By: Jess Canty
I think one of the most over-looked and yet most important aspects of an actor's performance is the voice. I have been thinking a lot about it because of my recent annoyance with self-tapes. Not your self-tapes, but the fact that so many of your auditions have to be self-taped.
When you self-tape, you are forced to be the director, cinematographer and actor. You need to know data-capture, you have to leave time to grab the footage, upload or transfer and then your reps have to watch and sometimes download and then upload and then submit. AND you miss out on a chance to meet a casting director. UGH.
For any audition, you are making so many educated guesses - what to wear, for example. How to do your hair. How much makeup. All of these decisions would be made by an entire department if you book the job. You are also lacking so much that would help your performance - the set, the props, in the first audition the actual director and on and on.
But the one thing you have with you, at your disposal that is entirely in your control throughout the entire process - auditions included? If you said "my voice" then you are good at reading titles of blog posts.
Your voice. It is the one thing that no department head is in charge of. It is something that you may choose to get help with as the actor - but it is a place where you can truly be free to interpret. To be creative. To express yourself.
And yet I see so few vocal choices being made in your tapes and even auditions I help coach.
So let's flip the script.
Let's think more about how our character sounds for the audition than what they will wear. Is there an opportunity for a vocal quality that indicates a level of influence, affluence or lack thereof?
Think about how you judge people's voices. What happens when you hear a woman talking like a sexy baby? Or one with a vocal fry? What? About? Someone? Who makes the end of every phrase? Sound like a question? What do you think of them? What about a man with a slow, plodding, deep baritone - is he wiser than you?
We judge people in life by their vocabulary, their accent or lack of one, the pitch and timber of their voices. We expect our leaders to use the lower parts of their register (yep crazy right)? Women are often accused of bring shrill.
Are you doing this work for your auditions? Or are you simply relying on your natural voice every time?
Look at the breakdown we send you in your audition emails - how can you reflect the descriptors of the character in your voice? Do you need to make use of one of the stereotypes we have about voices in order to make this character tick? Does the character code-switch, or need to during the scene or from scene to scene?
Start paying attention to how people talk, and how you are judging them because of it and then use that for your performances. File it away for that audition where your character is described as "flighty" - what does a flighty person SOUND like?
And all of this begs the question of course - do you have control of this instrument? As you look at your goals for this year, is there vocal training you need this year? Can you control the pitch, and timbre of your speaking voice at all times?
Have you mastered the Standard American accent so that you can employ a neutral voice? And let's not forget - the purpose of Standard American is so you can then modulate from there - because unless you are playing a broadcaster or are auditioning for a broadway play, you probably won't be using SA for your character.
How are you with accents? Remember that foreign accents are in most cases a waste of time, unless you are actually from that place, because they will simply cast a Brit or someone French ... but those American accents are something you could add to your bag. Do you know the difference between a Texas accent and one from the Eastern South? What about Chicago? Minnesota? Maine?
Still don't have you convinced?
Look at how many performances this year have been about the actor's vocal choices. Bradley and Gaga - that movie is literally about finding one's voice.
Sorry to Bother You is a film about voice and our prejudices and judgements. In Blackkklansman John David Washington is literally adopting a different voice in order to run his sting. And side note on John David - I would argue he, as an actor, has the arduous task of running away from his father's voice in every performance he gives. That can't be easy.
I would argue that Sam Rockwell, Christian Bale, Emma Stone, Sam Elliot, Viggo Mortensen and Rami Malek, Mahershala Ali, Richard E. Grant and Melissa McCarthy were all nominated for Oscars because their vocal performances this year as much as anything else they did on screen.
And for those that I left off the list above - you could argue that they were cast because their natural voices were such a great fit for the character to begin with. Glenn Close's natural voice is a fit for the wife of a Nobel Prize winning writer - it sounds educated, controlled. Yaritza Aparicio speaks both Spanish and Mixtec - think about the difference in her demeanor as she switches between these two in Roma.
If you are looking to do something new in your training - if you have exhausted the majors of the LA training scene and need a break, perhaps find a vocal coach this year.
Is your natural voice indicating something to casting that is making it difficult for you to book jobs? Or is it sticking you in one particular kind of booking? Is it indicating that you are trained? Over-trained? Under-trained?
Casting Directors can't escape these subtle judgements, and they are subject to the same prejudices about vocal quality that we all are. Are you adding fuel to the fire by not addressing the vocal choices for your character?
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who said, “The human voice is the organ of the soul" - are you forgetting to discover your character's soul?
And of course there's that other Henry who had something to say about prejudice and speech...