When actors prepare for an audition, they look closely at the characters they’re being asked to portray, they familiarize themselves with the project and professionals involved, and they try to maximize their level of self-confidence. But chances are they are not scrutinizing their personal speech patterns while prepping for the part. Nonetheless, casting director Marci Liroff is strongly encouraging actors to examine their own speech habits and consider whether their style of articulation and intonation is hurting their chances in the audition room. Liroff is known for her prolific career in film and television over the span of 38 years. Films which she has cast include Footloose, St. Elmo’s Fire, Pretty in Pink, The Spitfire Grill, Freaky Friday, Mean Girls, and Mr. Popper’s Penguins. The Hollywood veteran recently wrote an article in Business Insider about a growing trend she is seeing in the audition room and has some advice to offer actors hoping to break into the industry. “If you look at an audition for a movie or television show, and compare it to a job interview in another industry, I think you’ll see there are several translatable lessons,” Liroff says. And first off she asserts, “[Casting directors] listen to your voice and intonation.”

Liroff specifies two problematic speech trends. The first, called “vocal fry,” she describes as both an “epidemic” and indeed “annoying.” If you have not heard the term vocal fry before, you almost certainly have heard what it sounds like. It’s a speech pattern that is characterized by distinct low, creaky vibrations that often occur at the end of sentences. It’s often referred to as “creaky voice.” Although males also express themselves in this lowest of registers–and it’s even revered, say, when Morgan Freeman uses it in trailer voice-overs— vocal fry is especially gaining popularity among young adult women who speak American English.

There are different theories as to why this phenomenon is occurring–and some of the research is contradictory. Some studies reveal that both males and females use lower vocal registers when trying to denote authority and thus argue that this new pattern among women adds to a woman’s perceived credibility. Indeed, scientists have found that people with lower voices tend to make higher salaries. For this reason, women are sometimes advised to use lower registers when going on job interviews. On the other hand, other researchers assert pretty much the opposite: that when women use the lowest registers it’s associated with generally negative connotations in the workplace, that they sound less confident, and it undermines the effectiveness of their communication. Indeed, Liroff represents just one of many who insist it is a drawback during job interviews. And yet others insist that such perceptions represent an attack on women’s speech.

A second speech pattern Liroff highlights is called “uptalking.” Uptalking refers to speech that ends in a high note as if the speaker is asking a question even when he or she is not. Liroff says, “I tell my coaching clients and those who are auditioning for me that uptalk results in the listener not taking them or their content seriously…It communicates the very opposite of confidence or assertiveness. There’s a huge difference between ‘My name is Marci? This is what I believe?’ and ‘My name is Marci. This is what I believe.’”

In the above video, actress and vocal coach Amy Walker demonstrates vocal fry and uptalking and how they have the potential to limit an actor’s pallet.

An individual’s voice is a deeply personal aspect of their identity. And when it comes to being an actor, authenticity is so important. Nobody wants to feel self-conscious about something so personal to them as their voice. With this in mind, it’s up to each actor to determine whether his or her speech patterns reflect an essential aspect of their identity or if such habits might be worth modifying. It’s wise to chose a deliberate decision about which path to chose as Liroff says, “When meeting new clients or potential supervisors your voice is one of your most important instruments. If you’re not aware and in control of it, you will be saying things you don’t mean and your intent will be misunderstood.”

 

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