Secret Origin

Like many voice actors, I started out performing on stage at a young age.  My first audiences were parents politely watching me and other children belt out our version of a Midsummer Night’s Dream or Christmas Carol before slumber parties and pizza.  Despite imitating everyone in my family or whoever was on television at that moment, my focus remained constricted to the stage or in front of a camera.  The idea of voice over never even occurred to me.  A voice was merely a tool to underline a performance, I thought, not the performance itself.  Hungry for a challenge, I decided it would be a great idea to move to South Korea and teach English to a bunch of Korean kindergartners.  Hey, I’m an actor!  I connect with audiences all the time.  What could go wrong?

Uh oh.

If any of you reading this have ever taught children than I’m sure you’ll understand: controlling a room full of five-year-olds is about as easy as corralling cats.  Plus, for good measure, sprinkle in an English-immersion class setting so I’m not allowed to speak the only language they understand and they can only speak the language they came to learn in the first place.

This is the point in the rom-com where the montage of our hero continuously failing plays over a sugary pop song.  That first week was tough.  I tried everything.  Every single actor trick I learned from Youth Performing Arts School to Emerson College.  None of it worked.  Explaining demonstrative adjectives doesn’t mean much to a little kid if the person speaking sounds like Charlie Brown’s teacher, uni-cycle or not.

But then one day it happened.  Unable to connect with them through my body language and projection, I let my emotions out through my words.  Instead of demonstrating the nouns, I experienced them. “Sad” sounded and felt sad.  “Tired” was certainly tired.  And once they began to pay attention, “happy” most definitely felt and sounded happy.  For the first time, I realized something: words aren’t how we communicate, they’re a way in which we communicate.  Though I’m sure I still sounded like Charlie Brown’s teacher, my tones made them feel something.  To use acting terms: not the blocking, my wardrobe, lighting, or make-up.  Simply plucking a word off a page and letting it sound exactly like how it feels.

Now we were getting somewhere.

This opened up a whole new world for me.  For the first time I realized that just my voice could offer an entire story in only one word.  Remarkably, by letting go of all the trappings of the stage around me and allowing my purest intentions to come out through only my words, I was able to catch and hold their attention for the fleeting moments anyone can catch and hold the attention of a room full of five-year-olds.

As soon as I returned to America I got a voice coach and cut my demo and here we are.

Now, every time I read a script, be it a quick seven-word tag or a 90-minute e-learning, I try to remember to slow down and let myself experience the words.  Let the emotions and feelings behind them carry the meaning forward, not just the syntax and composition.

As Marc Cashman says in his great book, V-Oh!, you can tell someone’s whole day by how they say, “hi.”