Between the lines
As a voice actor, it's our job is to bring our client's story to life. Our clients count on us to be able to take their copy and voice it in a way that emotionally connects with the listener and helps them to easily understand the information presented. Oftentimes, this copy can be challenging to deliver. Perhaps the copy isn’t written well, or the material is too technical or complicated. Whatever the reason, a professional voice actor needs to find the story - and its underlying theme or point of view - in order to tell it effectively. This can be a hard hill to climb. Enter: Subtext.
You look AWESOME!
Subtext is the implicit meaning of a piece of copy—an underlying message that is not explicitly stated. It is what you are thinking as you are speaking - an inner monologue - adding to the script as you speak the copy. It is your job as the actor to find and interpret it. Sometimes subtext is hidden and buried deep between the lines. Subtext is contextual and can create a rich context for bland or dull copy. Uncovering the subtext in a script, and using it to deliver the story will help you to deliver in a more authentic way. You will sound genuine, real, and believable. If you’ve gotten feedback that you sound like you're reading or disconnected from the script, or that you sound fake, chances are you haven’t really found the subtext.
For example, think of the following copy:
You’re going to wear those jeans?
Your subtext/ you are thinking: Those jeans look awful on you
Your subtext/ you are thinking: Don’t you dare wear those, those are MINE
Your subtext/ you are thinking: Wow, those look amazing on you
One, two, three…
So where does this elusive subtext lie? How do you as a voice actor sus it out? Think of three things when you’re discovering the meaning between the lines.
Think about the person who wrote the script. Imagine them sitting down at the computer and creating the words on the page. Once you get them in your mind's eye, then you can start to imagine why they wrote these words. Why is this story so important? Why did they choose these words? Why did they choose this format? It’s tempting to jump straight to just the ‘why’ without imagining the writer. But when you actually imagine the script being created and look for the ‘why’ from that paradigm, you may find new and different things that can help inform your choices when reading.
Next, imagine who is listening and what they are trying to learn or understand. This goes beyond the ‘who I’m talking to’ idea and takes it just a little deeper. Really dive into who the audience is, get specific, create details. It may seem silly or redundant to conjure a listener out of thin air. You might think that anyone could listen to this script or even a group of people. But the problem with having a generic avatar is that it creates a generic delivery. When you speak to a crowd or no one in particular, you go into ‘broadcast mode’. You need to find a specific person to tell this story to.
Lastly, it’s important to get clear on what you’re trying to get your listener to do. Physically do. Not just “I want them to be happy.” No. Get physical. Think more along the lines of “I want them to get up and call their spouse.” or maybe it’s “I want them to push the right buttons on this new machine”. Find a physical objective of the story - the Call to Action. Understand that imagining your listener taking physical actions creates powerful acting choices on your part. Bold choices, made correctly, will lead to strong delivery and listener understanding. Our minds have a much easier time interpreting something like “please open the window” rather than “I sure would like to feel fresh air”. When you understand a physical objective, it will create a realistic picture for your mind to latch onto.
It’s these subtle differences that create honesty in your delivery.
Put pen to paper.
All of this takes prework, interpretation, and intention. It’s so much more than just picking up words on the page and reading them aloud. You need to read the script and then do a little prework. If you’re new to this idea, I suggest making some notes, writing down what you discover. You don’t need to create a dossier on every little idiosyncrasy of your listener but jotting down your thoughts will help you solidify your understanding. Do this enough times, and it will become easier, faster, and second nature.
Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.
Then, after all that prework, forget about it. Yep, let it go. Because here’s the thing, once you do the work, you’re already making decisions about the copy, you don’t need to think about those choices when you’re reading. When you’re reading, you should stay in the moment. But, somewhere in the back of your mind, those choices will show up. Often times in ways that are instinctual, natural, and authentic. Because you won’t be faking it. When you believe and understand the story it will naturally unfold, organically and honestly.
Understand what lies between the lines and you’ll understand, on a visceral level, what it means to be real, authentic, and honest. When you find the subtext, your subtext, that’s when the real acting begins.
Much love and Keep on rockin' your biz!
About the Author: Anne Ganguzza is a full-time voice talent and award-winning director and producer who works with students to develop their voice over and business skills - including VO demo training and production. She specializes in Conversational Commercial and Narration styles, including Corporate, E-Learning, Technology, Healthcare - Medical, Telephony, and On-Hold. Located in Orange County, CA, Anne offers private coaching and mentoring services to students in person and via Skype, ipDTL or Zoom.