Saturday, February 24, 2007

Taking funny voices seriously.

I’ve written here before about my early voice-over influences – more specifically, the “funny voices” influences. They were, unequivocally, Beyond the Fringe and to a lesser extent Mike Nichols and Elaine May. These people were funny. Funny enough to attract the attention of a 9-year old and keep it for the next several decades & beyond. This attraction played a significant role in my eventual choice to leave my career as a biologist in favor of one as a voice artist specialising in character voices and accents (as well as medical/science & museum narration). Now that I’m getting more and more work doing accents, however, I’m finding my biggest challenge to be to get away from the humor and take the voices seriously. I have several humorous Hispanic characters in my personal acting troupe, but I had to send them away recently when I was hired for a serious and somewhat dramatic project for Oregon artist Daniel Dancer of Mr. Dancer wanted a “light Spanish accent” to narrate a short film on his art. Although the project, in hindsight, went smoothly, there was a lot of hand-wringing on my part. I had to really throw myself into the role and try to take myself seriously –more accurately, I had to forget myself in order to do the job properly. Forgetting one’s self is key. And definitely, forgetting about being funny is a must.

Currently, I’m taking a university theatre course on dialects. Talk about bliss! When class starts we have to sit in a circle and speak to each other in the dialect that is currently under study. As Tito (Cheech Marin) said in Oliver & Company, “Man, if thees eez torture, chain me to dee wall!!!!” I had hoped to get away from humor at least some of the time in this class, particularly during our work on standard British, since I sometimes feel that Beyond the Fringe has destroyed my chances of ever doing a British accent for a serious performance. Alas, I ended up being required to memorise a speech by Lady Bracknell from The Importance of Being Earnest, so “serious” was not to be. We are currently studying American Southern accents and may yet be called upon not to be funny; we shall see.

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