Stop by one of the general meetings of the Harvard College Voice Actors’ Guild and you’re sure to be bombarded by myriad accents from across the world. When chatting with just one member of the group, you might find yourself listening first to a British accent, next to a Southern drawl, and finally to an impression of a famous actor or cartoon character, interspersed with laser gun sounds—all in the course of a brief conversation.
The Voice Actors’ Guild, which seeks to promote the art of voice acting for radio and film, began in the hallowed halls of Annenberg, where the club’s current president, Taylor A. Cressler ’14, and a couple of friends would often meet for dinner during their freshman year to practice different accents. “We realized that there was no place on campus where you can learn how to do accents or do any sort of simple voice acting,” Cressler says. “It’s all stage and film acting.” Cressler’s efforts to fill that gap in the acting community met with success in early 2012, when the club received official recognition from the College.
For the first year of its existence, the Voice Actors’ Guild focused mainly on hosting accent workshops. Now the club is branching out to include a wider variety of projects, ranging from a voice-only production of George Bernard Shaw’s “Arms and the Man” to a re-recording of a Flash Gordon radio series from the 1930s. Teis D. Jorgensen ’14 is directing a third project—a play entitled “Conversations” that features improvisation. The play starts off with a brief, scripted dialogue between two characters, but then moves into an improvised conversation. “After the beginning, the script fades out and the actors improv and use their voices to develop the conflict, their relationship to one another, and the resolution,” Jorgensen says. None of the projects have a set release date, but the group hopes to complete all three by the end of the semester.
Although similar to stage and film acting, voice acting has its own unique challenges, Cressler says. Voice actors rely on speech alone, so they have to devise ways to convey their meaning without physical acting or facial expression. “People don’t realize it going through everyday life, but body language is a huge part of communication,” Cressler says. “If you take that away, you really have to overcompensate for any lost meaning.” Jorgensen argues that making stories come to life for the listening audience without the use of props and costumes is the greatest challenge voice actors face. In a voice-only play, actors must establish a setting and flesh out their characters using only their voice and, perhaps, additional sound effects.
While voice acting is just a hobby for many of the club’s members, for others participation in the Voice Actors’ Guild is a stepping stone to a potential future career. Cressler hopes to pursue a career in acting after college and recognizes that being an experienced voice actor has advantages when auditioning for roles in the future. “If you can master a good voice, then it’s a lot easier to get both voice-acting roles and movie roles,” Cressler says.
Alexander J. Iascone ’16, another hopeful future actor and member of the Voice Actor’s Guild, agrees. “When you’re auditioning for a role, anything you can do to make the director see you more as the character is helpful,” he says. “If the character is from a certain area and you’ve mastered that accent, then you’ll be better suited for the role.”
Jorgensen, who does not plan to pursue a career in acting after graduating, acknowledges that he has learned many interpersonal skills from his experiences voice acting and directing voice-acting projects. Learning to convey intent and emotion through speech helps him interact in new settings.
There are other perks to being in the Voice Actors’ Guild, according to Iascone. “I can impress girls with all my different accents,” he says, laughing.