The importance of your voice

The voice tells us so much about a person. Where they come from, their personality and how they’re feeling.

An actor’s voice needs versatility as it must be able to communicate a range of emotions. It must have clarity so that every word can be heard and enough strength and resonance to fill a theatre auditorium.

An actor also needs excellent breath control so that they won’t run out of steam and power midway through a sentence. They must ensure the sound they make is well supported by steady air, so they’re able to deliver their lines in a way which is sustained and controlled.

Vocal elements to consider

There are a number of different vocal elements you should consider:

  • Pitch – speaking in a high, low or natural voice.
  • Pace – the speed with which you speak, eg the speed of response in an argument.
  • Pause – a dramatic pause at a crucial moment is very effective in performance.
  • Tone – your tone suggests your mood and your intention towards the listener, eg happy, sad.
  • Volume – you must be audible to the audience but not shout at them!
  • Accent – you need to consider the accent that will work for your character.
  • Emphasis – this is the pressure on individual words that makes them stand out. There’s a natural stress on syllables as we speak, such as the first syllable in 'cabbage'. But emphasis or stress for a particular effect is significant and can change the meaning of a sentence as well as the feeling behind it.
  • Intonation – the rise and fall of the voice. There’s a clear movement up when we ask questions for example. Intonation also helps us to say what we mean.

Warming up

Before you begin work it’s important to warm up your voice so you don’t strain your vocal cords. Practise these warm-up exercises with the National Theatre’s Head of Voice, Jeanette Nelson (subtitles are available).