What I AM v/s what I do…

I am new to audio book narration, and as I get more traction with my work I am once again beginning to sit and ponder my place in the universe, looking for definition. It goes to an age old, cultural dilemma that I suffer from as an American. The idea of self as it relates to how I make my living.

I once had a German teacher who told us that when you ask a European “what they do”, they will answer with: their hobbies, their arts, their heritage, their vacations, their fashion sense, their religiosity, their cuisine, their political persuasion, their cause….almost anything but their “Job”. Here, as an American, my identity is wrapped up tightly with what I “do” for a living.

As an actor, I haven’t always made a living with my art. The phrase “day-job” was created specifically to describe the myriad tasks I have undertaken at times to either supplement or supplant my income as an actor.

When you introduce yourself to someone as an actor, their first question is: “Oh, what would I have seen you in?” And since death rattle of live theatre has been adding to the general cacophony for a many decades, the answer is, probably nothing. Until now. I ask:  “Well, do you listen to audio books?

What I am, vs what I do. When the two find alignment, magic happens. That scraping sound you hear, is me getting out my soap-box and my megaphone to address the crowd.

First, let me tell you what we are not. We are not a narrators. We are not producers. We are not sound engineers. Those are aspects of the work-flow.  You and I, gentle friends are actors , practitioners of the ancient arts, purveyors of mirth and merriment, jesters, story-tellers, troubadours and shaman. We are the keepers of the deeper truths and the wand that manifests them in the world.

Writers can write until the inkwell runs dry, but when they want their work realized as an audio performance, they need an actor to bring their page to life, to give breath to their characters and a heartbeat to their story.  We are the yin to their yang. They are the pedals of the bike we ride, together we pave the bikeway.

Technology has opened a door for us. We, who record audio books are standing before a brilliant new day. And the job we do, once again has a place to find succor. While the opportunities in live performance dwindle, the opportunities for voice actors are soaring thanks to the ubiquitous MP3 player, a hugely shifting economic reality and innovative companies like ACX. But where to begin?

I began auditioning a few months ago and began voraciously reading all the blog posts and information I could find. Post after post about how to become more successful. What you are doing right, what you are doing wrong. What microphones to use, the value of your analogue to digital converter, how to make cold-calls, what to do when you have a cold. Sheesh. When I move my head from right to left, I am beginning to feel like a maraca. Yea, I get it, there is technology involved. Yea, I get it, voice-over is a business. Yea, I get it, there are hundreds of hours to spend just leading up to sitting down in the studio and starting to record. But nobody is talking about the core. Your responsibility as a story teller, and most importantly…the value of your gift.

So let’s backup to the very beginning. Before the red light comes on and the recording begins; a little self -examination and critical analysis of who we are and why we do what we do, is the very fuel that ignites the engine of the career choice we are making.

Even if you are currently working a day job (and many of us are) ask yourself the question: “What compels me?” If you can’t wait to sit down in your studio and immerse yourself in the practice of creating worlds, then you have chosen rightly.

If you find yourself tearing up when you voice a character who is suffering, you have chosen rightly.

If you take your work so seriously that it is your first waking thought and your last of the day, you have chosen rightly.

All the rest is mechanics, all of which you can learn and acquire. But the spark, the very essence of who you are as an actor is the feeling you get when you are plying your craft. And now, in the digital age there is another more ponderous aspect. The result is cast in amber. The digital recording you make today may survive for millennia.

I had a voice teacher many years ago who insisted that anyone could be taught to sing. After many years, and many of my own students later, I wasn’t sure I agreed. But then, age and reason won out and I began to understand what she meant, not what she said. She was talking about artistry. She was trying to impart in her gentle way that everyone is born with the spark. Whether you fan it into flame is completely up to you. Some people have to work hard, some do not. Them’s the breaks. What really matters is the desire. If you have the desire you can find the tools. But, don’t lose sight of your core identity. The identifiable selfie you take in with your mind’s eye-phone.

Be an actor first. Practice your craft. Get on stage. Get behind the mic. And remember, when a stranger stops you on the street and asks you how you get to Carnegie hall. The answer is always the same.

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