The Voice

So there’s a new singing competition show on tv called The Voice. Did you watch? The concept is interesting to me for a very specific reason – the judges listen to the singers with their backs turned, and only after agreeing to have them “on their team” (whatever that means) does the judge’s chair swing around so they can match a face to the voice.
It’s an amusing gimmick for the most part, until the shows says “Now you play along at home” and proceeds to do the next singer without ever actually showing her face to us. So all we get to hear is her voice, and only when a judge picks her do we get to see her face.
I loved that. I think they should do that with all of them. You just don’t have the opportunity in real life to divorce your senses like that. You can tell yourself all day long that looks don’t matter, but you can’t ever prove that until you take looks away.
So, then, what’s this got to do with Shakespeare? We’ve talked before about Shakespeare as audio book, or as radio drama. The idea that people used to go “hear” a play, rather than see it. How it’s all about the verse, and the delivery. So, is it? Ask yourself, honestly, when a character walks on stage in your favorite play and the first thing that you get to do is see him (or her) rather than hear her (or him), do you immediately match the visual to the character and think “Nope, he doesn’t look like an Iago to me.”
I’d like to think that I don’t (though, I won’t contradict myself from above – I’ll admit that I’d never know for sure without an experiment). Iago walks on stage and I just think, “Ok, that’s my Iago. Let’s see what he brings to the text.”
I wonder what sort of experiment we could do to test the idea. A singer might get 3 minutes of song for you to get a sampling of her voice, but an actor can’t very well perform an entire scene without you seeing him. Or can he? How about a mask? Even with a mask, though, you still get a great deal of info about physical characteristics (depending, I suppose, on the extent of the costume).
Here’s a question for the directors in the audience, while we’re on the subject – would you ever audition people like this? Blind, so that your entire perception of them is on the quality of their delivery? If not, why not?

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6 thoughts on “The Voice

  1. You would NEED to see your actor during an audition.
    It's not just about line delivery, it's about body language, facial expression, and all the little mannerisms that bring a character to life. When all you have is an audio book and are performing voice acting, you would HAVE to heighten your acting a bit, although not too high as to devolve into parody). Take a look at this audio excerpt from Macbeth. Although everyone else performs like they would on stage, without heightening their expression, the only one that is truly believable as a curse-casting witch is Charlene V. Smith (The Third Witch) since all the others keep their stage subtlety. This action subtlety is fairly important on stage (and even more on film, since the camera –the eye of the audience– can get in really close), and the only valid reason to audition an actor without seeing him/her is for a purely audio production.

  2. That was …. odd. For those that haven't clicked it, this "audio sample" is actually a bunch of computer generated cartoon witches dancing around a cauldron.

    Out of curiosity, did you know that Charlene hangs out here? Or was that just coincidence? I haven't seen her around in a bit so I'm not sure if she's watching, but a few months back when Taymor's Tempest came out I know that she was involved in a good number of discussions.

  3. Well, not quite, Alexi – it's still just a gimmick to emphasize the "voice" bit. I expect that it is intended as a director competitor to the new Simon Cowell show coming out, X-Factor, which hypes the exact opposite, that either you've got that magical "something" or you don't.

    The voice-only stuff only applies for the first 2 minutes. Once a judge says "Ok, that voice is good enough, I want to keep this person" then you get to see the singer. So it's perfectly logical that in the next round of eliminations, it'll be all about physical appearance :).

    So far, though (and I've only watched one episode), it is a nice idea. The first singer to get all four judges to turn around (a big deal, really) turned out to be this big heavy kid in a nerdy haircut and button-down dress shirt that pulled out of his pants at the side when he got excited and started jumping up and down. When a kid like that makes it through on American Idol or that British version that found Susan Boyle, it's heralded as a big deal like "wow, would you have imagined a voice like that coming out of a face like that??" This show gets that out of the way right off the bat by judging on voice first.

  4. Suit the action to the word, the word to the action…

    While I agree that we shouldn't judge an actor based on our own preconceptions about the character, I disagree that the visual and aural experiences of the theater are so independent of each other that one could cast an actor based solely on appearance or voice, unless the production was to be mute or in the dark.

  5. Oh. My. God. That is crazy! Wow, Sharky, I'd never seen that before. Ha ha!

    I used to do recordings for, which uses volunteers to record texts in the public domain so that anyone has access to listen to them. I haven't done any in a couple of years. I have absolutely no free time for it now. But it was fun when I did. You also had to check the site constantly as it was first come, first serve, so the same people always got to record the large roles.

    Anyway, because the text is in the public domain, and the recording is also, these things with my voice have ended up all over the place. Such as the animation Sharky linked to, and I've also seen people burning them to CDs and selling them on ebay.

    But I agree with Sharky, physical ability is such a huge part of acting. I've known actors with great voices that were uncastable because they didn't know how to live in their bodies. It's the greatest weakness all actors have in a monologue audition as well. So when an actor performs a monologue and moves and is comfortable physically, it makes a huge difference.

    The internet Shakespeare community is a small one…

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