working in an artificial situation. Whether on a stage, or isolated in a little room, or in a real setting with a camera in their face, they need to convey the appearance of reality in that situation. The stage actor must learn to ignore the audience, yet sometimes play off them. The film actor may need to create an audience – the person they’re speaking to might not even be in the room! And the voice actor needs to envision the listener (be it an audience or a character), so they are not, say, speaking words of love to just a pane of glass, foam wall, or the engineer.
Professionalism. There’s more to acting than “acting.” The actor should be able to take direction. And to do so without taking it personally. Actors need to show up on time and respect their peers, and it helps to be generous. They also need to conduct themselves as if they were a business. Because they are.
Flexibility and innovation. A director might ask a screen actor to deliver a scene in a variety of ways or invite the actor to explore. They’ll choose the best take. This happens perhaps even more frequently with a voice actor. Every voice actor should at least practice being able to deliver a line in three or more ways. Because sometime you might be asked to do it. But also because it enable you to find fresh approaches that can clinch an audition or grab a listener’s ear.
An audience. Another aspect of flexibility applies especially on the stage. While the lines in every performance remain the same, the audience does not. From night to night, and twice on Sunday, audience reaction may change. It may be due to weather, or the news of the day, or something about the actors’ pacing (etc.), or just happenstance. In any case, while the stage actor in once sense creates a “fourth wall” in their mind to help themselves disregard the audience and inhabit their role, they also need to be sensitive to the energy the audience provides. They should be able to use it, or take into account when that energy is weak.
But in a sense, the screen and voice actor should be able to do this, too. The screen actor is not in a private situation, either, so they must be trained to focus on their role, yet draw from the situation. Only the voice actor might be truly alone, not having even an engineer, client or director present to feed off of. But with the right training and experience, they do — in their mind, and in the person or people who ultimately will hear them. Every actor has an audience.
Breath control and clarity of speech. To develop the fullness of speech typically required of stage acting, the stage actor needs at least a bit of training. The entire vocal and breathing apparatus are involved, to maximize vocal strength and range, to enable fuller and longer-lasting breaths, and speak with clarity. But screen and voice actors can also benefit from this, even if they don’t always use such techniques all the time or to such an extent. In voice acting, especially, the actor enjoys a bigger range of tools if they can draw from a wider range of pitch, speak a bit longer phrase without straining, or understand how to switch from a head voice to a chest voice – even reaching into their extremes – on a moment’s notice.
Practice and warm-up. It can go without saying that vocal practice and pre-performance warm-ups are helpful in all three disciplines. But especially on-stage and at the mic, a body warm-up is also important. The stage actor, of course, moves during the performance, but more significantly, limbering up the body helps relax the voice. Work with a coach on a specific exercise. And with the screen actor? It couldn’t hurt. It may even help get you out of “yourself,” and into character.
Posture and movement. As we noted above, screen actors move … just more subtly. A stage actor will not only move more largely, they will probably roam more widely. It’s a way of commanding attention. Their posture and body language also communicate as much as their words. And the same is true in voice acting. Your carriage affects not only your voice but also your attitude. Acting experience can help in this regard.
Improvisation. Also as we noted above, actors are expected to know their lines, and to speak them as written, at least unless given a freer rein. But things happen, and sometimes improvisation is even written into the script. What does a stage actor if he or she loses his glasses? Or someone forgets a line or bumps into the furniture? Or (as generally happens) if this evening’s audience responds differently than usual? What if a screen actor has a scene that says simply, “(They argue.)”? What if a voice-over director says, “Give me some caveman talk” or “We need background conversation.”? Your response must be, “Not a problem. Yes, I can.”
Directability. Whether you’re working with a director (as stage and screen actors do), or directing yourself (as voice talent often does), you must be able to take direction. That includes understanding the intent of that direction and accepting it as a constructive inspiration or challenge. Furthermore, if you’re directing yourself, it includes thinking like a director yourself – learn to switch hats and “hear” yourself as others do. Have you delivered the best performance you can? Are there alternative ways to make it different, or fresher? If an experienced director were with you, what would he or she say? Do that.
What might a director say? Ah, that’s where it helps to a have worked with one, or a variety of them, and a variety of coaches. In whatever type of acting that might be.