Improv! Whether it’s a full on improv comedy show or improv in acting, I’m huge fan of improv! When I was studying acting at NYU one of my favorite things to do in class was to work on improv. Improv has so many forms. I especially love how improv is used to create comedy in shows like Who’s line is it Anyway, Second City, the Groundlings, etc. But I also love how improv can help an actor connect more to a script.
So how does improv apply to the voice actor? Improv is a great way to help your reads stand out and connect more with both the character you’re playing and the audience you’re trying to reach. I love using improv in my VO work. Especially when it comes to commercials. And these days producers love voice actors who know how to incorporate improv into a script.
The trick is knowing how to “sprinkle” the script with your own improv without changing the intent of the writer. This can be challenging. But when done properly it can really make the script go from good to great.
I think the best times to improv in a commercial is at the very beginning, towards the middle, and at the very end of the script. It’s all about making the copy sound as natural as possible. When you throw in a couple words or phrases that only you would say, you can really make the script sound like it’s coming from you the vo artist. I like to think of a scripted sentence as a semi blank canvas. The picture is partially painted. But the voice actor can enhance the image by adding a few of their own “sketches” to the canvas.
Now using Improv at the very end of a script can sometimes be risky because chances are you are working with a tag line that was specifically crafted for that spot. But that said, I’ve added improv to tag lines that have gone to air and worked out nicely.
The audition is often the best place to use improv. When it comes time for the actual session you have to tread carefully because the script has probably gone through legal approval. So during a session always make sure to get a few takes saying the script “as is”. But the audition is a great place to apply your improv skills. At the very least it can help you to stand out amongst the competition. The listener may have to sift through 100’s of auditions. When you add improv to your audition you increase your chances of being remembered and possibly booking the gig.
The biggest thing with improv is to have fun. And make sure you’re really doing improv. Nothing worse then going into a partner read audition and the other person starts saying “hey maybe we should add this or you say that before I say this and add”…etc. I’m a purest. Go through the script and see what plays out. If something works you can keep it. But improv should be as described, and it should not be planned beforehand. Let your instincts react in real time!
Try to keep your improv short and sweet. As mentioned earlier your goal is to sprinkle the script with improv vs drenching it. Try not to add lengthy sentences that can change the intention of the script and add too much time which can cause the read to run long.
Every once in a while, you’ll run into a director who believes that it’s sacrilege to change the script at all. If you run into one of these directors take heed and stick to the script. But in general improv is very well accepted in today’s VO world. Have fun with it. Be bold, and be you. I have several clients I’ve worked with for years who basically expect me to add improv to the script because it’s what I’m known for. I’ve even saved the day by helping make scripts that time out short time out perfectly. Always have fun with your improv! The worst thing that happens is you make a mistake. This is voice over…that’s why they invented take 2, 3, 4…and then some!