“Who am I?” Now there’s an age-old philosophical question.
Once upon a time, in an alternate universe, I was the perfect Peter Pan type: a sprightly, high-spirited tomboy belting out, “I Gotta Crow!” And, if it wasn’t for a few frighteningly high notes in the “Little Lamb” solo, I was once the ideal Louise in Gypsy: a character who does a complete 180, going from a shy, awkward introvert to a sexy, confident sophisticate.
Fast-forward twenty-some odd years later and it would be safe to say that identifying me with either of these two characters is not only a stretch—it’s flat-out comical!
Okay, so what does that tell us? Your type can and will eventually change. Age range alone will see to that.
Certainly there is a germ of that sassy Peter Pan in me still that now plays out commercially as “the fun mom”. That awkwardly bashful girl–turned–sexually confident sophisticate that was Louise now reads as the confident authority with a trace of vulnerability. All these elements translate into who I am and how I’m perceived in an instant. I’m referring to type.
Type can be especially elusive in voiceover for a number of reasons, besides the obvious. The audience needs to imagine who you are. Additionally, you may discover yourself growing into a type you’ve never played or considered, or possibly graduating out of a type that once felt the most comfortable to you.
The bottom line: How you look speaks volumes before you even utter a sound. Your face, your build, already has an entire performance built into it. Your presence, whether you realize it or care to admit it or not, says a lot. Hopefully, it’s saying what you intend it to say. Now there’s the rub.
As stage actors we’re generally taught we’re supposed to be everything. You’re expected to be as well versed in Shakespeare as Arthur Miller, as comfortable with comedy as you are with pathos, able to tackle Euripides’ Medea and, just as easily Tyler Perry’s Madea. For what it’s worth, each of these tasks demand a formidable skill level from you as an actor, yet we’re told that’s what being versatile entails, and that’s the job. It’s simply what’s expected of us.
No wonder so many aspiring young talent are confused as to how they’re perceived. Start by studying the medium you intend to work in—television, film, commercial, and voiceover. Begin by studying the shows you watch religiously, commercials and all. The commercials that play during the shows you never miss are already geared to your demographic. It’s more likely you will book jobs that are within your frame of reference, and what you know best.
If you don’t watch much TV, do a quick search of the top 25 shows you may have heard of but have yet to see. This is important for a variety of reasons, not the least of which: pop culture references are used most at auditions to give talent a better idea of what those casting are looking for. (“We’re looking for a Jon Snow meets Don Draper type.” To which I have to say—ah, that’s ironic, because… so am I!)
Seriously, if you’re at a loss, do your homework and watch a good eight hours of programming a week for a solid month. For instance: the Today Show, Ellen, reruns of The Big Bang Theory, or Seinfeld, NCIS, The Voice, the evening news (as depressing as that may be), The Simpsons reruns on Fox, something on HGTV, something on the Food Network, TLC, History Channel, Animal Planet, and maybe a little something on IFC (Independent Film Channel) and the Sundance Channel. The idea is to study a good cross section of material. Look for commercial examples that cover nearly every demographic, not just yours. (Again, no one stays the same indefinitely, either.)
When you sit down to study these spots, whether you’re viewing familiar programs or not, make note of the following:
1. What is the spot for?
2. Is the commercial for a product or service you’d find nationwide? Or is it local?
3. Do you use the product/service the commercial is promoting?
4. Do you wish you used/had the product/service (but maybe can’t afford it—yet)?
5. Are you personally opposed to the product/service?
6. Would you appear on-camera in the commercial, film, or TV show?
7. Is there an unusual character affectation in one or more of the voices, or is it a more natural delivery?
8. What is the overall emotional tone of the spot? Is it solemn? Hopeful? Sarcastic? Playful? Stoic? Confident? Is it edgy? Is there an attitude? Is it witty?
9. Does the delivery seem realistic, personable and conversational?
10. Is this spot airing during a show you watch frequently? Or a program you’ve never seen and maybe might never watch?
11. Observe the commercials you got lost in more closely. Make note of what drew you in. What was it that piqued your interest?
12. Does the voice talent’s age seem to coincide with the age the commercial, film, or program is geared to reach? Or is it the opposite?
Be sure to check out iSpot.TV and YouTube to study commercials with greater depth. Granted, you may not readily discover which commercials play during the shows you happen to watch most, but you will be able to view scores of commercials with the added bonus of discovering far more details than mindlessly viewing commercials while you’re dosing off on the couch.
You’ll likely soon realize that being yourself is required of you a bulk of the time, and far more relatable and interesting than watching you desperately try to become something you’re not.
Watching an actor shoehorn themselves into something that doesn’t suit them is an effort to watch, and counterproductive. It upstages what the production is attempting to convey, and why I’m fine with the fact Peter Pan is far and away in my rear-view. I can live with that.
There’s lots of great roles to come. I doubt they’ll ever run out of casting them anytime soon.
Copyright © 2020 by Kate McClanaghan All rights reserved.