Wearing my actor hat, I've increasingly become sceptical about organisations that offer workshops. They seem to roughly divide into two categories - ones which are basically an opportunity to introduce yourself to a director or casting director, but are billed as tuition (usually in something like camera, audition or cold reading technique which you really should have learnt already if you trained), or exploratory workshops on a given text or technique (in which the learning is primarily incidental, the barrier for entry is non-existent, and therefore the quality is variable). This is a gross generalisation (some of the stuff offered to actors via the Actors Guild and directors such as Bruce Guthrie are definitely worth checking out) - but the exceptions tend to prove the rule.
And so it was with some hesitation that I originally signed up to the Voice Over Network about nine months ago. I knew I had a lot to learn, but having felt, after countless actor workshops, that the transaction had really only been for a certain casting director's email address, I was wary. Or basically, cynical.
Gradually, the balance shifted as I started to imbibe the considerable amount of content that VON produces for its members. The weekly webinars it holds gave me a lot of valuable information on a number of topics, spread across the 'core' skills of performance, technical expertise and marketing. But I still held out on booking for any of the workshops, having been somewhat chastened by my actor experiences.
VON's second 'Get Your Game On' event was a way of easing that transition. A day of talks and workshops which offered the opportunity for some networking, but was as much if not more about educating all of the participants and fostering an environment of mutual support. This was neatly combined with VON's first 'Voice Over Jam' event - where teams of VO's would devise a one minute game trailer in response to a breakdown over a 48 hour period the week before. And then there was an opportunity to spend a weekend learning from Dave Fennoy - one of the standout leading VO's in interactive entertainment today.
The experience as a whole - from my first Skype meeting with my other Game Jam comrades all the way through to wrapping a recording session at Coda Studios - was an absolute joy. The talks - from Yvonne Morley, Adele Cutting, Mark Estdale, Steve Brown and Dave Fennoy - covered a myriad of subjects much more articulately summed up by Sam Hughes (aka The Sound Architect) . The workshops (I chose Stephane Cornicard’s character workshop and a talk with Mark because I'm a huge Horizon Zero Dawn fanboy), offered valuable insights into character work and marketing yourself to game devs respectively. The results of the Game Jam (which fellow teammate Katie Flamman brilliantly reports on here) saw the victory of my team Gataroto despite an exceptionally high standard from all the teams involved. And then I spent two days properly learning from Mr Fennoy. What was great about that weekend was the shear amount of subjects he covered, from the history of video game performance to where it is now, what makes a good gaming reel, seeing other members of the group tackle a huge variety of genres and characters, and then actually working in a proper studio on pieces where every take you did was professionally recorded.
Fundamentally, what struck me most was the atmosphere of support and encouragement that infused the three days. People were never in competition, and were full and frank in their opinions almost immediately. There was rarely a sense of anyone 'playing the game', partly because of the aforesaid atmosphere and also because the hierarchy that seems to overshadow so many acting workshops I've done was almost non-existent.
Perversely, this may come down to the nature of the work. Whereas actors generally need other actors in order to work, the career itself is fundamentally nomadic. You spring from temporary surrogate family to temporary surrogate family, with indeterminate periods of unemployment in-between. People you've never met become best friends, and then (if your as poor at socialising as I am), can disappear for years. Conversely, voiceover is (on a day to day basis), quite a lonely profession. Having spent the majority of the day talking to yourself, there seems a greater pull to counterbalance this by fostering the feelings of a true community whenever there's an opportunity to be in the same room. Any feelings of competition are dispelled by the principle that what 'sells best' in voiceover is simply your unique authenticity, while with acting that same principle can only be held up to a point (how your look, your agent, your connections and your number of Twitter followers start properly coming into play). Maybe as a comparatively fledgling growth area, this feeling is bolstered by some naivety - but I doubt it. VON gave me the most wonderful experience a few weeks ago, and emboldened me to do better like no other event - for which I must give special thanks to Rachael Naylor and Leisa Fisicaro, who made it all possible.