Voice acting industry pro Mary Lynn Wissner returned to the Big Apple at the beginning of June for a one-day seminar promising “The Working Pros Workout,” and that’s exactly what she delivered in an all-day session for voice-over actors of all levels of experience. One sure sign of her stature in the community were the number of voiceover actors who were alumni of her earlier workshops — it seemed like nearly all of us had worked with Mary Lynn before, and some had done multiple workshops with her.
The content of the class was comparable to “Book It!” as Mary Lynn covers her five bedrock “prototypes” that all voiceover casting directors ask for in auditions. Also familiar was her advice to ad lib audition copy to make it your own was familiar from her last class. However, the real value in the class isn’t in the abstract principles Mary Lynn discusses, but rather in having her there to explain them and guide voiceover talent to applying those directions to their work in the recording booth. Looking over her five bedrock “prototypes” reveals familiar-looking directions to anybody who’s looked over voiceover audition copy, but even the most seasoned actors in the class turned in better performances under Mary Lynn’s guidance.
Just as in “Book It!”, I was constantly amazed at Mary Lynn’s ability to find the exact nudges and tips to lead an actor to a better, stronger performance. She really tailors the direction and the advice for the strengths and abilities of the individual actors. This especially came through in the back half of the day, as she asked all the actors to pick one a prototype they felt needed work, and then handed out custom commercial copy to each one to strengthen up that prototype. One actor achieved a strong authoritative read by adding an element of anger to his voice. Mary Lynn helped other actors discover alternate archetypes and actors for dry, witty, sarcastic reads. My take on the “cosmetic” prototype (sexy, confident, a little swaggering) always felt like a bad Barry White impersonation, but Mary Lynn’s tips and directions allowed me to mix that bad Barry White with other elements to come up with something much more credible.
I think “The Working Pros Workout” is skewed more towards working professionals than beginners or those looking to break into voiceover. I’d even say it requires a bit more knowledge of voiceover techniques and practices than “Book It!” since the earlier class spent more time discussing her taxonomy of common voiceover directions and the different ways to mix and tweak them for nearly any situation. In “The Working Pros Workout,” the first thing we did was get two pieces of copy to record in the booth as though they were real auditions. Covering the prototypes happened afterwards, and in a much more rapid manner than “Book It!” because nearly everyone in the class has had experience in the commercial voiceover space (and, as noted, several of us were alumni of Mary Lynn’s other classes). Only then did we start in on shaping and honing our earlier performances, leading up to hearing our first reads followed by our last ones to hear the improvement. There was also a non-trivial amount of time dedicated to the all the other aspects of being a voiceover actor, like setting up home studios, covering the latest trends in the voiceover industry, and discussing marketing and branding efforts. Being able to nail an audition in the booth is only one skill a working voiceover actor needs, and “The Working Pros Workout” is intended to help in building up those other skills as well.
As with “Book It!”, the Working Pros Workout focuses more on the commercial side of voiceover than on character/animation, but that doesn’t mean this workshop has no value to actors whose goal is to become cartoon characters. For starters, commercial work is the bread-and-butter of every working voiceover pro. Mary Lynn told us explicitly that the first demo any voiceover artist has to have is the commercial demo because that’s where the work is. In addition, in commercial voiceover, you have 30 seconds to a minute to create a credible character and bring across the message that the client wants, and that builds up acting muscles that will be useful in any context.
Even without the aid of listening to the before-and-after takes, I think every actor in the session could feel how they had improved every time they walked into the booth, and I can’t think of a better endorsement than that. Put simply, getting into one of Mary Lynn Wissner’s classes will make you a better voiceover actor no matter where you are in your career.
Special thanks to Mary Lynn Wissner and all my classmates for a terrific class, and to CDM Sound Studios and our engineer Tyler. Visit Voices Voicecasting to check on Mary Lynn Wissner’s upcoming workshops and events.