Randy Coppinger

Voice Acting Lessons from Daws Butler

Voice actor, writer, and legendary acting instructor Daws Butler has been celebrated in print and live presentation. Here are a few acting tips that I especially enjoyed…

Corey Burton: “They’re not voices, they’re characters.” Let another character inhabit your voice and you can create distinct personalities. These can be as memorable and real as actual people you know.

Nancy Cartwright: “I want to show how to get the words off the page.” Not just acting, but relating.

Joe Bevilacqua: Keep in mind the physicality of the character, the facial structure. Portray the character you are creating with your body. Think about how tall the character is, what age the character is, and where the voice emanates from the body.

Tony Pope: Try the same story in different dialects, different characters. Try to bring something new to a thing you’ve already done. “Never be afraid to be lousy. Always take chances.”

Joe Bevilacqua: Many of his characters had been a voice long before they were animated into a specific character. He collected personalities that he thought were interesting.

June Foray: “Daws would always have a little piece of paper…” on which he kept a list of ideas for voices.

Earl Kress: A comedy principle of Daws was to play opposite–Fast against slow, or slow against fast. Loud against soft. Contrasts.

Listen to the entire Tribute to Dawn Butler.

The book mentioned in the live tribute–Scenes for Actors and Voices–includes some additional tips…

In the forward, Corey Burton writes: “Performing is not simply reading aloud, but delivering the lines as if those words just naturally occurred to the character; as an expression of that character’s own thoughts and feelings at that particular moment in their imaginary lives.”

The words of Daws Butler himself: “We do not read lines–we ‘express thoughts’…in many instances, one ‘thought’ will wipe out another–it will take precedence, asserting its more valid importance to the continuity–this I would call ‘decaying.’ The end of the line seems to ‘fall off’ or atrophy–and the energy of the following lines snaps into position. Its vitality is a refreshment–a transfusion–and it excites the listener, because it seems so natural and spontaneous. Because it is representative of what happens in ‘real life.’ Remember–the actor’s stock-in-trade is being ‘real.’ All else is pretension.

Daws also encouraged: “I want you to understand the words. I want you to taste the words. I want you to love the words. Because the words are important. But they’re only words. You have to leave them on the paper and you take the thoughts and you put them in your mind and then you as an actor recreate them, as if the thoughts had suddenly occurred to you.”

[bold emphasis added by your truly]