Get Your Game On! No, not the song...
Just when I thought I’d figured out the perfect schedule that allowed me the perfect ratio of work time to writing time to life in general time. Of course, we all know that didn’t actually happen, because if I had somehow managed to crack that code, I’d probably be rich and doing inspirational TED talks by now.
So now that we know that my search for that perfect productivity planning routine remains ongoing, I have actually been trying a few different tools and tactics. Including something my introverted self does not ordinarily do. Ever.
I mingled. With people. A large group of them. On purpose. I know, shocking. Scandalous.
First, just a brief back-story, because much like how I got into voiceover completely by accident (I think I went over that in a previous blog episode), I kind of stumbled into this by accident, too, in a weird series of random whims, accidents and coincidences.
The Voiceover Network is a great group with awesome people, great courses and super helpful resources. But being based “over there” across the pond in London, probably wouldn’t have been the group I would have paid a monthly membership fee to join under ordinary circumstances. Stay with me here, this’ll all tie together eventually.
You see, like a good, always-be-learning spongey student of my craft, the wonderful art of voiceover, I love attending classes, webinars, masterminds, coaching sessions with various working pros in various genres, the works. If I can learn some new little tidbit of knowledge that helps me connect with my clients’ projects and characters and our audiences, I’m here for it. But as I may have mentioned a time or two before, I’m an introvert. Like, on the Introvert Scale of 1 to Smaug, I’m definitely a solid Elsa, totally content to have an entire ice palace on a mountain all to myself.
Somewhere along the line, I’d managed to squeeze into a sold-out class with Andrea Toyias (casting director for Blizzard, for those of you who might not live and breathe video games, and just an all-around lovely human being). I don’t even remember exactly when this class was. All I remember was from that point on, whenever she would do something crazy like put on another workshop, I wanted to be there to learn all the things. Shut up and take my money.
Not because she’s the casting director for Blizzard. I played a bit of WoW back in the day, I was terrible at it, haven’t played since. Diablo 3 legit gave me nightmares that the devil himself was in my closet, and I uninstalled the game the next day. I’m not even a Christian, and don’t believe in the devil or eternal torment in the hellfire of damnation, but I’m pretty sure I still have an account that has some actual real life money left in the auction block, and it’ll rot there until there’s no longer an internet and Mother Earth has cleansed herself of the scourge of humanity before I’ll reinstall that game to retrieve my stuff from it.
But I digress, as usual.
If I’m in a workshop to learn from a casting director, I’m there as a sponge, a student. A blank slate. To bask in knowledge drops, and try new tactics that I might not ordinarily do (more on that, and my cup throwing rampage around the breakout room shortly). I don’t care that they’re casting directors at that point, I care only for knowledge.
Her way of teaching, of getting you to think about your connection to the character, how your own personal real-world experiences are the vehicle to get you to make that connection, of pulling an amazing performance out of you that you didn’t even realize you had buried in the marrow of your bones and the depths of your soul. It resonated with me. It struck just the right chord. Which is a super appropriate analogy, if you know how much music means to her and what a fabulous, amazing tool music can also be to transport you to the world your character lives and breathes in.
Enter the Universe’s quirky sense of humor.
Last year, I had a little fun entering a contest called the Ultimate VO Survivor, some of you may have heard of it and auditioned, yourselves.
Fun stuff! One of the prizes just for auditioning was a generous VON membership. Well, sure, if y’all insist, don’t mind if I do!
Then I learned about their conference specifically aimed at voiceover for video games, called Get Your Game On. It bounces every year from Los Angeles to London, and (I’m skipping the Pandemic chapter of this novel for the sake of expediency) when I heard that Andrea Toyias was going to be one of the weekend-intensive-workshop coaches, I vowed that if and when it came back to Los Angeles, it would be my life mission to attend that year, come hell or highwater.
That year turned out to be THIS year, 2022. Oh crap, said the introvert who’d made sky-high plans when she was feelin’ froggy one day.
It turned out to be the best freaking thing I’ve done all year. I totally understand the excitement now, the hype, the buzz that lingers for days after that kind of an exchange of creative energies. And it wasn’t just the workshop I chose to attend, it wasn’t just one person.
