2 minute read.
An authentic performance is an oft chased, rarely achieved goal of an actor. The differences between a perfectly acceptable delivery and a truly authentic one are hard to define, you just kind of feel it when it’s right, both as the actor and the audience. So how is that elusive state achieved?
The answer to this million dollar question is as complicated as trying to define the goal itself. Many have tried to capture a lightning-in-a-bottle technique that will apply to actors of all type at the flick of a switch - Stanislavski, Meisner, Hagen, Spolin etc…
So which is it?
The answer, frustratingly, will be unique to you.
How do you think? How do you create? How do you emote? Are you reactive? Are you a visual thinker? Does sound or music move you? Are you able to recreate past experiences in your mind, without causing renewed trauma? Is physical repetition of movement freeing or maddening? Are you empathetic? Does how you look or dress inform your mood/emotional state?...
One of the most effective ways that I’ve found to unlock a true performance is to figure out how the individual actor's brain operates. Once you have that information you can use technique to trick the mind into experiencing something that isn’t actually occurring, or as Meisner defined: “living truthfully in imaginary circumstances.”
In voiceover we can become obsessed with the sound of our performances. This is akin to an on-camera actor focusing on what their face is doing.
Try not to think about the sound of your voice, the specs, or even the client when you’re delivering copy. Before you utter a single word, spend an extra few minutes deciding who this person is, what they are trying to say, who they are speaking to, and where they are. That time in advance of your read gives you the freedom to be in-the-moment, allowing an authentic performance to flow out.
To get to that place you may need additional stimuli - maybe it's music, a quiet moment to relive a past experience in your mind, wearing an item of clothing… if it can help you get there in a safe manner that doesn’t disrupt others, then that’s what you need to do.
I would suggest investigating these long established and highly respected acting philosophies for clues into a process that works for you:
“But Jamie, how do I do that in a session with a client? Won’t they think it’s weird that I’m clanging a bell and screaming before every take?”
Well yes, that could be a little weird in a session. However, repeatedly getting into that authentic state through practice forges strong, mental connections. The ability to drop in and out of it becomes a little easier as time passes, to the point that ultimately you won’t need a crutch to get you there.
The first step though is to get ‘there’, and this is the roadmap to that place.
I hope that helps!
(3 minute read)
***While this blog post references leaving New York City, it can apply to any major hub.***
I had to be dragged kicking and screaming from NYC. I loved living in the hustle and bustle, I loved the chaos and the daily challenge of completing “normal” tasks in an environment that seemed like it was on the verge of collapse. It sounds almost sadistic, but the city casts a spell and its boundless energy is addictive.
In 2016 we moved out of New York to the significantly less chaotic confines of Bucks County, PA. And like with almost everything in life, my wife was right, this is better.
A recent discussion on Voice Actors of NYC inspired me to write this piece and I wanted to elaborate on what it’s like to leave a media hub, and continue to grow a voiceover career in the sticks.
While my experience is but a single data point, it is now five years later and Covid has really changed the game, making leaving the city even more of a realistic prospect than it was for me.
Why city life?
This is the crux of the decision. Will leaving deprive you of something that you can’t replicate elsewhere? Or is it just less convenient to be somewhere else?
Here’s the thing, convenience and proximity are what the city mainly offers. But what kind of convenience are we talking about? Is it convenient to live in NYC? In many ways absolutely not, but proximity to friends, work, inspiration, leisure etc... is the kind of convenience that is so fulfilling. The idea that adventure could be around any corner! All of those things remain however, albeit on the other side of a commute.
But how often do you really exploit that stuff anyway? How often can you afford to?
And speaking of affording…
New York is expensive! It’s costly to live, eat, work, play, breath… There’s no getting around it, all of that convenience and energy has a cost, and it’s a financial one.
Voiceover and the City.
If 2020/21 has taught the globe anything, it’s that remote working is not only possible, it’s often preferable. And voiceover is no different. Having a home studio became a differentiator in voiceover - those who had one often did well, those that didn’t fell out of the industry or had to improvise (with mixed results). And as we emerge out of the Covid chaos, the door remains swung open wide for more and more work to be recorded from a talents own space.
Are studios a thing of the past then? Absolutely not. Will the studio booth be less busy? Yes!
The broad adoption of connection services like Source Connect, IPDTL etc… means a talent standing in a booth behind a piece of glass in the city, or down the line in their own space (wherever that happens to be) is essentially the same experience from the perspective of the engineer and client (as long as the talent has crafted a good studio and has a solid internet connection).
What about in-person casting?
This was my biggest headache prior to Covid. LA had moved almost exclusively to an MP3 model, essentially eliminating in-person casting for voiceover, but NYC was quite far behind on this. I’d make a trip into the city for a casting on average about once a week and hoooooo boy was that time consuming, for often zero return.
I’ve yet to hear a convincing argument for in-person voiceover casting to return and frankly I hope it doesn’t. Zoom (et al) is reliable, cheap, and decent enough quality for direction. And to be honest, I’m in a much better place creatively after having just had a sandwich on my sofa, than having just hauled-ass through Times Square.
While a booked gig is an easily justifiable reason to take a trip into town, a punt on a casting really isn’t. It was true before Covid and it’s even more so now. It’s also a fairer system for talent with disability/health issues.
So is leaving the city easy? No. Is it for everyone? Also no. Is it possible to continue to grow as a talent? More than ever, yes! As long as you’re moving somewhere commutable for those occasional in-person sessions, there are few obstacles that can’t be easily overcome.
Cheaper living, space, quiet, less stress, fewer rats, an almost complete lack of garbage stench clouds - worth it.