When to choose an acting teacher. And how. Part 1 of 2.
Jan 12 2017
NOTE: This is the first post in a 2-part article. Click here to read part 2!
As we’ve written before, much of voice-over involves acting. Feeling at ease as a voice actor helps with all sorts of things in a voice-over performance — from sounding genuine, to widening your range of voicing techniques. So, when and how should you find yourself an acting teacher or class?
When? If you’ve just gotta act, you’ll know when the time is right.
Otherwise, if you’re aiming at a voice-over career, first focus on that.
Learn and hone VO skills. That will help assure you won’t later have to unlearn acting habits that may be wrong for voice-over. It will also leave you more time for creating your demo and building your business. And it will give you the perspective necessary for choosing the sort of acting course you want to follow.
But let’s assume you’re well along in that, and the time is right — you want to learn more about acting, or maybe your VO coach has suggested it. What now?
Some types of acting relate more directly to voice-over. In particular, screen acting is more like working at the mic than stage acting is. But even more important – as far as actor training is concerned – is how you relate to the acting course, and how the teacher’s approach to acting relates to you. Furthermore, acting experience provides you with more than “just” a performance technique. Acting also teaches you confidence, range, and powers of observation. All these things are important in voice acting.
So, for the rest of this article, we’re talking about Acting with a capital A, not just acting for VO.
If you have no acting experience (e.g., not even in high school or college), we suggest you first take a few introductory lessons.
In an introductory setting, you’ll see how other students approach acting, get a sense of their dedication level, see how you compare (are you a natural or do you need a technique?), and get a feel for acting instruction. This class or series might be a simple “introduction to acting” adult-education course at your local college, or it might be a course or series taken by more “serious” acting students who are planning to go much further than you into the acting discipline. Some people in an entry level class might have some sort of acting experience, others may not.
But look around — there are all kinds of acting courses, and at this point some will be better suited to you than others. You didn’t become a voice-over professional simply because a friend said something like, “You should do commercials,” and then you chose the first VO coach you came across. No, you probably checked out your options and took a course like our Investigate Voice-Over class. Then you identified a possible objective, and found a coach (or coaches) that related to you and that objective.
The same with an intro to acting.
When looking for an acting intro course, things to consider:
- Choose a course aimed at serious actors. It is better to be surrounded by people who actually want to learn acting, not folks who are taking the course just for something to do. As with tennis – you benefit from playing with someone a bit better than you, but not so advanced that the teacher and fellow students are doing things you’re not prepared to handle. There are exceptions. In fact, because in some voice-over jobs you might be called upon to work with a performer who is less skilled than you, it can be useful to know how to take up the slack. But ideally, you want fellow students who plan to continue their acting education and take performance seriously, even if they are actors only part-time.
- While almost any introduction to acting is better than none, look for the course that best suits you. Talk with the instructor not just about what the class(es) consist of, but also his or her instruction method, the other students’ goals, and yours. How will you fit in?
- Although the first few lessons might consist more of warmups and lecture, you should be assured of some performance time, the more the better (assuming it also includes evaluation and direction). You can read and listen to acting theory, but there is no substitute for performing and feeling the role.
- Ideally, performance should be with others, not a monologue. (By “monologue,” we mean lines ordinarily spoken to another character; we don’t mean a soliloquy, which is the expression of “inner thoughts.”) While any acting experience should be an interesting challenge, a monologue is, traditionally, the last thing to tackle as in the craft of acting. (When ready for an actual gig, the monologue is often how an actor auditions.)
The significance of this issue depends on the individual, and the training technique, but some actors work much more easily when speaking (and reacting) to another person, rather than delivering lines to a spot on the wall. In fact, reaction and stimulation are core tenets of some acting techniques.
(There’s some irony in what we’ve just said, because most voice-over work is solo, and if you’re recording at home, you’re probably even self-directing. So being able to effectively deliver monologues is important, as it is for any actor. But for learning to act, you’ll probably have a much easier time bouncing yourself off others.)
- At the introductory level, everything else being equal, acting is acting. Learn what you can, as best you can, and most efficiently. But, if you have a choice between two equally great courses and equally great teachers, consider the on-camera course first. Screen acting is more analogous to voice-over technique than is stage-acting. (We mean screen acting where the camera and mic are in your face, not live TV-camera work such as newscasting.)
- Ask if you can audit a class or two before enrolling. You probably won’t get performance time, but you’ll get a sense of these other factors. If auditing is not available (a really popular coach or studio would be overwhelmed by auditors), maybe you can pay for just the first lesson or two before making a longer commitment. Some teachers think that charging for an evaluation audit is unprofessional. But that is not necessarily the case, and if it tells you what you need to know, it may be worth it.
Finding introductory acting courses:
How to find such a course? No one approach to acting is right for everyone, and chemistry between student and teacher is important. Since your VO coach knows what makes you tick, they’re a logical place to start. He or she might even teach acting or improv, and probably will know some classes or courses to recommend. You may also have some friends who could recommend a class, teacher or studio, but debrief them and check things out for yourself. Your voice-over coach might have a better understanding of you in terms of your learning process, and a broader perspective on the educational options.
Now that we’ve mentioned improv, let us add that it is another great option for strengthening and honing your VO skills. Acting and improv are not mutually exclusive, but they’re not the same. Budget and schedule permitting, you could easily benefit from both.