Archive for the ‘ Live Performance ’ Category

I’m a contrarian.  I try to learn something OLD everyday.

Today I hit the jackpot with this story from the website about a mechanical talking device that pre-dates the telephone, recording machine and talking pictures.  It’s one of those things that looks like a hoax, but is evidently true…and cool!

talking machine

There’s no known recording of the device, but conspiracy theorists are already buzzing that “she” is still in use, saying things like “Your call is very important to us.  Please hold for the next available customer service representative.”

–over and out —

People who know me are in general agreement that a Big Ego isn’t one of my worst problems.

Still, every so often I catch my overly-humble self missing a real treat because I think “Oh, I already know all about that.”  This turned out to be one of those treats. And if you think you already know all about “Old Radio”, or voice acting, or creating worlds with words and sounds and music, you need to re-think…and enjoy this book.

raisedonradio_bookcover2What I thought was just another book on Nostalgia turned out to have new insights and details on the era of network Radio which I had never encountered…and I’ve been collecting recordings and books on the subject for 40 years.  If you have any interest at all in knowing how people discovered and developed the art of entertaining (and selling) through sound alone…in effect, how the business you as a voice talent proport to be part of came about, “Raised on Radio” should be on your reading list.  This is the origin of your voiceover career, whether you acknowledge it or not!

Author Gerald Nachman goes far beyond the “gee whiz” nostalgic whitewash or dry academic catalogue of so many radio histories.  His is a “warts and all” description of this Theatre of the Mind which still lets all the “beauty marks” show.

Newscasts, Sponsorships, Production and Sound Effects, Soaps, Dramas, Kiddie Shows, Quiz Programs, the relation to Vaudeville and later to TV, tie-ins to movies, music, and the history of the moment, even the development of what’s now known as the situation comedy – it’s all laid out here, in a personal, conversational tone still laced with authority.  And while not a textbook on performance, I noted several sections that would serve as guidance on things like mic technique and character development.  You may even take a fiendish glee in the section about the big movie stars who were absolutely no good in front of a microphone!

It’s a big story, in a big book.  But if you enjoy it as much as I did, you’ll wonder at how fast it goes by.

I think I’ll have to keep it around for a re-run…just to remind myself every once in awhile how much fun it is not to “know it all”.

— over and out —

Famous…for What?

Sometimes I enjoy and admire Ricky Gervais.  Sometmes I wonder how he got into the room…and how soon he’ll find the way back out. 

But what he wrote in the Huffington Post has put him back on the “plus” column for me just now.  It’s about the weird modern goal of being “Famous”.  …nothing else…just “Famous”, not famous for anything, except being “Famous”.  That’s the subject of his next video series.  I may actually have to watch this one, having been left un-involved by The Office and having only seen snippets of Extras (the Doctor Who parody was priceless, though).

His best quote from the whole article, for me, is this: 

“Born clever? So what? What are you going to do with it? Your best, I hope, and no less.”

Here’s the link to the full piece.

It’s worth your time…even if you can’t stand Ricky Gervais.

— over and out —

“It’s A Gift…”

I don’t think I’ve ever done a “re-run” on the Clogged Blog.  But this one came to mind during a serious moment in Jesse Gephart’s otherwise hilarious stage production of David Sedaris’ “Santaland Diaries”.  This talented performer, in a one-man show, seamlessly shifted from satirical monologue to genuine concern when he noticed an audience member having some very real health issues.  Shifting his focus to solving an unforseen problem, he turned a show-stopping incident into something that seemed completely natural and in character.   That, plus the part of the script detailing all the awkward things Santa gets asked for…brought back an experience I may not have told you about, if you’ve just recently “tuned in”.  This is from 2008.


I can’t reveal names, lest I jeopardize any cherished Christmas traditions, but this really happened. I know because I was there in the studio.

A local radio station decided to whisk Santa Claus into town to take phone calls from area kids. It’s a situation just waiting for a misstep.  And sure enough, just fifteen minutes into the hour, it happened.

Santa was cheerily chatting up a sister and little brother, with plans of innocent avarice dancing in their heads. At one point, Santa asked the boy if there was anything else he’d like. There was the briefest hesitation, and then the little guy continued…words carefully chosen, and voice starting to quaver a little.

“What I’d really like…would be…to be able to…talk to my Papa again.”

It was more a simple statement than a request. But I couldn’t imagine how the old guy was going to get through this one. Before I’d even finished the thought I heard Santa, in a very soft and sympathetic voice: “Ohhhh, I know what it’s like to miss a papa, especially around the holidays. It’s extra difficult, isn’t it.”

“Yeah,” the little voice replied.

“Well,” continued the old gent at the microphone, “I’m not sure exactly how much I can fix, but…I’ve got an idea. You put your mom back on the phone, and meanwhile we’ll work on getting that game system you and I talked about to maybe lift your spirits a little, okay?”


And darned if it didn’t sound like that was just enough for the young fellow. He handed the phone back to his mother and I heard Santa, in that same caring voice, ask if she had any old recordings of the dad she could lift a little something from, and wrap up a small tape or disc for the boy…with a note that it was the best Santa could do. Those of us in the studio half expected the lady to brush it off, but she immediately brightened to the idea, saying she’d never thought of that, and knew of something that might just fit the bill.

