Taking a page from “Mission Impossible,” your goal, if you choose to accept it, is to make your heart sing. Sing with the joy of knowing you are attempting to succeed, with no thoughts of odds, or predictions.
It’s your bed, my friend. Stop calling it a business. It isn’t a business. It’s a condition of the heart, your heart. Your assignment is to keep it beating, loud and strong. So, you’ve taken a class or two, and now you find yourself with the actor’s time-honored quandary: Now what do I do?
“You weren’t pushed. You either waded or jumped in. You’re in the water now, so swim you bastard, swim.”
Don’t you dare cry. We don’t cry in voice over. What we do is read scripts out loud. We whisper, shout, blare, cajole, advance, retreat, run, jump, and laugh; and that all might take place within a sixty second time frame. It’s going to be your life’s work. We industry insiders refer to it as an audition. If this happening takes place on a regular basis, consider yourself lucky. Most actors complain about not being called in to read (audition) often enough.
If you’re a newbie, just starting out, you won’t have a problem with anyone ever calling you in to audition.
So what do you do now?
Let’s talk football. Here’s our scenario; your team (you) are in possession of the ball. It’s fourth down, and there are yards and yards to go for a first down. The clock is dangerously close to its last tick. If you go for it and you aren’t successful, the game is over. You won’t ever have the same opportunity to get back in the game. If you punt — kick the ball away — you’ve lost your final chance to score. With either decision, you’ve lost your chance to win. It’s go for it or punt. Go for it or punt. Go for it or punt. Hmmm, what to do? It’s too late, as in “Too Late For Dreams.” Yours!
While you were deliberating over what to do, another, perhaps more erstwhile individual made the decision for you. They kept in the game, kept possession of the ball (for sure longer than you did) and got an unforeseen brake. They tripped, fell, and landed at the feet of a fellow human that was just looking for a “klutz” like them.
a clumsy, awkward, or foolish person.
ORIGIN 1960s: from Yiddish klots, ‘wooden block.’
Or, in the event you are one of those men or women who have no idea of how the game of football is played, perhaps a page from the books of Sholem Aleichem would be easier for you to understand.
In the very early nineteen hundreds, Sholem Aleichem advised the thousands of peddlers on New York’s east side about keeping the door open. It was like our fourth down scenario; if you kick the ball away, it’s the same as closing your shop door. In either scenario, you’ve lost all chance to score. No matter how bad things get (even if it’s snowing and the drifts have blocked the entrance… begin shoveling) someone might be out there trying to get in. Ergo, keep your store open.
I thought you might like to know:
Sholem Aleichem was the pen name of Sholem Naumovich Rabinovich, the popular humorist and Jewish author of Yiddish literature, including novels, short stories, and plays. He did much to promote Yiddish writers and was the first to pen children’s literature in Yiddish.
His work has been widely translated. The 1964 musical “Fiddler on the Roof,” loosely based on Sholem Aleichem’s stories about his character Tevye the Milkman, was the first commercially successful English-language play about Eastern European Jewish life.
I rather doubt if anyone in our business has been privy to more wonderful success stories than I have. I’m actually smiling as I recall many incidents when out of the most seemingly absurd situations, the smoke cleared and a brand new star was born.
Please be advised… many of the newborn stars were very long in the tooth at birth.
(They waited forever for the first break. Imagine if they hadn’t waited; they had closed the store, or punted away the opportunity to hold on to the ball. It would have been one less klutz discovered.)
I must take a moment to admit some lack of graciousness on the part of da harv. I’m guilty. I regularly admonish some of my newbie actor friends regarding their lack of professionalism when taking an audition (with me). It’s not only in my pet peeve category, but also an insulting disregard for those of us who attempt to follow some form of track towards possible or continued success. I want everyone to make it. I root for every actor to make it, even though experience has shown me how few end up being able to support themselves, let alone a family. And that in itself is cause for my most strident of admonishments.
The audition is what you do for a living. Don’t take it for granted. It might change your life.
Professionals arrive at the theater with enough time to put on makeup and prepare for the curtain. If your audition is set for a prescribed time, then it’s your responsibility to be there early enough to study your script and be well-prepared to go in when summoned.
But if I had to spell out my own personal recipe for success, if I was truly put on the spot, if I were only allowed to offer you what I considered the most salient point of all, I could do so without hesitation or equivocation.
The following is what Harvey Kalmenson religiously observes, as his way of life, and adherence to the single most important ingredient for personal and team success in any and all walks of professional life.
As gathered from the writings of Albert Einstein:
“Whatever your choice to do in life, make sure to be the very best at it. No ingredient should ever be inconsequential or overlooked as too small a substance not to be included in your observance of the highest possible work ethic. If you happen to be a match maker, be sure to manufacture the best matches to be found anywhere.”
You may not be the biggest box office draw, but you can be the best actor in the world. That is, if you commit to practicing you’re given craft. I have bolded the foregoing sentence because it denotes the strikingly similar mutuality that every successful athlete and actor has in common: Work ethic.
