by Dennis Daniel
Do ya ever really think about the stuff that comes out of our mouths as we sit before the microphone on a daily basis? Basically, it all boils down to one word: "hype." Yeesh! HYPE! HYPE! HYPE! We walk into our little boxes, chuck the copy in front of us, and begin the selling dance. "Buy such and such because it does such and such." "Go to this place because it's the place for this thing!" "Listen to our station because our station is better than their station." SELL! SELL! SELL! It's truly bizarre. What kills me is the way your body reacts to it. You know, the fake smile, the hand gestures, the voice inflections--up, down, yell, whisper. Is there anything funnier than watching someone cut a spot or promo from behind? As you look in the studio window, you see this strange being hopping in his/her seat--mouth wide open, eyes ablaze, heart rate cranked--and for what? To sell shoes?
"Okay Dennis, what are you getting at?"
Yes, my brethren and sistren...The Bard.
Let's fact it, our voice is our instrument, our livelihood. And what do we spend most of our time using it for? HYPE. I'm not even going to give the crappy copy we have to crank out the dignity of example. We ALL know what I'm talking about. Commercials and promos aren't the only way for you to enjoy your instrument. Can you imagine what it would be like if all Eric Clapton played was "Layla". Sure, it's a great song, but variety is the spice of life.
Let me tell ya a quick story.
I'm a huge movie buff. In 1995, an updated version of Shakespeare's Richard III was produced that brought the story into modern times. They made Richard a Nazi-like leader, ala Hitler. It was all done in 1940s period costumes, and it was fabulous! I was totally captivated by this wonderful idea of having a Twentieth Century setting with words being mouthed from the Fifteenth Century. It took away the kinda "hammy" feeling some people get with Shakespeare performed in period. Now, I have always enjoyed Shakespeare, but there was something about this modern version that touched a nerve deep inside me! The first speech in Richard III is a classic known to almost anyone with any literature background. I decided to learn it! I went out and bought a copy of the play and started to study the soliloquy. I memorized it by saying it over and over--driving to work, in the shower, during lunch. I tell you, the complete and utter joy of saying these magnificent words from memory has given me a whole new lease on life! Since all the plays are fully annotated, I even understand every word. Then, when the time came, I started to use it for my mike level tests. I recorded myself saying it, not for any other reason than the pure beauty of it, the sheer exhilaration. My God, the power and majesty of the words and how they sound coming out of your mouth is pure aural ecstasy!
Let me set up just a bit of it for you so you can try it out. Richard III opens with Richard addressing the audience (which he does throughout the play). His family has just won a civil war and his brother is now King. Richard, a sick, depraved, hunchbacked, deformed man will stop at nothing to become King himself. He ends up killing almost his entire family and in-laws to do it. Why? Because he is deformed in body and spirit. I'll give you the speech to recite in dark black lettering and an explanation of what the words mean in italics. This will give you more of an edge when you memorize it because you'll know what you're talking about.
Now is the winter of our discontent, made glorious summer by this sun of York.
(The "winter of discontent" was the war they just fought. It's now "glorious summer" due to his brother, the new King or "sun of York.")
And all the clouds that loured upon our house, in the deep bosom of the ocean buried.
(All the "clouds that loured" are the bad times they just went through, which are now "buried" deep in the ocean. In other words...all over.)
Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths.
(We won the war, folks)
Our bruised arms, hung up for monuments,
(Our suffering paid off...we won and can celebrate)
Our stern alarums changed to merry meetings,
("alarums" meaning calls to war...which have now become calls to celebrate.)
Our dreadful marches to delightful measures.
(They no longer march towards war but walk with happiness in peace)
Grim-visaged war hath smoothed his wrinkled front; And now, instead of mounting barbed steeds to fright the souls of fearful adversaries, he capers nimbly in a lady's chamber to the lascivious pleasing of a lute.
(Grim-faced war is now smooth of face. Now, instead of mounting "barbed steeds" aka horses, to scare the crap out of our enemies, War now sits in a "lady's chamber" to...er...um..."do the wild thing.")
But I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks, nor meant to court an amorous looking glass; I, that am rudely stamped, and want love's majesty, to strut before a wanton ambling nymph;
(I'm one ugly bastard who can't look in a mirror or ever get the chance to feel what true love is.)
I, that am curtailed of this fair proportion, cheated of feature by dissembling Nature, deformed, unfinished, sent before my time into this breathing world scarce half made up, and that so lamely and unfashionable that dogs bark at me as I halt by them--
(This is truly one of my favorite passages. Shakespeare's uncanny way of having Richard describe his ugliness and deformity)
Why, I in this weak and piping time of peace, have no delight to pass away the time
(He's no longer at war and is bored, bored, bored.)
Unless to see my shadow in the sun, and descant on mine own deformity
(He just looks at his shadow and is grossed out.)
And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover, to entertain these fair, well-spoken days, I am determined to prove a villain, and hate the idle pleasures of these days.
(Hey...since I can't get laid, I'm gonna stir up the soup and cause everyone grief!)
Herein lies the wonderful setup for the entire story.
And I didn't just stop with this play. I've been studying all of Shakespeare's works. My favorites include Othello, Hamlet and Julius Caesar. All of them are available at your local library or bookstore and all have been filmed more than once. (In fact, Al Pacino's film directing debut was last year's Looking For Richard. It's the story of a small theater company putting on the play, Richard III.)
And the use of your instrument doesn't stop there! Try reading out loud some of the classics! For me, it's Charles Dickens. I love reading A Christmas Carol, Oliver Twist, and Great Expectations out loud. The beauty of the language is overwhelming, and the way it makes you feel saying it is beyond measure. I also love to read Edgar Allan Poe out loud, especially his poem The Raven. Try this out with any literature you enjoy. It gives your mind, voice and mouth a nice little workout and shows you how there's more to voice-overs than just selling stuff. Best of all, it's for your own pleasure. It's pure. And that's nice.