A couple weeks ago, I overheard two women engrossed in a conversation about one of their husbands. “He’s emotionally constipated,” the one woman said to the other. I won’t bore you with the rest of the details of their chat, but that phrase got me thinking about how “emotional constipation” can affect actors in my industry.
But first, a definition: emotional constipation is not letting your emotions flow out, and keep them all bottled up in yourself. Sounds about like you expected, doesn’t it?
Usually this happens with young or inexperienced VO actors who haven’t yet mastered the art. They haven’t figured out how to make the copy their own, or how to inject believable emotion into what they’re reading. The very dedicated ones will learn how to do this, but for those who don’t spend the time or fully commit themselves to the process - well, let’s just say there’s no such thing as voice over Ex-Lax.
So how does one overcome a case of emotional constipation then?
Through practice, of course. As I said, you need plenty of motivation and determination, but practice goes hand-in-hand with those attributes. The more you practice acting (because that’s what you’re doing, after all), the less constipated you’ll become... to put it abruptly.
Here’s an exercise that I used frequently at the beginning of my career, and still employ from time to time just to stay sharp. Come up with a mundane sentence, like “How are you getting to work today?” or “I’m going to Susan’s house tonight” and apply the following emotions to it:
Now, read your sentence with each emotion. If you can think of other emotions, go ahead and try it with those too. Record yourself reading the sentence, and listen to see if you can hear and feel the emotion coming through in your words. If you can’t, neither can your audience, and you can go ahead and diagnose yourself as constipated.
Keep doing this, over and over, and practicing with new sentences and new emotions if you like. The more you do it, the more comfortable it will become...and the more believable it will become as well.
Understanding and using emotions is an important part of our jobs as voice actors, and mastering this skill takes time and plenty of practice. If you’ve been emotionally constipated, it’s time to get….unstopped….or your career as a voice over actor could be headed straight for the toilet.