Well, maybe you don’t want to be a theatre actor. That’s cool. ***quietly sobs in a corner over how many actors think theatre is dead***
Okay, I accept that. Maybe you don’t need to be heard in an outdoor production of The Tempest in Regent’s Park, but do you want to risk being re-voiced or dubbed in post? Do you want to play more powerful roles? More vulnerable roles? Do you want to be taken more seriously as an actor?
Having a “good voice” isn’t just about volume. It’s about being expressive, emotionally connected to your resonance, and, among other things, being specific with diction.
Actors assume that they are cast purely on looks for their type, but have you thought about your vocal type? Do you want to risk being emotionally disconnected, via your breath? Do you want to be told by the sound guy that they have to reposition your mic or check it constantly? Or worse, do you want them to make a decision to take your mic off and choose a different actor to mic? Not a good sign.
When we remember a screen performance, we often think of the visual, the amazing character development in the body, the gesture work, and facial expressions. Or, maybe it was the emotional nature of the delivery and the importance of the relationship between the actors to create the atmosphere and energy for the scene. This is all essential of course – no disputes there! Every acting teacher (including me) will tell you that you MUST have these elements for a scene to work.
When you revisit any of your favourite performances by award winning actors, you will notice that they ALL have exceptionally well developed voices, making clear vocal choices, and maybe they do different accents for each time they take on a role. I cannot actually think of a single well-known actor who doesn’t have fantastic resonance, good diction, a really good handle on accents, or all of these qualities (ideally).
As the notable American voice coach, Chuck Jones, says:
“Although it’s not commonly recognised, voice training does more than solve vocal problems: Voice training allows actors to extend their range, develop power, and create that mysterious quality known as presence.”
Okay, so how can I improve my voice for screen?
1) Do Breathing exercises
- Your breath is linked to your thoughts, and therefore your emotional response and resonance in performance.
- You wouldn’t expect to run a car without petrol, so why would we expect our voices to support us in performance without doing breathing work?
- Simple breathing exercises can be done anywhere, anytime, and take a few minutes. Take your hand to your belly and observe the breath first of all.
- Then work on extending the length of your exhalation (without pushing purely for length as your goal) and work on consistency of air flow on the exhalation.
- Do this for at least two minutes.
2) Do a vocal warm up for resonance & articulation
- The voice is muscular. It must be activated everyday. One of the best exercises if you only have a few minutes is to use two minutes of humming with M, N (nasal continuant sounds), and then do an NG sound (as in SINGING).
- Add the vowel sounds on the end of these consonants. You can also use the Internet to look up some terrific tongue twisters. I highly recommend “Give me the gift of a grip top sock” and “Dearest creature in creation,” but there are SO many to choose from! Enjoy!
3) Move your lips
- The number of actors who mumble is surprising. Remember that if your dialogue cannot be understood, you WILL be re-voiced in the post production studio, and that’s going to cost production companies more money.
- The key thought here is that without the screenwriter you wouldn’t have words, and you must bring those words to life in order for the character to live in the imagination of the audience.
4) Load Key Words so your subtext can really live
- Think of the person that makes you laugh most in the world. I bet you cannot say their name without smiling. That changes how your voice sounds immediately. You can’t fake that.
- Now think of the person that you love more than anything in this world. I bet you cannot say their name without it affecting your breath in some way.
- Any imagination or emotional work you do on your text in rehearsal for your director, and any character background work you do, must be integrated with your voice and must be specific.
- If the stakes of your scene are not rooted in truth, your voice (and of course your body language too) will give you away.
Have fun exploring your daily practice! And seek out a good drop in voice class in your local city to practice your articulation, range, and resonance.
Felicity Jurd is a teacher trained graduate of Atlantic Theater Company (NY) and also studied at LAMDA and atyp. She has recently returned to Australia after nine years working on set, on stage, and in sound studios in London. Felicity is on staff at many colleges including Actors Centre Australia (ACA), International Screen Academy (ISA), and NIDA. A native Aussie, she made her television debut in JNP’s Land of Hope (1984) and her ABC Radio debut in Cyclone Tracey (1986). She has made many screen appearances in film and television including roles in A Country Practice, Home & Away, and the award winning UK film Green Means Stop. She has appeared in numerous theatre productions in New York, London, and Sydney.