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The Characters In My Pocket

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Stephanie Ciccarelli
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Join Voice Over Expert Penny Abshire as she introduces you to “The Characters in My Pocket.” Discover how to create your own set of core characters that are used as a basis for developing new characters on the fly when an agent or casting director comes to call; an invaluable skill that all voice actors should develop.

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Penny Abshire, Voice Acting, Characters, Character Voices, Art of Voice Acting, VOICE, Voice Overs

Links from today’s show:

Penny Abshire’s Voices.com Website

Transcript of The Characters In My Pocket

[Opening Music]
Julie-Ann Dean: Welcome to Voiceover Experts brought to you by Voices.com, the number one voiceover marketplace. Voiceover Experts brings you tips, pearls of wisdom and techniques from top instructors, authors and performers in the field of voiceover. Join us each week to discover tricks of the trade that will help you to develop your craft and prosper as a career voiceover talent. It’s never been easier to learn, perform, and succeed from the privacy of your own home and your own pace. This is truly an education you won’t find anywhere else.
This week, Voices.com is pleased to present Penny Abshire.
Penny Abshire: Hi. I’m Penny Abshire, Creative Director of VoiceActing.com and Co-founder of VOICE, the Voiceover International Creative Experience. I’m so honored to have been asked by Voices.com to be one of the contributors to the Voiceover Expert podcast. It’s such a terrific idea.
We, as voice actors are called upon everyday to create characters almost immediately for the different scripts and jobs that we get. It can be challenging at times because there’s usually not enough time to create a believable character on the spot. So today, I’d like to share some techniques with you that work well for me.
When I work with students, I often refer to the characters I keep in my pocket. They’re my core characters. They’re the ones that I go to first. Whenever I get any kind of a script, these ten ladies come out of the pocket and they audition first. When I find the voice that I like the best, then she’s the one that actually does the final audition. During this podcast, I’ll introduce you to just a few of these ladies and I’ll give you some ideas of how you can discover and develop your own core characters.
It’s a little like playing Mr. Potato Head if any of you remember that game. It was a potato that you basically change the hats, the ears, the eyes, the lips, and the nose on to make different characters. So, that’s pretty much what I’m doing with these. I have my core characters, they’re my potato and then I change them just slightly with different attitudes, with a different pitch in my voice and make them into something a little bit different.
The first one that I use and she’s one of my favorites is Marjorie Finkle. Now, Marjorie is my Jewish mother. She is very loud, very obnoxious, has a real good heart too. But, she is kind of over the top. She doesn’t get much commercial work and you can probably figure out why when I give you an example of her voice.
I can take the same energy that Marjorie has and I can turn her into my soccer mom. That’s Debbie Delaney. Now, you all know a soccer mom. They’re pretty or shall I say, energetic and a little obnoxious as well but for Debbie, I don’t want an accent. She’s going to have basically the same voice placement and I’ll keep Marjorie’s energy but I’ll take out the accent, dress her in sweats, give her a blonde ponytail and put her at a sporting event and voila, I’ve got a whole new character that I can use.
Hello. This is Marjorie Finkle. Thank you very much. I have been asked today to give you an example of my voice. This is where my placement is. If I wanted to become Debbie Delaney, I keep the energy but I take out the accent. I put a big smile on my face and here I am, Debbie Delaney, soccer mom.
Now, Debbie Delaney gets lots of work. She can be a young mom, a concerned parent, a gal on the street, a news reporter, a kindergarten teacher or many others by adjusting her energy, attitude, and doing some other vocal characteristic changes.
Another favorite of mine is Emily Fernwood. She’s my librarian. She has a higher pitch to her voice than Marjorie or Debbie. It’s a softer tone, it’s more subdued attitude. One of things that makes Emily very interesting is she’s quite a nervous character. Emily also gets lots of work. The reason that she does is that she’s a believable character. We all know somebody like Emily but she can also be morphed into many other characters as well, into an older lady, a mean old lady or a kindly old lady, a child, an elf, a squirrel, a mouse, any high-pitched character will work with Emily with simply a change of attitude.
Hello. My name is Emily Fernwood and I work at the library because I really enjoy books. They’re very nice. I have been asked today to show you what I could do with my voice. Now, I’m staying at the same pitch but if I wanted to be a little old lady, I’m just going to change my physicalization and I slow down and now, I’m a very nice little old lady. Thank you for coming. I appreciate the visitors. But if I wanted to give her – maybe she’s a mean old lady then I just change my attitude and change my voice placement a little bit and get off my lawn!
As a voice actor, creating your own stable of characters is invaluable because you’ll be called upon to create believable, compelling characters for every script you work on. Remember, it’s never really you doing the script. It’s always the character that you’ve developed.
The more real you make your core characters, the easier it is to play Mr. Potato Head. But instead of giving him new eyes or ears or hat or mouth, you give him a different voice placement, a background, a different attitude, a physicalization, a different body posture, even a different name. The possibilities are limitless.
Now, where do you find characters? I’ll tell you where I find mine. I go hang out at the mall. Yes, I really like to shop but I usually go to the mall to listen for characters. Just sit on a bench and listen. Listen to people as they walk by, the conversations that they’re having. You don’t necessarily have to eavesdrop but listen to the way they form their words and the way they’re communicating. Airports are another good place or a store or any sporting event.
I found Marjorie on an airplane, Emily, interestingly, at the library and Debbie, at a soccer game. You can also get ideas for characters from TV and radio. Try doing impersonations of your favorite characters. If you have a favorite sitcom character, try doing that voice. It might not come out exactly the same but it could give you a very interesting starter voice.
By starter characters, I’m referring to a term that Pat Fraley uses in his classes. You start with a character, a core character in this case and you develop them by giving them different attitudes. It’s the whole Mr. Potato thing. It’s so much easier when you have these characters in your pocket because when an audition comes in, you don’t have to start from scratch. You’re not reinventing the wheel every time you do a script. I just pull my characters out of my pocket and I let them do the work for me.
A very good friend of mine and an amazing voice actor, Wally Wingert said, “I used to have voices in my head then, I just got them all jobs.” So start listening to the voices and characters around you. Through experimentation, pitch, mouth work, attitude, change them up a little bit, make them uniquely yours then put them in your pocket. Pull them out when you need them and let them start working for you. They’ll fast to become your very best friends.
Thanks for listening. It’s been a real pleasure. Until we meet again, be safe, be well, and always stay in character. Bye-bye.
Julie-Ann Dean: Thank you for joining us. To learn more about the special guest featured in this Voices.com podcast, visit the Voiceover Experts show notes at Podcasts.Voices.com/VoiceoverExperts. Remember to stay subscribed.
If you’re a first time listener, you can subscribe for free to this podcast in the Apple iTunes Podcast Directory or by visiting Podcasts.Voices.com. To start your voiceover career online, go to Voices.com and register for a voice talent membership today.
[Closing Music]