The first day alone was a jam-packed whirlwind of information and energy, and getting to meet people I’d only seen in little bitty zoom squares on my computer screen up till that point.
Ian Russell shared some excellent, practical information about where to check for opportunities - some familiar, and some perhaps not so familiar.
– Direct contact with studios
– Online castings and freelance platforms
– Networking opportunities across several platforms; online, conventions, social media, and paying it forward and helping others.
– Twitter, specifically @VACastingRT
Debra Wilson, OMG where do I even begin. I mean, she ran around the entire room and gave everyone a high-5 before bounding onto the stage, how’s that for getting the crowd revved up? It’s no wonder one of our notes from Andrea’s workshop is “WWDD”, lovingly, What Would Debra Do? She doesn’t even prepare a speech ahead of time. She lets energy and inspiration come to her, and explode forth like a freaking volcano of positivity and amazingness.
– To be a better actor - be a better human being.
– Everything about your life is about having a relationship. Everything is a vibration. What you do is credible.
– Stay in the moment. Explore that moment. Be honest in that moment. Drive with your integrity. Have your authenticity in that moment because each and every one of your voices is an individual voice.
When we were finished with our breakout sessions, I was going to run to the front desk to ask for a couple of things. I came across Debra dropping knowledge on her lil’ group of ducklings as they were heading back to the main assembly room. It was like witnessing a spiritual leader guiding her apostles, I totally forgot my trip to the front desk, did an about-face and became an apostle, myself. WWDD, indeed.
Andrea Toyias, the whole reason I was there “people-ing” in the first place.
– It’s not about your voice. They don’t want to *hear* you, they want to *feel* you.
– “Chase the chills.” When you hear truth, your body reacts. You get chills. Pretty sure “chase the chills” is now in my notebook more than a couple of times.
One of my other favorite hacks she shared with us, was about using music to put us in the right frame of mind for a scene. I've used this trick a few times, it works, folks. Keep those playlists handy. Need to deliver a heroic, inspiring speech to the troops? Find an epic freaking soundtrack to soak in. How about that song you used to play on repeat into the wee hours of the morning? You know who you are, and you know what song I'm talking about.
I’ll cover more tidbits from the weekend intensive workshop, and how I got my ass thoroughly kicked here in a sec.
Zeke Alton shared interesting and informative insight into SAG-AFTRA, the totally un-sexy but totally necessary contractual side of voiceover, and the importance of asserting your rights regarding vocal stress, stunts, and safety during sessions.
Tom Keegan - now I’ve never fancied myself as wanting to delve into motion capture, because let’s face it, me, romping around in one of those little black suits, just… no. But let’s also face the fact that as technology progresses and video games continue to gain in popularity, at some point in time, we’re most likely going to end up doing motion and performance capture. And I’d absolutely take Tom Keegan’s workshop, just from what he shared with us the first day alone.
– Presence is key, use expression through the body and via the breath.
– When given direction, don’t say “that’s not what I worked on”; you’re being given a chance to showcase a different aspect and create a relationship with the client.
The vocal warmup he had us all partake in was fantastic. The vibration of an entire room of people “sending intent” on an exhaled hum to one specific spot across the room literally made my arms tingle. Amazing stuff.
Randall Ryan, I love his mellow-ness and practical-ness. And his freaking fabulous hair, seriously. I dunno how he does it, I just prefer to chop all mine off and be done with it. Anyhoo…
Randall shared some amazing examples of vocal delivery - including some clips from Dave Fennoy, and Debra Wilson as a tavern wench! Great stuff! Also some fantastic technical advice for auditioning solo in your booth at home.
– Find the loudest tone you’ll have within the set, adjust your gain accordingly, set the peak, and leave it alone. It’s easier to work with low-volume audio than with clipping/peaking.
– The words on the page are not precious. You can contract, you can expand, you can blow through punctuation. The point is to talk the same way that your character does. – – Part of being believable is not being perfect.
– You don’t need to create characters from scratch every single time. If you have established character archetypes/forms that you can pull back up, you can make adjustments or layers to create new patterns and characters.
– If you’re going to do more than one take, make them different. Clients are not looking for a perfect read. They’re looking for a believable representation of the character.
