Adventures in Audiobooks: Another Marketable Skill YOU Can Use!

For many young actors, making a living is like trying to sew a patchwork quilt from the skins of living cats. Which is to say it can be incredibly difficult, and somewhat horrifying. In a field where the phrase “job stability” is a punch line and many of us are grateful to take supplemental, minimum wage work for which we are vastly overqualified, just paying the bills can seem like a laughable pipedream. So now is the time to start looking at your skill set (and acting in general) from some creative angles.

To that end, I recently booked several audiobook narration gigs. The idea had been on my radar for a bit, since I know several actors who work for a studio here in Atlanta. I had just closed a show and was back to the auditioning grind, so the work was a timely windfall. But while I had prepared and researched for the audition, I had no previous professional experience in narration, or indeed any kind of voiceover acting. The experience has been a bit of a trial by fire, but has reminded me of some important things I feel actors should keep in mind. Namely, there’s more than one way to skin a cat. (Cats are getting a metaphorically raw deal in this post. I don’t know why. Let it be known that I love cats and do not endorse violence of any kind against them).

But I digress. My point is that I think sometimes young actors, myself included, can get tunnel vision when it comes to their career goals, and forget that the skills one acquires training and working in theatre can be marketable in a variety of ways. Audiobook narration has so far been fun and challenging. It is allowing me to work on dialects and character voices, pacing and diction, and is becoming a source of supplemental income that is actually relevant to my career. For those of you who are interested, here are the basics of what I have discovered and been taught in my (thus far) limited experience:

1)    Listen to all the audiobooks you can before auditioning. Really listen. Pay attention to tempo, inflection patterns, characterization and conventions.

2)    Research. When you get the manuscript, it’s very important to read the whole thing. Take notes on character voices, look up words you don’t know, and pay attention. You don’t want to find out in the last chapter that a character you’ve already recorded is supposed to have a dialect.

3)    Flag characters as you go. Fortunately, the engineers I’ve worked with mostly know to do this already, but it is good to check and make sure that each character voice is flagged in the system, so that if there are a few days before you return to a particular character, the voice you chose for them can be played back to you.

4)    Take care of your voice. Recording sessions can be long and strenuous. Follow the same rules you would if you were singing in a show. No alcohol, dairy, caffeine, etc. the night before or morning of. Stay hydrated and warm up adequately. A great tip I received early on was to bring a green apple along, to help your mouth stay fresh and clean.

5)    Don’t try to rush. It’s really hard (for me, at least) not to rush during an intense passage, but keep the pace steady and let the intent express the urgency. Also, my natural tendency is to speed up when I see the end of the chapter is near, but narrating more quickly leads to fumbling and mistakes, and ultimately slows you down.

6)    Don’t read ahead. Your brain will be working faster than you are actually saying the words, so to cut down on mistakes, make sure to keep your eyes trained on the words you’re reading.

I saved number 7 for a big one: don’t be afraid to try. Or rather, be as afraid as you like, but do it anyway. It took me far too long to audition in the first place because I felt like I didn’t know what I was doing, or that I didn’t have the training, or because I was so focused on auditioning for traditional acting roles I didn’t explore the outskirts of acting opportunities. But nothing ventured, nothing gained. I actually auditioned for this studio twice. The first time was a last-minute call. I didn’t know what I was doing, I let it get in my head, and I gave a bad audition. For a while, I felt like I blew it. Then I did some more research, talked to some actor friends for advice, got better prepared and politely yet persistently harassed the casting director until she generously gave me a second audition. This time I got the gig.

So go for it. Whether it’s audiobooks, voice-over acting, make-up artistry, or what have you, find a way to sew another patch on your artist career quilt. This business is already uncertain, subjective, and rife with rejection. Really, what’s one more risk on top of all the others? Your career is what you make of it. Why not use all the skills at your disposal?

 

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Rachel Rachel Frawley is an actor living in Atlanta. She holds a B.F.A. in Theatre from Michigan State University (with cognates in Music and Professional Writing) and is an Apprentice Company graduate from the Atlanta Shakespeare Co. She also works as an education artist for local theatres, which have included the Shakespeare Tavern and Aurora Theatre. For more information, visit her website at www.rachelfrawley.com

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