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The Ultimate Vocal Workout for Actors and Singers
review by N J Howell
The Actor's Voice
If you feel that your voice is not where it should be and that your acting would benefit from training, I strongly suggest seeing an in-person coach. There is nothing else quite like immediate feedback and the dedicated attention of someone who is invested in a single area of your craft. If you can't quite afford a vocal coach, I get that too but there are online options. I've linked to a few that are available.
For actors who want to develop a stronger, more resonant and powerful speaking voice, there is the Speak with Distinction program that includes a 75 minute vocal workout on Cd plus a booklet on the techniques. It comes from Applause Acting and based on a revised version of the Skinner Method for speech.
For the singer who wants more range, better tone and more vocal flexibility, check out The Vocal Athlete: Application and Technique which is a compilation of voice exercises created and used by vocal training professionals. Though focused on techniques for contemporary music, the exercises on bodywork and how to prepare should be useful to any actor. You also receive a cd with the book, which offers singing exercises.
Working with your voice every day is one of the best things you can do as an actor. It can be as simple as reading a book out loud and playing with your delivery. You could read it with a different accent (never mind if the accent isn't perfect, it's about exercising your vocal muscles) or reading it the opposite of how it's written (if comic, make it a dramatic story or vice versa). Playing with the voice strengthens flexibility of expression.
Why is Vocal Training Important?
Beyond daily vocal play and exploration, though, it is a wonderful support to study with someone who understands the mechanics of speech or singing. The same way an acting coach can reveal options you may not have thought about in a reading, a vocal coach can help to reveal new nuances to your voice.
An actor's voice is one of the more powerful tools of expression besides the body. Having a voice that can easily convey emotional truth is vital to any actor, whether they are in a comedy or a drama. In fact, I think it may be even more important to have a flexible and expressive voice in comedy than in drama because most comedy is based on drama. Think about it. Three of the funniest sitcoms ever to hit the small screen, all had scripts that seemed to revolve around one ridiculous drama after the other. I'm taking about Friends, Seinfeld and The New Adventures of Old Christine. An actor has to somehow get the drama across without making us worry about the character.
I remember being in an acting class with one of my favorite teachers, Stephen Tobolowsky. In the improvisation we were doing, I was supposed to be at a therapist's office, and lose it over talking about the insane traffic in Los Angeles. Well, I lost it. Afterwards, Stephen said "We couldn't laugh because we were worried about you." I got it. It has to be real enough that we can suspend our disbelief at the situation but not so real that we have true empathy for the comedic character. It's a tricky balance to maintain and here is where the voice, and a strong sense of timing, is vital.
As a creative person, you may also be interested in my free online acting class!
I've been an actor since the early 90's professionally and before that, I've been acting since birth. I always loved being in front of any camera and am a natural ham. It wasn't until I started awakening, on a spiritual level, that I began to understand the more powerful and transformative reasons I loved this craft. The lessons in the online class are from that higher perspective, treating acting as the noble craft it is.