As a card carrying overachiever, I remain convinced that if I follow all the rules, I'll win every audition. The following audition experience may be the beginning of a new rule for me: less is more.
It was for a Yahoo! video -- they were seeking an office worker who liked to steal office supplies. Although this was a video, the audition lesson applies to voice over too: less is more. Especially if you have the Mary Windishar problem: "too often too big.”
I suppose I could blame it on my theater training...projecting to the back row and all. But I know better...for video and audio, I need to dampen down my energy. But that didn't stop me from preparing for many moments in this audition...when I first saw the office supplies (surprise!) when I thought about how much I like office supplies (you should see me in Office Max) when I looked around to see if others were watching me (sneaky sneaky) and when I actually nabbed the supplies I wanted (tip toe out before I get caught...)
When I arrived at the casting, the room was crammed with people just like me. I saw a big note on the specs that said, "this is no big deal, don't be too big." I thought, "wait, I have so much good stuff prepared." And, "how can I possibly stand out if I can't show them how well I prepared?" But it was clear that they wanted subtlety. So I felt a little resentful, and thought, "fine." I decided that if I was stealing office supplies the only thing I'd be thinking was "don't be noticed. Just keep moving and you won't attract attention." And that's the way I approached the audition. Even though I was asked to linger longer in front of the camera, I kept that attitude. And then I left, figuring I didn't have a chance at winning this job.
But I did! I got the part, and when the producer called to confirm details, he told me that the director really loved your audition -- he thought you were hilarious. Huh? Really? So then I felt fear, because I wasn't trying to be funny, and wasn't sure I could give them what they saw, because I didn't know what it was.
So I did what every smart actor should do; I asked David Rosenthal (of www.internetvoicecoach.com) for help! He said that long ago someone told him that if his performance wasn't so big, it would leave room for the audience to participate in creating his character. It was the perfect advice, because I realized that's what I needed to keep in mind for the job. I'd have a singular goal (in this case, "keep moving -- nothing to see here...") and use that as my motivation. And it worked. The crew laughed after every take, and told me stuff like, "we actually felt sorry for you...you must be stealing to feed your kids."
As a producer and teacher, I can dissect a commercial and find motivation behind every line. I say to my students and myself "how did they come up with that idea -- it's brilliant." I feel sure it's all planned. But what if it's just my interpretation of the actor's simple, yet consistent intention? What if the talent is doing what David suggests: leaving room for the audience to interact with the character?
All I know is that for over achievers like me, this "less is more" approach works very well. If you're told "let the words do the work," or "dial it back," like I am, here's what to do: find the one, driving purpose that your character has as they say or do what's in the script. Use your "I want to get an A+" energy to come up with alternatives, and to choose the one that you can deliver best. Only one however. Keeping your performance simple will help you avoid overdoing it. And of course, get you jobs and a gold star.