And thanks for reading! Let’s have a bit of fun and think about what we might be able to do if we had a time machine.
Just a reminder here that when I use the term “actor” I mean it to encompass all forms of acting including voice, stage, and screen. Yeah, I know I say this every week, but it falls under the heading of “The things that go without saying are the things that most need to be said”. What follows applies relatively equally to all of these forms of acting.
We see it all the time
That age old social media question about what age would you go back to if you could. This is not that. THIS is about staying the same age you are now and traveling through time. What would you do? Who would you talk to? You can post yours in the comments section below, but here are mine.
Nope. Not interested. I wouldn’t use my time machine to assassinate Hitler or prevent JFK from being killed or any of a million bad things that have happened throughout history. Why? Well, who knows what other potentially worse things may happen as a result. I’m not smart enough to know how my actions might influence future events, so I’d just leave the past as it is…well, mostly.
If I could talk to my younger self
If I had a chance to talk to me, and could convince me that I was future me, I’d only say three things:
- I’d let me know that I turned out OK and stop worrying about it.
- Suggest I pay a little closer attention in school (of course…who wouldn’t?)
- Suggest I not give up on acting so I didn’t have to start over again so late in life.
That’s it…I wouldn’t warn myself about all the stupid mistakes I made or try to change the trajectory of my life, because then I might not be the guy I am…and I am pretty fond of me right now.
The first VO artist
A lot of people believe Walt Disney became the first VO artist when he recorded the voice of Mickey Mouse in Steamboat Willy. A lot of people would be wrong. The very first voice artist was a man named Reginald Fessenden, and I’d try to meet and talk with him. I’d have to travel all the way back to 1900 Canada to do that. My goal would be to learn WHY he started recording his voice (he recorded weather reports). It’s interesting what VO has become today, and it would be even more interesting to talk to the guy who invented it!
May as well meet the master himself
No actor worth his salt would travel back in time without meeting the great Konstantin Stanislavsky. As long as I was checking out 1900 Canada, I should take a quick trip to Russia to meet and study with Stanislavsky. Of course, it may take a while since I’d first have to learn to speak and understand Russian, but it would be worth it. I’d train with the founder of actors “inhabiting” a character instead of pretending to be that person.
Moving forward in time…
Not much chance I’d get to actually speak with Walt Disney, but I’d try or at least speak with some of his minions. While he did not record the first VO, he did record the first VO synchronized with animation. I’d love to hear about how he conceived and executed that. Well, I also wouldn’t mind picking mister Disney’s brain about a lot of things, including his vision for the future. No giving away future secrets though!
Even before Disney though…
Since I’d already spent some time studying with Stanislavsky (and learning to speak Russian) it’s probably a good idea to head to the US and see if I couldn’t hook up with Lee Strasberg for a while and learn Method Acting, which is of course an offshoot of the teachings of Stanislavsky. Most modern acting disciplines are based on Stanislavsky’s work, and The Method is one of them. How cool to study with both men one right after the other?
And while I am in the 1930’s
May as well see if I couldn’t get a chance to work with the prolific Mel Blanc. As a matter of fact, Mr. Blanc is regarded as the most prolific voice actor in entertainment history. He voiced so many cartoon characters it would take the rest of this blog just to list them, but of course some of the most famous are Porky Pig, Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd, and Daffy duck. A couple coaching sessions with him would be an amazing experience and couldn’t help but offer an improvement for me.
Jump forward to the ‘50’s
A stop in NYC is in order where I’d enroll in classes at HB studio in Greenwich Village. I mean, just hanging out in The Village in the 1950’s would be cool enough but learning directly from one of the greatest contemporary acting teachers, Uta Hagen, would put the icing on the cake. Hagen’s technique, also based on Stanislavsky’s teachings, draws from an actor’s personal life and uses those experiences to substitute or transfer them to the character. Her method wants the actor’s essential self to show through the performance of their character.
And no trip through time would be complete…
Selfishly I would also jump FORWARD from today 10-20 years just to see if I ever win that Oscar. And no, I wouldn’t want to know the date of my death. That’s just scary and creepy.
We can do a lot of this WITHOUT a time machine!
While it would definitely be fun to travel through time (if only) and learn from some of the foundational people in the worlds of acting and VO…it’s possible to do that travel through books and today’s acting classes. Sadly, not many of the great voice actors wrote books about their trade (at least not the ones I mention above), although Mel Blanc did write a memoir called “That’s not all Folks” which could be a fun read. If you are interested, what follows are some books by these famous teachers. If not, then stop reading now.
The most recommended book by Stanislavsky is “An Actor Prepares”. If you don’t read anything else by him, read this one. If you enjoy it you can follow that up with “Building a Character”, “Creating a Role”, and “An Actors Work”. You can’t go wrong with Stanislavsky but remember to use it as a basis for understanding later work by those who learned from him directly or from those who learned from his students.
Not quite as prolific a writer as Stanislavsky, he did pen a couple of useful books. The first, and probably most important for actor’s studying his “Method” would be “A Dream of Passion: The Development of the Method” followed by “Acting: A Handbook of the Stanislavski Method”
The most contemporary word on acting comes from Uta Hagen. Many actors like her teachings because it falls somewhere between the external and internal aspects of portraying a role. The two books to read by Hagen are “Respect for Acting” and “A Challenge For The Actor”. If you want to up your acting game, these are great books to do it with.
Thanks for coming along!
It was fun to take a short trip back in time to meet and talk with some of the greats of our industry. Even though they’re not still with us, you can definitely learn a lot by reading what they wrote about the art of acting. And the simple truth is all of these techniques are still being taught. Most acting teachers base their exercises on one or more of these famous teachers!