Have you ever seen a play, or watched a film, where the actors refuse to talk like humans? I’m not talking about sci-fi films or absurdist plays; just standard fare. Regular films and plays. Actors who are normal people in real life, step on stage… and talk like freaks! Here are my thoughts on why some actors speak like weirdos on stage and screen, and what you can do about it.
Jaw and neck tension are the biggest culprits when it comes to talking like an alien while acting. A tense jaw will jut forward creating an underbite which will result in splashy “S” sounds, and force the articulators to work overtime just to produce normal sounds. I call it the Sean Connery effect. So if you’re not a silver-fox-scotsman try a jaw release exercise before going onto text.
Neck tension and compression will cause all kinds of throat tension which restricts airflow and therefore the voice. If you are struggling to reach the back row without sounding strange, work on your spinal alignment. A long straight spine is essential for a well rounded voice production. It also important to make character choices that support an open and tension free throat.
This reduction is born from fear of complexity and robs the world of your truth, your vulnerability, and your individuality.
Fear of Complexity
Our voice is one of the most sacred parts of who we are. It’s complexity is extraordinary. Think of all the amazing ways we use our voices to express who we are, how we feel, and what we think. Our characters deserve the same level of rich expression. Unfortunately actors will often reduce their character’s range to something more “appropriate” for the theatre, or film. This reduction is born from fear of complexity and robs the world of your truth, your vulnerability, and your individuality. Monotonal characters sound weird. Be brave, have range.
Being judgemental will make you sound strange for two reasons. Number one; you’re judging yourself. Judging yourself and your sound places you outside or your character, impersonating them, instead of being them. Some minor tweaks to serve character are fine, but unless you’re playing Truman Copoté, keep it simple. Number two; you’re judging your character. Too often actors will make snap judgments of characters and super impose an affected voice onto them before they have really done the work. For example, tough guy = deep voice or creepy women = witch-like voice.
If all acting choices were made this way I would never go to the theatre, I wouldn’t have to! Audiences like to be surprised, shocked, and excited by your choices. Allow your character’s voice to develop organically without judgement starting from your own natural sound.
Be a Human
Remember creating your character’s voice starts in rehearsals. Slapping on a strange voice, filled with tension, won’t result in a well rounded performance on opening night. Allow yourself to discover your character throughout the rehearsal process and show the world a surprising, complex, and truthful human when you step into the lights.