Voice and Character

One of the most common questions I am asked is “how do I find my Character’s voice”, to which I usually reply, find the physicality of the character, and the voice happens.

One thing is for sure, if you try to invent a voice, all you will end up with is an invented voice.  Your audience will probably think you are very clever at ‘doing voices’, but if so, it means they have been distracted from the content of your performance by the ‘voice’.

Recently, I saw a production which I found interesting, engaging and intriguing, for many reasons. It was a well-crafted script, by a new young writer. The subject matter was meant to be ‘provocative’ – the publicity implied that it was intended to be immediately understood by YOUNG people, and hence challenging to older people.  As one of those older people, the only challenge I felt was to recall my own youth, because it was very similar to the experience being enacted on stage. Yes, folks, when I was 25 I was confused, I was lost, I went through identity crises, I couldn’t connect with other people, or life in general. So what’s new? hmmm let me think. Maybe iPhones are new. But as for people, life, love, bad decisions and loss of dignity, no, nothing new there.

The performances were, on the whole, excellent. There was that rare occurrence at the very beginning, when the lights went up and the characters on stage began to interact, of a frisson of excitement as I realised that they were already characters, rather than actors on stage. I like that.

However, there was something strange going on with two of the performances. They were both very clear, intelligent, and emotionally honest, but I still couldn’t forget, even for a second, that they were acting. I’ve given it a lot of thought, and I’ve decided that the problem lay in the voices, that is, the voices of the characters. They didn’t reflect the physicality of the characters, they didn’t RESONATE with the actual physicality of the actors/characters. The body said one thing, the voice said another. What I saw were actors committing to the physical status, health and well-being of the characters, while still sounding with ‘acting’ voices. Go figure.