Headless Horseman

Headless Horseman

What better theme for October than the Headless Horseman!  What does this have to do with voice over? You may say, ah, well, that’s exactly what I want to address!


Often I hear from students, ‘I feel like I act or sing from my neck up’. Their body/voice feels like it’s not connected and they don’t have any control over it.  An example would be, those pesky hands that just seem to have a mind of their own. They either fly up when you don’t want them to or you have to pin them down to your sides. They just can’t or won’t move at all.

I know that feeling and do several approaches to re-connect my head and body. I work to help me feel apart of me and I can perform using all of me, rather than just parts.  I’m lucky, that 1 of the 1st things I did was dance training as a teenager. That really got me into knowing my body well. To have a heightened sense of when it’s working or not working physically for me.  That didn’t always mean I knew what to do to correct it.  I’ve spent years trying to find ways to get in touch with my body.

So, what are some of the ways to re-attach my head?

I hear a lot of people say, I want to be ‘comfortable’ in the booth.  ‘Comfort’ doesn’t come into this and it’s not that I won’t feel comfortable that depends on the character. What my character is going through or the themes behind the piece I’m reading.  If anything it’s about being ‘comfortable’ with being ‘uncomfortable’ in the booth. Often, this is in front of other people. You can have an engineer, producer and director on the other side of the glass or phone line.

The voice over booth is a heightened place, where everything tends to be larger or smaller than life, but definitely intimate.  It’s not about the size of what I’m doing, it’s the emotions behind it. The feelings are all there, trying to get out and to be said to the world.  They don’t always come out in nice neat rows either. I can feel happy, sad and angry all at the same time.

What have emotions got to do with it?

Now, why am I talking about emotions when we started with a locked body or disconnected body.  Often, when I feel fear, I can lose touch with my sense of feel, it’s quite common like in a car accident, a person can’t feel anything, but seems to be OK and then, once the shock of the event wears off, the feelings rush in.  Now, this is an extreme example of how the body can react in a highly stressful situation, what I try to do is be in touch with my body and its emotions.

My disconnection…

When I was first training, I had a lot of teachers saying that they liked my work, but I was either making it too complicated or that I was disconnected from my body, too much in the head.  I’m a real thinker, especially when I’m put in front of people. I’m not keen on big groups – believe me this is not lost on me – the irony, now that I have chosen this career as my career.  I need to reconnect and be OK with my feelings that are going on.  Things like, ‘Am I doing this right? or ‘The teacher just asked me to do this thing, but I’m not sure of what that is?’ or whatever.  Even just talking about the lack of connection would make me go even further into it because I just didn’t know anything different.

So here are some ideas of what I’ve done…

Niki Flacks is a great one for this work and she does classes at the Actors Centre (London) every so often. She’s not for the faint of heart, she really gets your emotions going and reconnects you to not only your body/voice but all those feelings that can be frozen inside.

She comes over from the US, so you really have to be on the ball to catch 1 of her classes.  To help you, sign up for her Facebook and Twitter feeds and watch out for when she is coming next.

Letting the emotions out!

Letting the emotions out!

Next, well, I’ve found the Meisner Technique of acting is brilliant. It’s all about getting in touch with all those ‘bad’ habits and exploring new ways to deal with them that are organic to me.

Scott Williams and the Impulse Theatre is the one I would highly recommend for this work.

I’ve also found the work of Roy Hart teachers really helpful – most of these, as I know are in North America.

Top tips to reconnect…

Stamp your feet when you realise you’ve lost connection with your body.  They are the furthest away from your head, so reconnecting to them can help bring it all back together.  Now you may think this is odd, but it’s important as a VO artist to keep the connection to the body to ensure a real and expressive voice. People can’t see the physicality, but it can be heard in the voice.

Stamp your foot

Stamp your foot

Or, you can practise this in front of a ‘safe’ audience.  Now how do I define a ‘safe audience’? They are people who will watch and listen to you and only say nice things.  You can create this group by telling them, they are not allowed to criticise you, merely enjoy what you do. That way you and they know that they are only there to support you in a positive, friendly and kind manner.

If your hands are ‘creatures’ that don’t belong to you, shake or wring them out, get back in touch with them.  Maybe even grab them if they are flying around and allow your frustration with them to come out in your work.  This is what rehearsal is for, but the worst thing you can do as a performer is suppressing them.  The body needs to move and by holding onto and not allowing it movement, can only make the matter worse.  Start to practise allowing your awareness of what is going on and then, most likely, do the opposite.

So, just move it…

Move It!

Move It!

If your hands are the type that don’t move at all, fake it!  Move them, find what their natural speech or pattern needs to be.  You don’t want to make it the same every time, so explore.  Here’s some online inspiration with Madagascar – I like to Move it!

A great 1 for helping you when you stumble over the lines is to move. Move around in your chair or booth, just move. If for some reason you are directed to not move, move something, anything, your neck, your fingers. Wherever you are noticing that you are ceasing up, move it. Even if that means you need to do a little dance with your hips to get your legs to unlock.

So you move and then let go, it’s not about doing the movement forever, just to shake it out in a way.  If it’s frustration, let it out – whether that’s through your voice or body – they both work. Just be mindful of any noises you make when you do it! You don’t want any other noise to be heard in a recording other than your voice. This can be great in your rehearsal to loosen you up!

Funky Chicken dance

Funky Chicken dance

So, if you see me doing a funky chicken dance as a default, just join in with me, it’ll keep us amused, have fun and enjoy a fun moment.  See, the Headless Horseman is just misunderstood, really he just needs to get his head and body moving again!

Love to hear your thoughts, what situations do you experience with a locked body…

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