Sincere wishes for a season of comfort were exchanged and the call was ended. The editor went to work and condensed what actually went on the air, though I was surprised he left in the conversation about “papa”.  A brief adlib was attached alluding to the “talk to mom/got an idea/lift the spirits” ending and the call went out over the air.

I don’t remember much about the rest of that hour. But later I had to wonder how differently it could have gone, if the station had just yanked in some guy with a funny voice who could go “Ho Ho Ho!” on cue and talk about toys.

I post this “long winter’s tale” not so much as a credit to quick thinking, but as an encouragement for all of us who are tasked with using our talents to really connect with the person(s) we’re being paid to talk to.

Yeah, it helps if you can nail the sound and read the words without stumbling. But when the person at the microphone can let some part of what’s truly inside come out in what’s being voiced, whatever’s on the page…there’s potential to transform the everday into something a little more.

But who am I to say: maybe he WAS the genuine article!

Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays and a Season of Comfort to us all.

— over and out —

Farewell To The Master


Norman Corwin (May 3, 1910 – October 18, 2011), pictured in 1973.

“Post proofs that brotherhood is not so wild a dream as those who profit by postponing it pretend.”  — Norman Corwin, 1945

     My friends often tell me I “kick myself” way more than I ought to.  And they’re right.  But one “kick” that’s still justifiable is the one I keep administering for not being able to find a way to get to California last year for the 100th Birthday Celebration of one of the most influential voices in Radio...Norman Corwin.  As it turned out, I would have been able to sit down with Mr. Corwin and my college friend, Richard Fish, for a private visit which stretched from a promised “few minutes” into nearly three hours.

     Note I capitalized Radio.  That’s to differentiate the state of Radio in what’s now so quaintly termed its Golden Age from what it’s degenerated into. 

     But lest you think Norman Corwin was some kind of extraordinary voice actor, perhaps I should clarify.  While he was an on-air voice and had a career on mic as well as off, his influence on what Radio was capable of doing lay in his imaginaton and his writing and his ability to instill in his various voice casts the spirit of what he created on the pages of his scripts.  He knew how to direct those actors, along with countless technicians, musicians, even composers as accomplished as Bernard Herrman, in bringing his imaginings to life on the air…and have them re-created in the imaginations of his audiences.

     Corwin could easily be dismissed by some as “high brow”.  His love and mastery of language was on display in everything he wrote.  But he could just as easily write in the voice of (pardon the over-used phrase) the common man.  And he did so with such regularity that his various Radio series and specials were highly acclaimed, even though they were mostly “sustaining”…meaning they did not rely on comercial sponsors.  Indeed, if you’ve read any of the current obituaries, you may note one his most famous broadcasts during the era of WWII was broadcast live on all three national networks.

     But Norman Corwin could just as easily turn out a touching fairy tale story…like “The Odyssey of Runyon Jones”, about a little boy’s journey through a hell of a heavenly bureaucratic maze as he tries to free his little dog, unjustly sentenced to “Currgatory”.  One of his first nationally broadcast plays was a pre-Dr. Seuss rhyming Christmas story, “The Plot to Overthrow Christmas”, with historical villains teaming up with the Devil to kidnap Santa and do away with him, long before Jack Skellington. 

     There was the uproarious (as least to me) show, “The Undecided Molecule”, where said molecule was put on trial for refusing to meekly be assigned his place in the universe.  That showcased many top stars who would always be glad to appear in a Norman Corwin production:  Vincent Price as the Prosecutor, Robert Benchley as the Defense Attorney, and as the wise-cracking Judge…Groucho Marx.  Corwin’s writing was so precise that in listening to a recording of the broadcast, I had to stop myself mid-chuckle at what I thought was a Marx ad-lib…when the next rhyming line proved conclusively it had been in the script all along!  And the Molecule itself was performed live by a sound effects man practially torturing a wave oscillator, decades before Ben Burtt came up with the sounds of R2-D2.

     It wasn’t all fun and games, though.  One program I rarely read about, but which chilled me when I first heard the recorded broadcast, was called “They Fly Through The Air With The Greatest of Ease”.  It starts out as what you’d expect from some standard glorification of daring aviators, taking to the skies in their bombing runs.  But part way through, there’s a horrifying shift of focus as the narrative suddenly follows the bombs down to the people they’re about to obliterate…not the ones you would have thought at the start of the program.

     Corwin defied catagorization in his work.  While it’s true he did some of his finest writing and producing in the truest flag-waving traditions of the 30s and 40s, he was sensitive to injustice no matter what its origin.  This week’s Los Angeles Times article cites a program in the late 40s in response to the House Committe On Un-American Activties (the McCarthy communist witch hunts which ruined so many lives).  In it, a narrator (actor Frederic March) spoke these words:  “Who comes after us?  Is it your minister who will be told what he can say in his pulpit?  Is it your children’s school teacher who will be told what she can say in a classroom?  Who are they after?  They are after more than Hollywood.  This reaches into every American city.”

