Voice Work – Sound to Dialogue

Vocal Work – Building Vocal Confidence – Sound to Dialogue


Beginning with movement, imitation, and pantomime is an excellent choice for young actors or beginning actors of any age.  Sooner or later, however, you need to introduce the human voice.  Improvising believable dialogue is not easy for students.  They might take the path of silliness or shock.  Take it step by step with the voice and you will have better dramas.


Step One Vocal Sounds: 

Add sounds to pantomimed or imitated work.  These might be nature sounds, environmental, manmade, or other worldly.  Participants can create sounds in a sequence to tell a story or develop a setting.  Activities you might download from OneStopDRAMAShop.com include:  Vocal Environment, Vocal Symphony, Sound Catch, more.


Step Two Choral Work: 

This can be either choral reading or choral speaking.  Teammates blend their voices to add expression, volume, varying rates, tonality and vocal qualities to existing or group created work.  You might download any of the 60 pieces of poetry included at the website for choral work.


Step Three Story Telling: 

This is most often solo work but can be done in partners or teams.  Individuals might act as narrator to a movement pantomime; stand in front of the class and tell a story from memory; work with a partner to tell a story using character voices as well as a narrative voice.  Here students work on eye contact, varying vocal inflection, adding fluency, building suspense or mood, and improving their speaking volume, rate, and pitch.  I like to use the activity The Liar’s Club or the lesson, I Was Courageous both found at the website.


Step Four Reader’s Theater: 

Individuals take the roles of characters and narrator in a pre existing script or piece of poetry or prose adding some blocking movement as the piece is read.  Props, costumes, and music might also be added by the team.  Scripts are held by the actors who have them half memorized so that they can use eye contact both with their fellow readers and the audience.  They only glance down to cue the next lines when needed.  Gestures, posture, facial expression, loco motor and non loco motor movements may also be used and are highly recommended.   See the Reader’s Theater Lesson and Rubic; also use the poetry collection for this purpose.


Step Five Partner Interviews: 

This format gives participants an opportunity to ease into dialogue.  Actors are given a situation where one character must interview another.  This might involve a TV program, radio show, detective and suspect, a character from history or a novel.  Start by giving everyone the same situation and move to improvised scenes devised by the actors.  Discuss types of questions:  Yes/No, Why, How, When, Where, and What and reflect on the type of answers that are given in response to each.  The actors should also be encouraged to use gestures, posture, and facial expression to give information about their characters and their characters thinking.


Step Six Creating Dialogue:

Participants now use and combine action, sound, and speaking (dialogue, monologue, asides) in their drama work.  At first it is improvised scenes followed by scripted work which is memorized.  Both of these forms can be presented  with or without costumes, props, music, etc.   By beginning with improvised work, the participants are acting as playwrights and will find the transition to writing their dialogue down in a documented form to be much easier.  Start with pair improvisations: a teacher with a learner; someone with a problem and advisor; a buyer and seller.  Move to larger groups when the actors are ready.  Also have actors use voices to personify animal and object characters imitating the vocal qualities those characters might have if they were human.


A Few Characteristics of Good Dialogue

  • -->Sounds like human conversation
  • -->Reveals the relationship between characters
  • -->Reveals a character’s personality, history, motivation
  • -->Moves the story forward
  • -->Helps the character get what he or she wants (achieve an objective)
  • -->Leaves some mystery (subtext)
  • -->Allows moments of silence

by Karen Erickson

Karen Erickson

Grade Level