A Class with a Pronounced Effect
A Class with a Pronounced Effect
By Philip Morgan | July 2008
Dunedin – I’m supposed to make “mmmm” sound like an expression of pleasure, but my voice coach tells me I sound like someone just kicked me in the shin. Furthermore, I ran roughshod over periods and commas in my haste to pitch the delights of the functional restaurant in my script. When I reminiscence about Grandma’s cooking, I sound like it wasn’t very good. Looks like I have some work to do before I become a voice actor. About 20 of us have gathered at the Dunedin recreation center to hear veteran voice-over actor Paul Greenberg tell us how to make it in the biz. Retired minister Fred Hass of Dunedin paid $20 for the one-night class so he can go on the church circuit as a guest reader of Scripture.
Jim Martin, a Dunedin Highland Middle School Teacher with a convincing German accent, is exploring the possibilities of voice character action. A group of community actors from the Dunedin Showcase Theater also is here, along with public relations specialist Elaine K. Mann of Dunedin, who writes copy for voice actors. It’s different from being a radio disc jockey, says Greenberg, who travels the country giving one-night seminars for the Creative Voice Development Group of New York. Before that, he specialized in voice-overs. He has narrated a lot of corporate and industrial training films and did work for CNBC and the Financial News Network. You don’t need a booming announcer voice, he tells the class. You just need an interesting voice. He passes along a few voice- acting tricks, gimmicks that would make us sound crazy if we talked that way to friends. For an enthusiastic tone, try talking with a smile. It works, Greenberg says, even if it’s a fake one. For emphasis, try to pause between syllables: in- credible. When reciting flavors, create a tone for each. That keeps the listener’s brain focused on every word, he says. Obviously, there’s more to this than, well, talking. As Greenberg puts it, “You must be able to accurately read unfamiliar material expressively while taking direction.” We gather in groups of four, each with a line in a fake commercial. Those who win praise seem to take their time, pronouncing each word clearly and conversationally. I’m supposed to say “Mmmm. That home-cooked aroma reminds me of Grandma’s house. I remember when we would get the entire family together, and everyone would just relax and catch up with each other.” As I focus on smile-talk, I sprint through the words like a coffee mainliner. And “mmmm” simply eludes me. I have a second go: “Mmmm, that home-cooked aroma…” “Stop!” Greenberg interrupts. “That was still a shin-kicking! Goodness gracious!” He compliments my pace on the third try, but says nothing more about “mmmm.” I sense it’s better this time – a softer, more relaxed cry of pain. A lot of us fill out forms to get a more detailed evaluation from another pro at the company, also known as Voice Coaches. We must sign a warning that “this evaluation may include critique.” I take it they don’t mean a positive one. I predict they’ll tell me to stick to print communications, but I’m surprised. On the phone the next day, company founder, David Bourgeois, tell me I did well. Of course, I muddled a few lines, I needed to vary my tone. But I seemed to be having fun at the microphone (could be all that smiling), and I took direction well. With a bit more instruction, I may have a shot at a glamorous new career. “Mmmm!”
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