Your Instructor this week:

Penny Abshire
Penny AbshirePenny Abshire, A.S.G. is a born performer, a professional speaker, a creative copy-writer, a classically trained pianist… and a former professional belly dancer. She is also a skilled paralegal and office manager. But her true passion is performing as a voice-actor. In the mid 1990’s, Penny was working as a paralegal and presenting Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus seminars, having been personally trained by John Gray. Then she discovered voiceover! Penny was already a highly skilled performer and speaker, and this new area opened up many new doors and literally changed her life.
After a few short years of studying the craft of voice-acting, she left her job as a paralegal to assist James Alburger in the daily operation of The Commercial Clinic. She now co-teaches The Art of Voice Acting workshops and seminars, and is the Creative Director a Producer/Director for The Commercial Clinic. Together James Alburger and Penny Abshire co-write and produce humorous dialog commercials and other projects for audio CD, radio, and TV, as well as work as voice talent for radio, TV and audio book projects.

Enjoyed Penny’s episode? Leave a comment with your thoughts!

Stephanie Ciccarelli
Stephanie Ciccarelli is a Co-Founder of Voices. Classically trained in voice as well as a respected mentor and industry speaker, Stephanie graduated with a Bachelor of Musical Arts from the Don Wright Faculty of Music at the University of Western Ontario. For over 25 years, Stephanie has used her voice to communicate what is most important to her through the spoken and written word. Possessing a great love for imparting knowledge and empowering others, Stephanie has been a contributor to The Huffington Post, Backstage magazine, Stage 32 and the Voices.com blog. Stephanie is found on the PROFIT Magazine W100 list three times (2013, 2015 and 2016), a ranking of Canada's top female entrepreneurs, and is the author of Voice Acting for Dummies®.
Connect with Stephanie on:
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  • Alix
    August 29, 2007, 10:23 pm

    I just wanted to say you did a really good job on the recording. Are you looking for a job or looking for someone to do a job with?

  • eluv
    May 19, 2008, 12:24 am

    Fanstastic info Penny! Thanks for the inspiration and excellent tips.
    Love and Blessings

  • Jill Goldman
    November 11, 2010, 2:54 pm

    I loved your podcast! Very informative and helpful – I can’t wait to start using your tips for creating my own pocket full of characters. I have some already, but I love the way you suggested tweaking them to develop others. The Mr. Potato Head idea feels right on target to me, too.
    Reading your little bio was inspiring, too. Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge with us!
    Warmly, “soccer mom” with a hint of Hungarian Grandma,