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The Real World Begins in 4th Grade
Many successful Voice Actors began honing their craft as early as elementary school. Some of them were the kids on the “projection crew”, kids that wheeled in the carts holding the 16mm projectors, tweed covered speakers and a bird’s nest of cables and electrical plugs so the rest of the class could sit through yet another viewing of “How Green Was My Valley” or the ever popular “Nature’s Half Acre”, (narrated by the late, great Winston Hibler).
I was one of those kids setting up the gear, hitting the power switch and watching the beast come alive. I loved the smell of the dust resting on the bulb as it heated to approximately that of the surface of the Sun… and the freshly un-canned celluloid film liberated from it’s aluminum omni coffin. But my favorite thing about the entire process was listening to the incredible narration. I hung on every word. I envisioned the recording studio and men wearing white dress shirts, black horned rim glasses and plastic pocket protectors studying their meters and faders, as reels of audio tape spun like wagon wheels. I wondered if it smelled like my projector and film reels? 40 years later I can still hear Mr. Hibler’s perfect interpretation of ”Now run along there little fella”.
Then came junior high school drama, high school theater production and speech classes, electric shop, battle of the bands and… the Radio Club! We built a small transmitter in electric shop and although it only had a 3 block broadcasting radius, we were talking to the world! We spun Rory Gallagher, Cream and Zappa. We told jokes and read the school newspaper. We didn’t really care that no one was listening… we were talking! Our idols were past radio drama and comedy actors, Stan Freeberg, Wolfman Jack, Firesign Theater, Hudson & Landry even Vin Scully with the L.A. Dodgers among many others. That was then and that was a good thing. We didn’t have many resources. We loved it, we did it. We had a passion.
Then came Don...
The title of “Voice Over Actor” is somewhat new. There were narrators, actors, broadcasters, news anchors, on-air personalities, announcers, hosts, interviewers and MCs. As technology developed, this field exploded. Many wonderful and very respected areas of employment were established. So many options and opportunities were open for the creative and hard-working individual in the arenas of performance, technology, creative, representation/promotion and design. This too, is a good thing.
Through the Dallas Voice Acting Meet Up Group, I have seen the explosion of people with a desire to pursue the “career” of a professional voice actor. Their reasons are as varied as their background and abilities. Unfortunately many of these newcomers arrive thinking it is an easy way to quickly supplement their income. I hold my tongue and allow them to demonstrate their abilities before the lecture begins…
So many want in, so few really succeed.
I believe it isn’t because of a lack of resources. I think it’s because so many “jump in” AND they jump in too deep, to soon. It’s so easy now to find a “helpful” sales associate at Guitar Center or on the phone at musiciansfriend.com. There is NOTHING wrong with this. Some of these guys and gals may be tomorrow’s industry leaders. I’m always nice to them. But having the weapons doesn’t make you a warrior. If you are new to Voice Over, please take it slowly, methodically. There is NO rush. If you’re doing this because you need the cash…. forget it. Wrong reason and a surefire recipe for failure.
Find a Sensi (or 2)
Thinking back on the many samurai movies I watched with my grade school buddies, what really stood out to me was the hero’s past… what he had to do to get where he is. Continually dipping his hands into hot ashes, strengthening them and his mind to later take on wood and bricks. Shooting bow & arrow while guiding a speeding horse. Hours of physical and mental training day in, day out for what seemed like an eternity. And always having a Sensei. There is a good reason you don’t have the same professor for four years of college. We must learn from many. Some of my Sensei didn’t have a clue as to the impact they made on my career decisions, successes and failures. I am grateful to Mr. Rosenthal, my 8th grade electric shop teacher, Mr. Baden from metal shop, Mrs. Yanuck, the high school drama teacher and especially Mr. Usem, the 4th grade projection crew teacher who entrusted me with the safe delivery, set up and return of his “precious equipment”. I may not have had to put my hands in hot ashes, but I did burn my fingers many times on the hot projector grill. I am grateful for the blisters.