‘Voiceover Improvisation’ – An Oxymoron?

Check out this group of VO talent; Each is in their own individual sound booth but all are connected intercontinentally via Skype. We hear them making nasal noises at each other, then making free word-associations, and at its most hilarious – a scene about a two miners dredging a frog infested lake to save a camel’s hump, culminating their session with the phrase: “That camel’s rockin’ with a bumpitty-bumpitty on that humpitty-humpitty.” No, they’re not doing Fran Drescher impersonations, nor writing lyrics for the Black-Eyed Peas. They’re actually practicing their VO improvisation skills, and they’re having a blast while doing it.

Improvisation training has long been an important element in formulating most actors’ skill sets. Indeed, the first known use of it was in the fourth century, B.C. Today, nearly all stage and screen actors with formalized training have had at least some experience with improv. Tina Fey referred to it as a career-changer. Actress and Casting Direcrtor Carloynne Barry advocates that improvisation “helps actors get more commercial auditions and is truly a major asset in doing better at their auditions.” And while she credits her 400 commercials to her improvisation training, Barry was an on-camera actor in most of her bookings. So how can this apply to VO talent? Well certainly VO talent can and should use in-person classes to learn basic acting, improvisation and other VO skills. And there are plenty of places to get improv experience at local acting or comedy studios. But for a lot of professional VO talent with acting or performance experience – how can they keep their skills sharp, and practice improv for VO – in an audio environment?

In July of 2013, VO actress Rebecca Michaels Haugh aka “LoveThatRebecca” finally answered that question. She had a huge desire and passion to workout with improvisation for voiceover but couldn’t find anyone else offering such a service, so she decided to do it herself! That’s how she launched Love That ImproVO – online voice over improv workouts for working VO actors. It’s the first completely online gathering of VO artists in an improv setting. Rebecca created ImproVO specifically for VO talent working from their home studios. This is actually the first time in history that improvisation has been wed with VO and internet in a weekly workout format. Although many voice actors are familiar with online coaching or online group webinars, Love That ImproVO is the first of its kind to provide a safe, creative and private place for VO talent to build and flex their improv skills – online.

Here’s what some of the participants are saying: “I thoroughly enjoyed the workout! It was a lot of fun and very informative… Thanks again for these Improv sessions, wonderfully entertaining and immensely helpful!” One somewhat recalcitrant beginner decided to take a personal risk and join ImproVO, and had this to say: “I just wanted to say thank you again for a great improv (workout)… I don’t have such a fantastical imagination as you and the others but it was great to participate, face my fears and start the process of saying “yes” and exercising my brain!” ImproVO helps participants practice creativity to enhance, build or explore personal skills, thus increasing their likelihood of booking more jobs.
Booking jobs is one thing, but performing in a live session is another! There’s a director who may ask the VO artist to shift to a different attitude or try a completely new role. This all happens entirely in the moment, for which an ImproVO participant would be more prepared. After her weekly workout, one participant told Rebecca “… You are helping us “stretch” beyond our comfort zones, and thus, enabling us to grow.” The workouts are geared to push participants into new directions. So if a director might like your voice, but ask you to “do it again, this time seven years younger… and do it like you’re a mushroom,” then you’d be thankful for ImproVO!

Story by: Justin Sakalis