Ok, ok, so I promised to talk a bit about the actual weekend workshop, me rampaging around the room throwing things, and also getting my ass kicked. So here we go, basically in that order.
When I said earlier that directors like Andrea have this ability to pull performances from you that you never knew you were capable of, here’s what I mean.
You can get up to the mic and read your script. You might even read it nicely, you probably have a “great” or “pretty” sounding voice, and damn, you look pretty doing it, too.
But then, she’ll have you take this character, unzip it, and pull its guts out so you can squeeze yourself inside. While you’re in there, you dig around in all the squishy little crevasses of your brain to find memories and emotions you buried years ago so that no one would ever find them. And you connect those experiences to the experiences your character is going through. And pretty soon, you’ve merged, melded, and morphed into this character. You’re no longer you. Everything and everyone who’s not a part of your world in that moment vanishes, and the squiggly marks on the paper in front of you aren’t lines in a script, they’re your own thoughts.
I’ve never tried this sort of method acting before, but being in a safe space among supportive friends and fellow sponges, I picked an orc character to work on, and went all in.
I had to go from happy-go-lucky student-sponge to war-mongering orc in 2.5 seconds. Off came the hat, the Apple Watch, the hippie beaded chakra bracelet. I stalked around the room. My last act as a human was to grab a cup of water, take a swig, and splash the rest on my face to prepare myself for the brutal session I was in for. I launched the cup across the room and rallied my clan for battle.
But why were we going to battle, who were we fighting, and why should I be so enraged before taking up my axe?
What if this wasn’t just a minor skirmish over territory?
What if this was more than a fight for survival against our most hated enemy?
The humans might well want to wipe every Orc clan off the map, but what if *I* had an even deeper reason to hate the humans so thoroughly?
What if I’d uncovered a deep, dark secret that my orc-mother had been a prisoner of war, captured by humans, the worst dishonor imaginable for a noble Orc clan? That I’d only discovered the truth of my half-blood nature after my own child had been born with so many telling human weaknesses that it didn’t survive birth? That this battle is the only way to salvage my family’s honor, and I have no intention of coming back from this battle in order to put an end to my own tainted bloodline? What sort of bitter taste would that leave in my mouth every time I even uttered the word Human?
None of this was in the sides. I'd conjured all these details up in the shower the night before (I do my best thinking in the shower). Human me has never had kids, never wanted to have kids. As someone with PCOS and ultimately having had a hysterectomy due to a biopsy that came back with pre-cancerous cells, I won’t be carrying on my family tree. Our line ends with me. This doesn’t bother human me, I know I’m a spiritual being having a temporary physical experience. I’m just out for a joy ride in this temporary physical vehicle we call a body. But how would another being, species or creature that did value their clan, bloodline and honor above all else handle something like that? That’s the sort of layering and undertones and subtexts I wanted to explore and experiment with, so I wasn’t just stomping around the room because “Orc hate Human, Ugh!” How boringly one-dimensional - and not even lore-friendly - would that be?
Something else interesting happened as my human self faded away. I don’t remember seeing the details of my surroundings, or other human faces. I hadn’t memorized the script, but the words came out anyway. I do remember fluttering back to human consciousness enough to hear directions, and hopefully I was able to implement them. I’m confident in my ability to take direction and run with it under normal circumstances. What I was after was the experience of going all in, a thousand percent, passing Go and collecting $200, in a safe learning environment. And knowing how that feels, being able to pull back enough to take direction, not break things, and not hit anyone with stray projectiles.
When it was all said and done, it was like I’d just run a marathon. And since I’ve never actually run a marathon, and that’s what I imagine it feels like, I’d much rather skip the marathon and just stick to voiceover, thanks very much.
But wait, that wasn’t even when I got my butt kicked. By a hellhound. I mean, as a blind half-spider-demon-spawn with a face full of oozing fangs, I had it coming, honestly.
However, since this has been a bit of a marathon in its own right to write (and probably to read), it’s currently 4am and I’m starting to rock a wicked headache, I’ll save that nightmare fuel for another episode.
If you'd like to book me for your next voiceover project, head on over to voicesbystorm.com or contact me directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org