Connie Terwilliger – ISDN Voice Talent

September 9, 2013

Improv and Successful Voiceover Work?

Filed under: Musings, Techniques — Tags: , , , — connieterwilliger @ 10:44 am

I have long been told (and even suggest it myself) that Improv is a great training ground for voiceover pros. Instinctively I think I knew this to be true. But I have never been able to really articulate exactly why. Edge Studio published an article by Vanessa Richardson that finally clarified it for me.

Spontaneity is the word I have been using when thinking and talking about what Improv training will do to help improve delivery of a script, but it goes deeper than just being spontaneous.

The dictionary defines Spontaneous as “1. coming or resulting from a natural impulse or tendency; without effort or premeditation; natural and unconstrained; unplanned: a spontaneous burst of applause.” Or 2. (of a person) given to acting upon sudden impulses.”

This doesn’t really explain what is actually happening in Improv and how it might relate to reading a script.

It gets more confusing because the word improvise is defined as doing something without preparation.  We all improvise. Every day, all day, we move through our days with little acts of improvisation. For most people, we do not have a script written each morning that details our conversations and interactions. The improv we do here may or may not be good improv.  It may or may not be funny (which is not necessary for improv).  But even if it is funny, the simple act of making the mail carrier laugh because of a witty response to the garden hose bursting and both of us getting soaked is not going to bring in the paying crowds.

What exactly is going on? Let’s look at two facts…

– Good Improv isn’t scripted, but it is backed by lots and lots of preparation.

– Voiceover work is scripted and often times performed with very little preparation.

So, how do these two things go together to help the voiceover performer do a better job? It is all about the connections you make in each. And the key is included in this short quote from Vanessa’s article – drum roll please…

It’s called listening.

In our everyday lives, we all need to listen, being aware of our surroundings and open to a change in direction. This is a key reason why (as actors such as Meryl Streep have long advised), listening is at the core of acting. Listen to the other actor. (Or if you prefer, your character should listen to the other character.) Even when you’re working solo, listen to yourself.

Also listen to your producer, director or client. They are, in effect, your scene partner. The better you listen and are able to take direction in a relaxed and positive manner, the more able you are to make them look good.

As a voice talent, reading from someone else’s script (usually all by myself), it is my job to get inside the head of the other person listening to this “conversation” and – in the way I deliver the story – let their part of the conversation connect with my part of the conversation.

Read the rest of the article for more insight into how Improv and the art of listening and reacting spontaneously can help improve your performance when reading a script.







  1. As someone who has been doing improv for over 30 years, I have told many aspiring voice actors that if there was only ONE training to have it would be improv. Listening is without a doubt a fundamental aspect of improv that works to the voice actors benefit. But I think that first and foremost I look at what are generally accepted to be the basic rules of improv.

    1. Play smarter than you are
    2. Say yes, and
    3. commit
    4. There are no rules

    The above principles of improv tend to work very well as training for many professions and avocations.

    (I won’t go into detail regarding the above, since there is a wealth of information on improv available

    If I were to say what the greatest gift improv gives to the voice actor is that as voice actors we are often called upon to say things that people normally wouldn’t say and we are called upon to say these things in a very specific way. Additionally, good improvisers will also do what they can to keep their fellow improvisers involved and to have them look good. In our work as voice over talent, we must remember that we are not the stars, but the products, services, information or story we are telling is what is most important. We are the method of conveyance.

    The last bit is that improv should be fun. We don’t go for the obvious jokes or plan to slip in a punchline, but through play, we develop stories. Sometimes, a person who embarks on a journey of doing voice over will fall short of even reaching meager financial goals, thus it is imperative that the journey be as enjoyable as possible. Otherwise we are left with nothing to show for our efforts.

    Comment by J.S. Gilbert — September 9, 2013 @ 12:12 pm

  2. Thanks J.S. I remember a conversation I had one time when I was supervising the video department at General Dynamics in San Diego. There was some big project that we were working on and not a lot of progress had been made at the particular moment in time when the Vice President came down to the department almost dragging his Director with him wanting to speak to the Manager, who wasn’t there so he ended up with me – the Supervisor. I didn’t know the answer, so I tried to “play smarter” and got quite the lesson in not bull-sh*tting a bull-sh*ter. I think my reply should have been “Ah, Bach.” Or a simple “I don’t know, but I’ll find out and get you the answer.”

    Comment by connieterwilliger — September 9, 2013 @ 1:40 pm

  3. I think that “playing smarter than you are” works very well for things like corporate narratives, medical reads, legal, etc., where J S or Connie the actor, may not quite comprehend what they are supposed to be saying. So, while I may not have a clue about much of what I am asked to talk about, it doesn’t sound like it to the listener. Knowing a little bit about many things tends to help with v.o., perhaps not in real life. I recall my needing to say something at the mechanics recently, simply because I know nothing about cars. I said “maybe it’s one of the belts”. Apparently it was a good guess, which then got the mechanic talking up a storm about the inner workings of the car. I felt like a waiter in a Chinese restaurant, just repeating every fifth word he said back to him, while nodding my head.

    Yeah, playing smarter than you are tends to work well in voice over, but maybe not too many other places.

    Comment by J.S. Gilbert — September 10, 2013 @ 4:32 pm

  4. Yes, now I understand what you mean. We have to do that frequently when we are working in biotech or other very technical subjects. That’s when our understanding of sentence structure comes in handy. When you have no idea what you are talking about, but you catch the error because the sentence just does’t work correctly. Most of the time, we are right! In fact, sometimes not knowing everything about a particular subject helps you ask the right questions which can help the SME realize that they left out a few steps in their explanation on how to do something. They know how to get from A to D on auto-pilot, but someone just learning needs to know B and C in order to get to D. But a couple months ago, I put a pause between two words thinking that a punctuation mark had been left out. It came back to me with the client comment being – “She put a pause there. There wasn’t a comma there.”

    Comment by connieterwilliger — September 10, 2013 @ 5:19 pm

  5. […] Improv And Successful Voiceover Work? Connie Terwilliger […]

    Pingback by 10 Top Voiceover Blog PostsThis Week - September 14, 2013 | Derek Chappell's Voiceover Blog — September 14, 2013 @ 10:39 am

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