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SAG-AFTRA conservatory "Commercials & Voice-over" teacher Susanna Dalton

Susanna Dalton offers two classes at the Conservatory: Acting for Commercials and Voice-Overs. I took part in one of her commercial classes and quickly learned that this woman is a ball of energy and enthusiasm with every word she speaks.

Susanna Dalton is one of the teachers for SAG-AFTRA's conservatory. Here she is teaching her acting for commercials class.
Diana De Rosa Photo
Susanna Dalton teaching her "Acting for Commercials" class at the SAG-AFTRA conservatory.
Diana De Rosa Photo

When asked what the focus of her class is at the conservatory she explained, “I have trained in most of the ‘established’ acting techniques and use aspects of those with the technical requirements of working in front of a camera. I also include helpful info about auditioning, interviewing, shooting and developing a professional working relationship with agents and casting directors.”

Susanna was an encyclopedia full of information for auditioning for commercials and that comes from her background.

Her credentials speak volumes and give insight into what a great opportunity it is to learn from her. Susanna has been acting in TV, film, soaps and commercials since she was signed to a development deal with CBS shortly after graduating from Villanova University. She has co-starred and had featured roles in TV series and films with Michelle Pfeiffer, Dana Carvey and Tim Matheson. She has done hundreds of commercials and voice-overs and been signed with CESD for over 25 yrs. She has taught on-camera acting classes at conservatories in NY, NJ, and CT and has coached privately at her own midtown studio for 20 yrs.

All of this helps Susanna bring her actual experience to the class. In fact, a commercial that one of the actors chose was one that Susanna had done. So, what better insight was that for us who were learning from what she had to offer.

“The most important thing to do in commercials is answer the questions ‘who?, what?, when?, where and why?’ with choices that create a happy intimate, relationship with the viewer,” she noted.

“Remember that the close-up is the director’s favorite shot and that is equivalent to being only about 10” away from someone. Put your happy ‘game-face’ on when you leave the house and don’t drop it until you get home. And, breathe!”

Tons of tidbits help us grow as actors

“Pretend you are with the person you love the most when you share this,” was one of many phrases that Susanna offered while giving some insight into how to audition for commercials.

“Don’t act the part like someone is paying you to do it,” she explained, further remarking, “share a wonderful thing with them.”

“Where are the tickets, you were so believable,” was a comment she made after listening to one of the actors performing a commercial encouraging the viewers to get their tickets to a Radio City performance.

“You have to speak with your eyes,” she continued. Susanna further encouraged us to speak soft, soft, soft. Adding this draws the viewer in. It’s important to stay quiet and within frame. Try to remember that you are selling a relationship, never a product, never a thing.

Being quiet and soft spoken is one of the hardest things for actors to do. “There is an alternate universe that when we get in front of the camera we get louder and faster,” Susanna said, “but people are drawn in (in film they can get you closer than you can to another person), it’s almost like you are getting inside their head.”

As Susanna bounced around the room she constantly offered advice on how each actor could succeed in their audition.

“Smile, be happy and keep out of seriousland,” was probably the most important advice she offered.

“Smile like you are telling a joke. Seem like you are telling me a secret, a good secret.

“The more boring it is the more fun it must be and don’t forget the expressiveness,” she added.

Her tidbits of information were so impactful that after listening to Susanna I’m sure she’ll be the voice in our heads before every audition saying “smile, happy, don’t furrow your brow, think about who you are talking to, err on the quieter side, and don’t leave the camera until you finish that final thought.”

Susanna suggested that we use the commercials on TV to improve our skills and auditions. “Choose something off of TV that suits you so they can see you know your type,” she emphasized.

One of the tricks with commercials is to lay it out – don’t rush it.

Her tidbits continued as she remarked, “Love is always the best choice. They always want fun, love and intimacy.”

The key is to maintain that connection and never have a sense that there is anything between you and the viewer. And as is always the case have the feeling that you are communicating with the viewer. “Know that every line is a reaction to the viewer’s reaction to you,” she remarked.

Eyes are also the key to success. You want your eyes to speak to the casting director and ultimately the audience. And to this Susanna commented, “You better not say a word while you are looking at the script.”

Have fun, be silly she added but then admitted that she realized this was a lot to digest in one class. “There are a million different things I tell you to think about along with what you are thinking about. So, I know it’s a lot of things to process,” she concluded.

Susanna’s approach to voice-overs

So the next step was to take a voice-over (VO) class with Susanna.

When teaching at the conservatory she does most of her VO classes at SAG on-camera whenever possible. Privately, she produces VO demos, as well as coaches.

When asked about how she started her career in voice-overs Susanna remarked, “I started doing them when casting directors started to request me from my on-camera auditioning.”

Eventually Susanna added voice-overs into her teaching. “I started coaching my voice-over clients on-camera years ago because so many people think they are smiling when they aren't! I've yet to find a script that doesn't require some kind of smile.”

In her classes she works on the same things as she does for "on-camera." Establish who, what, when, where and why this scenario happened.

As Susanna explained, “Voice-overs require the same happy intimacy as a close-up on-camera, except there’s no cue card to force you to take ‘beats,’ just as there is none when you've memorized your script for a job. In both cases, you need to watch your pacing.

“Most VOs are cast in agent’s offices or by casting directors who also do on-camera casting,” she continued. “So, you will get sent and seen for voice-overs as much for ‘how you look’ as for ‘how you sound.’ Dress accordingly!”

Nowadays things are very much pointed towards you being able to produce the VO script and she encouraged us to equip ourselves so that we can do just that.

“Be a gear geek. These days you really should have a basic setup at home to record yourself for VOs. You can get what you need to start for under $300.”

There is a similarity between doing voice-overs and acting for commercials despite the fact that in one you are seen and the other just heard.

Susanna’s last VO advice, “Remember to breathe!”

When asked about why she has devoted her time and energy to teaching other actors through the conservatory, Susanna explained, “I am endlessly impressed and inspired by the commitment and quality of the work of these actors.”

Luckily for those interested in her craft, Susanna is now writing a book.

Susanna’s studio is conveniently located on E. 49th St. in midtown or at arranged meetings throughout the city. For more information feel free to call her at 212-980-1971 or email or by private message on facebook.

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