self-direction

There was a time not too long ago when it was commonplace to audition for voiceoversin frontof producers at ad agencies, in various recording studios, in front of casting directors, or at your local talent agencies where you’d be offered direction in real time. Obviously times have changed.

Since the pandemic it’s safe to say pretty mucheveryaudition, on or off-camera, is now done remotely from your home studio, however humble.

Yet even when we did have the benefit of literally being “in the room” with those most likely to hire us, it wasn’t unusual to hear voice actors say, after seeing a project broadcast they didn’t book, “I saw that spot we auditioned for a couple weeks ago. I would have done that if they would have theytoldme to play it like that.” You might have even heard yourself say it.

Frankly, it’s doubtful you would have been toldexactlyhow to play it for the simple reason no one told the actor who booked that job precisely what to do. Most talent bring the core of their performance into the room during the audition.

What hasn’t changed over the years, and likely never will, is the fact that auditions demand you make dynamic decisions if you hope to get booked at all. Yet, one of the greatest misconceptions about this industry is that most talent assume whoever hires us: 

a) Already knows precisely what they want, and 

b) They can and will direct us. 

It may come as something of a surprise, but you aren’t likely to get much directionat all. This is the case regardless of the budget or how elevated to production may be. All the more reason why mastering self-direction is key to your success, rather than waiting to be told what to do.

Self-direction requires you give yourself a command and follow through completely with the modifications with the following takes. Seems simple enough. Until you quickly realize self-direction isn’t immediately intuitive and will require continued practice. Otherwise when youareoffered direction, it’s highly unlikely you’ll be agile enough to deliver what’s being asked of you withoutseveral unsuccessful attempts that will only serve to frustrate you and potentially undermine your professional integrity.

The fact is no one can direct you if you can’t successfully deliver after you’ve been given a command, such as, “Can you go up on this? And down on that?” “Take that break out between here and there. Connect those thoughts.” Or “Warm up your approach at the end, please. Soften your attack on that.” These are simple modifications most talent struggle to apply. Or, worse, rationalize that they’ve successfully delivered what was asked, for the simple reason they’re conditioned into delivering a single, cookie-cutter, repetitive performance.

To add to this, far too many actors kill perfectly wonderful opportunities to create and collaborateby second-guessing what theythinksomeone else might need and want from them. You’ll be far more successful if you concentrate on howyouimagine the piece to go. Don’t over-think it—just commit. Take the leap of faith. Rest assured you’ve been invited to audition because this project is already in your wheelhouse. There’s nothing but discovery in it. Don’t sit and wait for someone to take your hand and lead you.

Self-direction is a performance muscle that only develops and responds with proper coaching and continued application. Doing so will make you a valuable, skillful talent.

A vast majority of directors and producers might have a rough idea what they’re after, but they consistently tell us, “I’ll know what I’m looking for when I see it”. And the bigger the project, the less direction you can expect to get.

Conversely, if it’s a low-budget, smaller caliber production, you may find yourself being completely micromanaged. The less experienced production client aren’t accustom to delegating responsibility of their brand, and that becomes abundantly clear when “directing you” during a recording session. So, careful what you wish for. When it comes to voiceover self-direction isn’t simply a concept, or an opinion, it’s required of all manner of talent, regardless of the medium.

So, rather than frustrating yourself by continually asking, “How do they want me to say it?” or wondering, “What do they want from me?” Keep in mind you’re paid to have a pulse. Rather than expecting them to feedyouwith an imagination, instead of the other way around—it’s up to you to engage THEIR imaginations, while including the specific perimeters offered (length, turnaround time, emotional tone, etc.) and create by allowing yourself to focus your most playful, professional performance! This is, at least in part, what makes you valuable as a voice actor.

If youaregiven direction, don’t over think it. It’s rare there’s some hidden message offered in the modification that’s asked of you. More often than not the director is trying their hardest not to step all over your talented toes by feeding you a line reading. They want to help, but often they don’t know how to articulate it. Consider this: If the director has to come up with every detail of your performance in advance of you doing anything or because you demand being micromanaged, then they are not only doing their your job, they’re doing yours, too. And that’s a deal-killer inanybusiness, especially acting.

To succeed you must risk. The more you risk, the more come to trust your impulses and the more confident you’ll be in your choices. It’s essential as actors we make a habit out of risk. It doesn’t mean you’ll succeed every time you do, but you’ll trust yourself more every time you do. There’s nothing but discovery in every risk, if you allow yourself the chance to truly play.

You clearly have what they want otherwise you wouldn’t be invited to audition or book the job if you didn’t.

So let the director/producer see howyou’dtell this story. If they have a specific idea of what they want conveyed, even if it’s a complete 180 degree pivot from what you’ve been doing, they’ll do their best to articulate it and guide you toward it. Just be willing to modify your approach as needed. Be prepared to surprise everyone with your performance—even yourself. 

Copyright © 2022 by Kate McClanaghan. All Rights Reserved.

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