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The Night Before Christmas

Sometimes the best way to find 'the right voice' for a character or commercial or even in narration, is to not try to create one, but rather to start talking and see what comes out naturally. You may be pleasantly surprised!

Maybe all we need is already inside of us, based on people in our lives who have made impressions on us, even if we aren't fully aware of them. If we loosen up a bit and believe that the right voice will show up, we will at least have an initial starting point. For me, I need to not overthink things so much.

I made the shortlist this week for an audition contest through The Voice Actors Studio in Las Vegas. I am not an audiobook narrator, as many are who are in VO, so I really didn't think that I had much of a shot at being the top narrator or even a runner-up. I have just now started dipping my toe into the world of characters and making up voices to go with personalities.

The script that we were reading was a 30 second version of The Night Before Christmas, that famous poem penned by Clement Clarke Moore as far back as 1837. I actually had read one stanza of this poem a year ago in a TVAS class. It was a lot of fun, but by just reading one little part, I really couldn't get into the swing and sway of the story of the poem.

And even though the script I was to voice this time was not the full version either, by reading for 30 seconds on my own, I was able to get a 'feel' for where I was going with the read.

What surprised me as soon as I started reading the script at the mic, was that the 'voice' that came out of me, was my dad's! Not that my voice was a match for his, but the timbre, tone, pacing and volume sure were. And I hadn't heard him read this poem outloud for many years. Okay... decades! The annual Christmas Eve reading of The Night Before Christmas was a time honored tradition in my house as a youngster, with my siblings and I fighting over who's bed got to host all of us as we found cozy, comfy spots for listening that particular year. It was so important to us, in fact, that I still have the copy of the book my dad would read to us, kept safe and sound, all these many years.

I had a coaching session one time with a very successful character voice actor, where we spent the entire time just talking about character development and where to find inspiration for characters. I had heard that some people find inspiration from not only people who they might encounter as they go about their day or by watching TV or listening to the radio, but also from their family and close friends. I thought that might make me feel like I was making fun of them or in some way being disrespectful, especially if they ever figured out who I had based my character on! He had reassured me that 1) they would most likely never figure it out and 2) it was actually a compliment that I was even thinking about them at all! In the limited time I have worked on character development in voice acting classes, I have based my 'voices' on basic prototypes that I have in my head. Pretty standard stuff. And my voicing pretty much comes out sounding like everyone else's! (Gee... wonder why?)

I recall being in a two-day TVAS workshop with Dave Fennoy He is a-MAZ-ing!! We probably went through maybe close to 100 characters throughout that weekend, and he had a different voice for all of them. When asked how he could come up with so many different character voices, particularly spur-of-the-moment, he said "I just put myself into the character's shoes, using a voice that I think they would use and react in a way that I think they would react." Hmmm... he makes it sound so simple!

But maybe it is that simple.

Maybe, instead of trying to come-up-with a character or sound, maybe the character, or at least a starting point for one, already is inside of us. Maybe all of those people we encounter everyday when we are out-and-about (or these days, including when we are on Zoom... ) or even who we hear on TV or on podcasts or the radio, have made impressions on us, even if we aren't consciously aware of them.

I've starting thinking that if I loosen up a bit and not try so hard to not use a voice that I have in my head, that the right voice, for me, will show up. We all are a mix of our past encounters with people and our experiences, and if I can imagine a scene in my head, and visualize who I'm talking to and why I'm talking, I am fairly certain that a voice will appear. Not saying that I can't tweak it and have fun with it, and eventually make it my own, but at least an initial starting point will be there.

I think a key point for me is to not overthink things so much. To not feel like everyone else pursing voice acting as a career has the answers and is so much farther ahead of me in everything. There seems to be so much to learn in VO, plus, just as soon as I feel I have something figured out, it changes (thanks a lot, Instagram!!) To just put myself out there and Go For It and to believe, that based on all of my training, experience and just from day-to-day living in the world and interacting with people and/or being aware of the people in my life on a day-to-day basis, plus, pulling from my past experiences, that all that I need, at least as a starting point, will come to me. And by not trying to plan everything out and control everything, perhaps The Fun could lie in the spontaneity of it all.

And I think that's something to keep in mind in all areas of life, not just for voice acting. Trust my gut and know that it's okay to open my mouth (both literally and figuratively) and accept what comes out. Loosen up and see what happens. Did someone say improv??


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