As actors we’re generally expected to be versatile enough to play literally everything. Or at least that’s the general consensus regarding acting as a profession, and not simply from actors and their coaches.
Of course, mastering the skills to perform seamlessly in every medium and genre is generally considered to be the definition of versatility. Never mind how few extraordinary talent honestly rise to this impossible standard, but rather instead find themselves specializing in one or more area of interest—just not every acting category under the sun.
Certainly every genre of voice acting demands skill and tenacity, regardless of whether you have a natural capacity from the start, or not. And every skill requires continued practice if you hope to maintain precision and hope to be considered a valued professional.
You could say being versatile is most often defined by the following:
1. The ability to plausibly play a role that is a dramatic departure from your self, or by skillfully playing a role that’s a dramatic departure from characters you play most often.
2. Mastering a variety of media, rather than remaining skillful solely in stage, for instance, also denotes versatility. The more you make yourself familiar with and master the demands of commercial work, TV, film and voice-over, the more capable and confident you’ll become in each form of media.
3. The ability and agility to offer appropriate performance options, take after take, rather than delivering only “cookie cutter” (or “broken record”) performances with each take. Regardless of the medium, our creative muscle is often defined by delivering a handful of creative options within the context of the piece. The ability to deliver a unique, interesting expression with every take could very well be considered the core of what makes us creatively valuable.
Certainly in theater, we typically have at least two weeks of rehearsal before a production opens, which allows for plenty of room to create and play. However, when it comes to recorded media (such as voiceover, film, and television) you’re expected to continually offer creative options with every take. Only on the rarest of occasions are you expected to deliver only a single take, as you might in a live performance. Challenging your comfort zone and surprising yourself take after take is consistently what’s needed and wanted from you most when performing in recorded media.
If you consistently ‘ramp up’ into your performance or give yourself too long a runway to get your performance off the ground, you’ll miss the opportunity to create something extraordinary, as so many talent do in voiceover. This occurs most often when first getting started as an actor. All the more reason to practice vital skills that develop essential abilities that allow you to quickly pivot when necessary, and think creatively.
The unexpected degree of difficulty so many talent fall prey to when transitioning from live stage to voiceover, or most forms of performing for recorded media, is what we refer to as the “muscle memory delivery”. Not to be confused with Method Acting’s definition of muscle memory, but instead more closely related to that of kinesiology: how ever you read the script the first time out, you’ll most likely continually revert back again and again to the same read out of sheer habit. It’s a comfort zone created from the very beginning of any new practice, let alone reading a script out loud.
This impulse is needed to perform most physical tasks, such as walking, or driving a car. And certainly without it you’d never hear the phrase, “It’s just like riding a bike.” So muscle memory serves a useful purpose. However, in acting, especially voice acting, it most often only serves to offer repetitive performance styles that generally lacks creativity and spontaneity.
Versatility most often takes practice. It’s a muscle; a muscle that atrophies if it goes unused.
To become versatile requires you train like an athlete. Whatever your performance experience is (or has been) speaks volumes to your ultimate defaults. Therefore, to become a reliable, confident and valuable talent, regardless of the medium, it’s vital to consider what you’re hoping to accomplish. Proper training is a matter of effective conditioning. And the best coaching offers techniques you need to apply with regularity that challenge your comfort zone if you hope to master versatility and ultimately agility.
As Stephen Hawking once said, “Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.”
Adapt or perish, as the man said.
Copyright © 2021 by Kate McClanaghan. All Rights Reserved.
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