An interview with long-time dubbing artist Royston Stoffels
The readiness is all
These four simple words were made famous by Hamlet, who proclaimed that whatever is destined to happen will happen soon enough, and that for those on Earth, “the readiness is all”.
These words have woven themselves into the fabric of Royston Stoffels’ life as an actor.
Royston, whose career spans more than 50 years, sat down to share with us what it takes to be a dubbing artist and to give aspiring artists advice for their future careers.
Similar to Hamlet’s proclamation, Royston believes that things are bound to happen in dubbing – and that you have to be ready for it. “A lot of it is sight reading, quick interpretation and paying attention to your time code. It’s a triple skill,” he says passionately, as he describes an art form that he’s been practicing since the 1980s.
We were curious to find out how exactly Royston got into dubbing.
“I started out doing a lot of incidental characters in some of the German projects that were popular in the late 80s.” Royston also highlights the important and benefits of being a multilingual dubbing artist: “As an English actor, I learned to speak Afrikaans on stage and through directors who taught me. This helped me get more and more roles”.
How do you get into the right frame of mind when interpreting your characters?
“I normally approach it as if I’m playing a part. Dubbing takes a lot of focus. As soon as you lose focus, you make a mistake, so being prepared and focusing on vocally interpreting the action on screen is very important. A character is not a separate entity, but rather something that you have constructed within yourself, and you allow to speak through you.”
Dubbing is a very particular art form. Can you think of ways it differs from acting on stage or screen?
“On stage you project and you’re out there. On screen, you play it small because the camera is right in front of your face. With dubbing, you’re in a completely different space, which requires its own emotional and vocal performance. It allows you to give precedence to the thought in order to make the character real and believable.”
Are there any specific techniques one should adopt in order to be considered “dubbing fit”?
“Yes, in voice training, breathing techniques and breath control are essential. I’ve found that singing is a very good exercise because it trains your voice. Using scales, you’re able to see how many words you can carry in one breath. I normally use one of Shakespeare’s sonnets to practice and I recite the entire sonnet with just one breath.”
Royston, who has also been a drama teacher for many years, reminds us that in voice training, there is an arc – a construct that performers can use to gauge how much breath flow they’ll need to get to the peak of the arc and how much they’ll need to complete it. The arc also helps with delivering the right emotions intended in a line by playing with intonation and placing emphasis on the correct words and phrases in order to expose the correct meaning of the sentence.
Royston is very optimistic about the future of dubbing – a welcomed view from someone who has been in the industry for so long and seen it grow and transform to meet new and different challenges.
What do you believe to be the future of dubbing and our industry as a whole?
“Similar to theatre, the industry is an animal that constantly reinvents itself. Although we have taken a knock from the pandemic, the digital age has opened up phenomenal opportunities that will strengthen growth for dubbing in South Africa. We have so many different languages and almost every household has a television – this enables us to bring to life many stories in all of our different local languages.”
The veteran actor considers his job to be a calling. In his final thoughts, he encourages actors to persevere: “I’ve been fortunate enough to play a myriad of different roles in my career. I’ve travelled across the globe and realised that it’s no different for actors around the world. We all have our hard times and struggles but eventually it will come, just prepare yourself.
In the wise words of Hamlet, the readiness is all, just be ready”.