Podcasts Voice Over Experts Voice Over Improvisation Skills
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Voice Over Improvisation Skills

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Stephanie Ciccarelli
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Join Voice Over Expert Pat Fraley in his lesson on “Voice Over Improvisation Skills”. Improv is spontaneous writing, and for voice talent, it’s spontaneous rewriting! Of the nine critical skills of voice over, improvisation is the most misused and at the same time the most underused voice over skill. Learn more about a topic that is shrouded in mystery and controversy with master teacher, Patrick Fraley.


Improv, improvisation, Pat Fraley, Patrick Fraley, voice acting, voice over, voice talent, voiceovers

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Pat Fraley
Pat Fraley Free Lessons

Your Instructor this week:

Voice Over Expert Pat Fraley

Patrick FraleyPatrick Fraley has created voices for over 4,000 characters, placing him among the top ten performers of all time to be cast in animation. He has produced dozens of award-winning audiobooks, such as, Adventures of Tom Sawyer, A Very Easy Death, and The Light in The Piazza. Pat produced and performed all 100 voices on the award winning audiobook, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which People Magazine hailed as, “The best yet of this evergreen.” Patrick teaches events, workshops, and seminars on various aspects of voice over across the country, and has created a variety of instructional books and CDs, all available at PatFraley.com. He is a member of The Voice and Speech Trainers of America, and holds a Master of Fine Arts degree in Professional Acting from Cornell University.

Did you enjoy Pat’s episode? Leave a comment with your thoughts!

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 has 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 Pat Fraley.
Male: Doctor, doctor, we need help.
Pat Fraley: Diagnosis?
Male: Lethargic copy, humor is low, 75-second line count and we just can’t get it down to 60.
Pat Fraley: Analysis on text checked?
Male: Yes.
Pat Fraley: Acting injection?
Male: Yes.
Pat Fraley: Character, accents done?
Male: Yes.
Pat Fraley: Mic tech?
Male: Yes.
Pat Fraley: Reading and voice?
Male: Yes.
Pat Fraley: Energy level.
Male: No response. We’re losing it. What do we do?
Pat Fraley: Stand back. Time for E.R. improv. Paddles, clear. We’re back in business.
Male: Thank you. Thank you so much, doctor.
Pat Fraley: Hi, this is Pat Fraley with a lesson on voiceover improvisation skills. First, let me establish a working definition of improv or improvisation. It’s spontaneous writing and for many of the genres of voiceover, it’s spontaneous rewriting. Of the nine critical skills to voiceover, acting, reading and voice, relaxation, character and accents, energy, microphone technique, business, sense of scene and text analysis, improvisation is the most misused and at the same time, underused skill of them all. It’s shrouded in controversy. Half of the voiceover instructors and casting people advise talent not to even bother even on auditions. And very few, if any instructors, teach how it specifically is applied to the various genres of voiceover.
So why the confusion? Let’s first look at the misused problem. And I’m applying this to commercials right now. Many voiceover talents misuse and misapply improv to commercials for a couple of reasons. First, to make the spot funnier and somehow draw attention to their comedic abilities or to make themselves comfortable with their performance. Both of these applications are generally wrong and folly.
First, comedy is not king with regard to commercials. Humor is. There’s a critical difference. The objective of comedy is to amuse. If you look back to the word roots of amuse, you’ll get to not think. Advertisers want people to remember their product or service. How many times have you seen a commercial which is so funny you can’t remember the product or service?
Now, the objective of humor is to emotionally connect the audience or listener with an experience. When a message is connected with emotion, the memory recall of the message goes way up. Humor is the glue between message and memory. Making a line or word in the commercial funnier can adversely affect the commercial. Of course, there are exceptions. Remember there are no rules, only notions.
The second way the performer misuses improvisation is to make them selves more comfortable with the language. They read a sentence. It’s awkward so they rewrite it or they sense the copy needs to be more real so they put in a lot of ‘ahems’ and ‘huhs’ or some, ‘you know’. This is simply using one’s skill, improvisation, to cover the lack of another, acting. A performer’s job is to take text, script or copy and breathe life into it. Some of the copy we get is horrid. It’s a challenge. Hey, so is Shakespeare. Get over it. Get more training.
You know, copywriter have the right things that make their skin crawl because clients are involved and marketing. You know, the marketing people come with a list of words to some copywriters like zesty or scrumptious that must appear in the copy. That’s their burden. The talent’s burden is to say them in a way that makes them work. Now that’s two of the most common misuses of improv.
Now, a couple of thoughts on how improv is underused. It’s underused because agents and casting people have heard it misused so much. They get a middle management mentality. No improv, stick to the script. Same with dialects by the way. The talent gets a fear of improv mentality when in fact, rewriting or improv may be the only way to make the commercial work. You can only fix bad or unclear copy with acting to a certain point. Sometimes, rewriting a line, a phrase, untwisting a sentence especially when it sets up the whole premise of a spot is needful. Your improv should be solely guided by this. What needs clarification? Is the story unclear? Is my character unclear? Is the scene unclear? This questions kick in when you’ve exhausted your efforts with fixing it with your other skills particularly with acting.
Now, a couple of tips on improv for commercials. Look for the word “approved” on the copy. If you find it somewhere in the masthead, forget about improv. Also, if you find a note on the copy that gives you the impression it has gone through a lot of revisions, forget improv. Another tip, try to resist the arbitrary, funny adlib at the end of a spot. If the copywriter had 65 seconds, he or she would have written it. If you really must improv a line or phrase, say in an audition, do it at the top of the spot. At least there, it will make your audition sound a little different from others.
Now, thus far, I’ve been referencing the voiceover genre of commercials for improv application. A couple of other genres, animation tracks. In many shows, comedy is in fact king and if you can make it funnier, go ahead. Improv. On auditions and in shows, TV copy versus radio, less on TV. They have a bigger budget than radio and they get more attention from the copyrighter. Interactive gaming, very little, primarily because you have no time. I only request to change a line for clarity or wrong grammar depending on the appropriate education and knowledge of the character. Audiobooks? Zero. Finally, improv doesn’t have to happen in the booth. If improv is spontaneous writing, that can happen as you prepare to audition or perform.
John Cleese, the television and film actor, veteran of the comedic group Monty Python and Fawlty Towers was once in the recording booth when an engineer asked him if he were ready to read. John Cleese replied, “Not just yet. I haven’t finished writing down my adlibs.” Believe me, it’s a whole lot easier to be spontaneous in the lobby than to add it to all the other pressures in front of the microphone. If I’ve opened up a can of interest [Phonetic] [0:07:22] and you would like to get some personal attention on improv skills, just go to my website, find my teaching schedule and you’ll have access to more information and the way to enroll. Thanks for listening.
Male: Doctor, we’re losing it again.
Pat Fraley: Oh, dear. I must have missed a verb. Come on. Come on.
Julie-Ann Dean: 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]
Julie-Ann Dean: This has been a Voices.com production.

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®.
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  • Alex Rain
    July 15, 2009, 8:29 pm

    Another great podcasts with the one and only Pat Fraley… typically humorous and always insightful… valuable clues on when NOT to improvise. Keep ’em coming! Thanks, Pat for all you do!

  • JC Haze
    August 19, 2009, 5:26 pm

    I can’t believe it.
    My voice over education expands with EVERY podcast.
    Thank You, Voices.com…and the incredibly talented Pat Fraley!