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Don't sell your soul. Lend it.

“Commercial work pays great, if you don’t mind selling your soul.”

Commercial voiceover is the average type of job I score. True, the work can be a little less than life-giving at times. But what talent has the opportunity to create multi-dimensional characters and performs award-winning dialogue on every job?

Every commercial copy I receive isn’t Shakespeare, but more often than not, the artistry and economy of the copywriter’s words impress me. And occasionally, national brands do choose to use renowned literature to elevate their brand. (Mercedes using Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, for example.). We’ve come a long way from fake-smiling ladies gesturing robotically while some deep-voiced man relays product details. Today’s commercials trigger nostalgic tears, ignite deep-bellied laughter, and inspire cultural rhetoric (Got Milk?).

They are filled with artistry and intention! But I’m not here to advocate for commercials. I’m here to persuade you of the artistry and intention we need to put forth as an actor and voice artist when we are auditioning for that next Hawaiian Punch ad. Perhaps it sounds silly. But after attending Kay Bess’ “Acting for Commercials: A World of Pure Imagination” X-Session at this year’s VO Atlanta, I’m convinced this is what will set me apart, book me the job, and most importantly, help me discover joy in my craft amidst the everyday mundane.

“The first thing you should do when you receive a script,” she urged us, “is to imagine it as a finished product.” What does it look like? What kind of music is playing? What are some key words you’d use to describe the concept. What are the brand values? Because really, when it comes to national brands, you’re selling the brand values more than the individual product.

Then, Imagine yourself in the role you’re auditioning for. How do you fit? Consider the “who, what, when, where, and why” of the script. If it’s not there, make it up! That’s what your imagination is for, and that’s why we all become actors in the first place, right? Make a bold choice! (Something I also heard casting director after casting director say at the VO Atlanta Conference). Do the freakin work!

Yes, these are just the basics of acting. But how often do you really consider these elements when it comes to commercial auditions? How often do you look through a stack of casting notices feeling uninspired and bogged down by the fact that you “just do commercials, mostly”? Or even worse, how often do you pass up a great script, because it seems like too much work and you don’t have the time? Taking Kay Bess’ class made me realize even though I’m not preparing for a role in The Cherry Orchard, I should be putting my acting techniques—the ones I paid good money and spent years to learn—to use with every audition!

I'll admit that I've let this slip out of my daily practice. But I vow to never again to use the excuse that I don’t have the time to do the work. I chose this industry to do the work! If I’m not taking the time to imagine, then why am I doing it? Here lies the key to not selling your soul in the commercial acting realm: lend your soul into to every piece as though it were Chekov, or Ibsen, or Shakespeare, giving it the artistry and intention you’ve learned, and see how you shine.

This week I took some time to record and create a little video and music for the piece I worked on in the X-Session: Do Not Go Gentle Into that Good Night by Dylan Thomas. She gave us a handful of copy to choose from. At first I dismissed this piece, assuming it was a man’s voice the director envisioned. I gravitated towards something more obviously “me”. Then I stopped to think: “Here is some fantastic literature. Don’t I want a challenge? Don’t I want to dive into the emotional depths this piece is lending me? Here is an opportunity for me to really act! Will I pass it up for what’s comfortable and familiar?” I chose the piece, creating a deep emotional backstory, and gave it my all. I hope you enjoy it.


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