How can you develop vulnerability and spontaneity that will set you free as a voice actor?
Join an improv group.
Improv skills are not only a good way to develop your comedic skills but are also a good way of learning how to say “Yes” instead of “No” all the time. “Yes, and…,” a common improv exercise, should be practiced by everyone from comedians to actors to business leaders to parents.
How does it work?
One improviser makes a random statement, perhaps something like; “I bought you a baby turtle for your birthday.”
That’s ridiculous. Who wants a baby turtle for a pet? But instead of ridiculing the other person the second improviser must accept the statement and move forward positively, saying something like, “Yes, and let’s release it back to the wild.” They go back and forth with “Yes, and” further developing the skit taking it to new levels of creativity and humor each time.
Over time this exercise, and other common improv workouts, improve participants’ ability to work positively and with confidence in any scenario they might encounter – completely on the fly. In the realm of voice-over, whether you’re trying to cope with script changes, ambiguous creative direction, or you just want to learn how to ease nervous tension at a recording session, developing improv skills might be just the thing to help you get there.
Voice-over actress Rebecca Michaels Haugh knows the value improv skills but after searching for online sessions Haugh kept coming up dry. So, she decided to help herself – and others too. She started her own improv workout group called “Love That Improv VO.”
“I created the workouts for my own personal desire and benefit! I scoured the internet and didn’t find anything that wasn’t “in-person” on a stage somewhere. I didn’t want a comedy workshop either. I wanted to have a regular practice session using improvisation,” said Haugh, who gave up her corporate career to become a full-time voice-over artist in 2000.
“No one, I mean NO ONE was doing it. So last July (2013) I started my own… I don’t actually teach, but facilitate the workouts as well as participate, and with some popularity have started additional sessions. I do have a professional training and facilitation background from my corporate days, so this is a very comfortable role for me, to lead workouts and support two other facilitators who lead workouts.”
After checking in at a prearranged time, a maximum of thirteen participants dial in to Skype (audio only) for an hour and a half. They do some warm-up exercises and then launch into a variety of improv games. Haugh says, “There are actors still doing this since last July and many new ones too.”
Recent participant of Love That Improv VO, Anthony Piselli, voice of CBS Asia, says, “Everywhere it’s professed that we need to commit to the choices we make, which can be hard. This allows me to gain some confidence by doing it and doing it without fear of embarrassment or failure, which is what we as voice actors need to do to become the best we can be. Plus the environment is fun and when you have fun you learn more… and as we all know the best people in the world are VO peeps!”
Haugh explains that, “For VO performance (improv) helps an actor approach a scene/script with variety, creating more vivid circumstances and more variety in possible circumstances. For VO sessions with producers and clients, it’s practice receiving a variety of direction and needing to act immediately. For games and character VO work, even audiobooks, improvisation supports expansion of current characters/accents and development of new ones.”
One of the top improv artists in voice-over, Patrick Fraley, a voice-over teacher and performer, counts improv as a top priority in his list of 9 critical skills for VO.
“Much of my early training was improv,” relates Fraley. “It did make me looser and able to ad-lib but later, I grew to realize the more important benefit of improv training, was that it gave me a heart for and understanding of the writer and story, and how hard and important writing is, and how needful it was for me as a performer to realize the story.”
For Haugh, improv helps her stretch and expand her comedic, artistic and imagination muscles. “I’m always energized by it. Plus – improv is fun!”
“Isn’t that always helpful?”