Why I'm Taking Acting Classes in NYC
Five weeks ago I started going to New York City to take acting classes at The Barrow Group. I have two reasons for doing this: There is a practical reason and a more personal reason. The practical reason is because I have started a business as a voice actor and stage acting skills will help me perform better behind the mic. The personal part, is that in my opinion, the more comfortable a person is speaking and doing other things in front of an audience, the better they will be able to communicate with people in their world. This will make things easier - behind the mic, and everywhere else.
When you first walk into a new acting class, it can be a little bit intimidating. You walk in like you know what you’re doing, smile and act confident. The truth is, at least for me, I had no idea how I would react to the instructions I was given. What I’ve realized over these first weeks of the class is that everyone is feeling the same way. So far, this class has taught me some helpful skills in terms of acting for voice over, but more importantly it's shown me that acting is a useful skill for anyone, in any field. I’m the only voice actor in my class, but I’m pretty sure every other student will gain just as much as I do in terms of personal/professional life improvements.
If you learn to see yourself in other people, like you do when you act and portray characters, you will become a better person yourself. I used to think that actors on screen or stage were doing everything they could to become someone else. What my instructor, Martin Van Treuren, has pointed out so well is that your portrayal of a character will only be a realistic portrayal if you can find some part of YOU that relates to the character. We all have different life experiences that we bring with us everyday. If the actor in us can use those experiences to understand where the character is coming from, the audience will sense the raw nature of the performance. The goal is to internalize the words in the script so much that when you perform them, the viewer feels like you are saying the words for the first time.
Carryover for my VO Career
Voice over copy (scripts) writers often ask the voice actor to be “conversational” or sound like “your average joe” (hey I can do that!). Internalizing the script, as I am learning to do in my acting class, will make giving that conversational read so much easier. Now when I audition for VO jobs, I take the direction I’m given and I try to take something about me that I can relate to the copy instructions. This has helped me give more natural reads when I audition.
This has helped me make a big change in the way that I read copy. At the beginning, I was looking at the words on the page and trying to say those words with as much feeling as I could. The problem was that I didn’t have an audience in mind (who was I talking to) and I wasn’t relating the text to my own life. It may seem difficult at first to look at a paragraph of words and try to relate to them. Almost crazy. I’m happy to say I’m a bit more crazy since starting this acting class. I find myself trying to imagine who will listen to the voice over and why I am speaking to them. From those few words on the paper (or screen nowadays), I find the part of me that understands the copy and let that part of my personality take over. If the instructions on the copy tell me to act shy and nervous, I’ll just think back to the beginning of high school when I was shy and nervous. If the instructions say that the character is goofy and ridiculous, I let my 5 to 10 year old self take over when all I wanted in my life was to be the next Jim Carrey.
One problem with working from home as a voice actor is that you tend to spend your day alone in a room. The strange thing about this career path is that I find myself alone for hours at a time, but talking more than ever….to my microphone. A nice part about taking an acting class is just getting out of the house and getting fresh perspectives on acting and life. I have “networking” in parenthesis because that’s a buzz word usually used for meeting people with the sole intention of benefitting from that person’s business in the future. What I mean by networking is learning with people, seeing what people are good at when it comes to acting and trying to learn from them as much as I do from the instructor.
Acting for Voice Overs
So, yes, I signed up for the acting class with the intention of becoming a better actor for my voice over auditions. It is helping with that. What I didn’t expect is what I’m learning about reading copy and interpreting the role of a character as it relates to how I read for a voiceover job. I no longer look at words as a random combination of sentences. Now I see what’s written and try to say it with my voice, so that it not only sounds genuine, but is actually coming from sincere place.
Use Fear as a Guide
Public speaking is always something that people try to avoid at all costs. I’m no exception. But the more I engage in my acting class, the more comfortable I am getting up and speaking in front of crowds. Usually when you fear something, it means you should try to deal with that fear head on (unless it puts you in physical danger). That’s what I’m doing with this acting class. I fear it, so I’m forcing myself to go to class and learn to deal with that feeling of fear head on. The worst thing that can happen, is that people might not agree with you. That’s ok. Forcing myself to get in front of a group every week, is training me to be ok with public speaking and talking directly to groups of people. I’m going to keep acting and hopefully, I’ll keep getting more and more comfortable speaking in public. I might even learn to love it - maybe.