A friend of mine described an occurrence which took place while he functioned as executive producer on a commercial shoot involving, the one and only, Michael Jordan. I was told Jordan was a gem to work with but did have one special request; a full size regulation basketball hoop and standard be put in place so Mr. Jordan could practice a variety of shots. Wow! Can you imagine, the best player in the history of the game, at the very top of his physical skills, still striving for increased excellence? It kind of sounds like Tiger Woods. I guess they both fell into the trap of seeking a higher degree of excellence by practicing their chosen field. I wonder if either of them read what Albert Einstein had to say? Or maybe it’s because they both had dads who shared the same beliefs?
Then there was a particularly small, forty-seat little theater on Santa Monica Blvd. in West Los Angeles, where a very young da harv was diligently practicing something or other. I guess it was a Thursday evening (but please don’t hold me to it) and I was concerned about who was going to fill in during a short sequence of our play, where a piano player was required.
It was almost curtain time and still no piano player. Then, with about fifteen minutes to spare, here comes this smiling, effervescent human being, coming through the drawn curtain and introducing himself to all of us. “Hello everybody,” he said, while shaking hands with anyone who had a hand available. “I’m Jack Lemmon, and I got a call you needed a guy to play the piano.”
I never realized our regular piano player had friends in as high-up a position on life’s ladder. In retrospect, the really cute part about this incident was the fact Jack Lemmon was always looking for a way he could be practicing his craft. Little theater was never little when the quality of a Jack Lemmon was there seeking excellence.
Why not imagine the likes of a Jack Lemmon being part of your team’s production? Whether it’s a play or a commercial audition, it will always be big-time theater if you make it so by seeking the highest personal excellence you can attain. Call it practicing your craft, or adhering to your very own high degree of personal integrity.
All of that being said, if I had to choose one other single thing each and every aspiring voice over actor could do in order to attain their own personal success as a talent, and as an above-average human being, it would be summed up succinctly: Networking. Get out there with the people who some would refer to as the competition. You are your own driving force for success. Each and every person you meet will aid in your achieving your goals and aspirations. Go to meetings. Shake hands and hug. Networking has worked since the beginning of time.
I am reminded of the book by Ernest Hemingway entitled “For Whom The Bell Tolls.” Hemingway took the title from John Donne.
Do with it what you will.
Meditation XVII: No man is an island…
“All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated… As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon, calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come: so this bell calls us all: but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness… No man is an island, entire of itself… any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”
Like hitting a home run, and as you trot around the bases, all is quiet. You stop, look around, and discover… there’s no one in the stands. No teammates to share your glee.
“One, who knows you, introduces you to one who doesn’t.
You tell the man whom you just met, how you aspire to the artistry of voice over.
The next day that man calls to say he liked your voice so much he told a friend about you.
That would make three, who have discovered your island.
And all you are duty bound to convey is a simple thank you, and have a nice day.”
Networking, by hk
Your daily reiteration must be networking.
Please notice the words “must” and “networking” in the previous sentence are bold. Straight from the shoulder and as pointedly as I can make it; without networking, actors chances are diminished, almost to the point of no return. Few make it without friends or just-met acquaintances.
“Doesn’t luck play a big part?”
Yes, luck does come into play. Yes, you heard da harv say it. I love having a run of luck. But remember… if my door is closed, I can’t get lucky. Good days or bad, my rent must be paid, even if it comes before I eat.
An actor says to me, “Boy did I get lucky.” “Where were you, and what were you doing when you got lucky?” I always ask. Almost always, our lucky actor happened to be out and about when the lucky incident took place. Most of the time it had to do with networking. It never has to do with sitting home waiting for your phone to ring. (Now-a-days it’s easy to take a cell phone with you. Don’t be a klutz; make sure its charged.)
And, when you finally get a gig, it doesn’t mean it’s time for you to relax. Quality-wise, you just moved up a notch. The folks you meet who are part and parcel of the voice over work you just got may also be in a position to hire you again. Make them a part of your networking. I’m referring to everyone.
Be like Jack Lemmon; shake hands and ingratiate yourself. Consider every recording studio as a fertile venue; they’re for the sole purpose of meeting and greeting people to add to your personal networking farmland. From the parking lot attendant (if there is one) at the recording studio, to the young receptionist who checks you in, to the engineer and or anyone who is there and breathing. Shake a hand, shake a hand. Smile and look a new networking possibility right straight in the eye, genuinely smile, and shake a hand firmly (then wash your own). Get the names of the folks you meet and make sure to write them down. That parking lot attendant might be another actor, just like you, who one day will remember your cordiality. And the young receptionist may one day be in a position to hire you. Everyone you meet is of substance. Don’t ever ignore a person deemed to be in a lesser position of authority than the producer or director.
Here’s a da harv revelation: My entire career (by the nature of how it began, took hold, and continues to bear fruit) has at its nucleus, the most powerful force known to man. Networking.
Actors sharing with other actors. People telling people in an effort to help people. It sounds so corny. Amazing how so many success stories sound corny at inception. The bottom line has been and will remain, simply as I can reiterate. Networking.