    He was still writing, still producing, even as he approached 100 years of age…with projects involving actors such as Jack Lemmon, Jessica Tandy, Martin Landau, Ed Asner, (Firesign Theatre’s) Phil Proctor, even William Shatner.

     Norman Corwin understood media.  And not just radio.  While he is justly remembered for his Oscar-nominated work on the Kirk Douglas bio-pic on Vincent Van Gogh, “Lust for Life”, he was early on the director of a Radio play based on Archibald MacLeish’s “The Fall of the City”.  While it boasted a voice cast including Orson Welles and Burges Meredith, live orchestra (again) conducted by Bernard Herrman…it is said that Corwin, in order to get just the right feel of the raw power of the mindless crowds (the Masterless Men of MacLeish’s story), had various sized groups of actors set up in a remote location at a local armory, where he directed their “crowd responses” like a conductor throughout the show, rather than having to rely on stock recorded crowd sound effects.

     So, yeah.  I guess I can be forgiven for kicking myself just a little bit for missing the chance to sit down with this titan of imagination.  But, as I wrote last year when I told you to send him birthday card…I really sort of did meet the man, at least through his words and his work.

     If you’ve ever created something with voices or sounds or music…and their respective languages…you’ve built on foundations set down by Norman Corwin, whether you knew it or not.

     You can learn more about this man’s remarkable career in a book, written by one of my favorite college professors (and I only had a couple of good ones), R. Leroy Bannerman’s Norman Corwin and Radio: The Golden Years, plus Corwin’s own published works, still in print.

— over and out —

Not All That Is Scary Is Bad

You know those people who tell you “You need to get out of the studio more…”?  The ones who say, “You need to give yourself a different type of a challenge, break out of your routine…”?  The pesty people with only your best interests at heart who prod you to “get outside your Comfort Zone…”?

Chances are, they’re right.

And if they’ve said these things will improve the quality of what you’re already doing…they’re probably right about that, too.

Last night, for me, was the culmination of weeks of creeping dread.  I don’t get stage fright.  I’m never nervous about being on camera.  And as long as I know my subject, I have no fear of public speaking.  But that’s me, about me.  If I blow something, I can usually ad lib my way out of it easily.  But I do freely admit to a fear of Failure.

Add to that the risk of tripping up a fellow actor (who needs that key word or phrase to do his/her next lines), or a hard-working tech crew (who really has to hear that line delivered where it’s supposed to be in order to have the next light or sound cue ready), or indeed the audience (who shouldn’t have to puzzle out what happened in the story if you suddenly skip over a few pages of the script)………now that’s scary. 

RG and Clint Lienau . Photo by David Watts

Now mind you, none of those things are happening with my current foray back into stage performance (Raleigh Little Theatre’s excellent production of “The Woman In Black”).  At least not to any noticable degree.   So far, the worst we (and our audiences) have had to deal with is a fog machine with a mind of its own.

The show, which opened last night in front of its intended audience, has come together wonderfully, just as director Haskell Fitz-Simmons and everyone else assured me it would.  It has become the fun I had hoped it would be when I hesitantly accepted friend Jack Hall’s prompting to audition, after some 20 years off the “legitimate stage”.  And I’ve made a new friend in Clint Lienau.

But more than that, it has really helped my daily voiceover work.  The first thing I noticed was that the nightly rehearsals and readings, instead of causing further vocal fatigue as I’d feared, actually strengthened my voice and gave me more stamina.  Case in point:  for years my best times to record were late morning/early afternoon.  I could hear my voice “thin out” or grow strained if I had a session late in the afternoon or at night.  But in recent weeks, the addition of show prep has required me to sometimes come back to a voice recording job after three hours of rehearsal, in order to meet a job deadline.  Instead of being too worn out, the voice seemed to actually be stronger.  I also note the experience has refreshed my storytelling abilities and attention to written copy.

Another point:  as wonderful as having my own studio is…my own little world…there is something encouraging and re-affirming about being around other creative people.  That was a great discovery for many who attended the recent Faffcon 3 for voice talent, but even involving yourself in a local group, even one with no direct link to our business, can be absolutely refreshing and recharging.

Getting up on a stage after a long time and trying to remember pages of lines may not be the right thing for you (and if you DO decide to come back to live theatre after that long a time, take my advice and do NOT pick a two-person show to memorize!), but take a look around and find something

Whether or not it puts money in your pocket for the time spent…it’s a great investment in your own emotional well-being.

…even if you DO end up having a ghost, the fear of forgetting your lines, or a rogue fog machine to contend with.

— over and out —

What do you do when you’re trying like crazy to attract more clients, boost business, take on more work and more deadlines to pay the bills? Why, volunteer for a local theatre production, of course! Oh, and if possible, make it a two-man show with lots of lines to memorize!

My friend Bob Souer calls this sort of madness “Inviting the Avalanche”.  I’m about to test his theory.

At the suggestion of another trusted friend, actor/director Jack Hall, I auditioned for the upcoming RLT production of “The Woman in Black“.

I haven’t been on stage in a scripted play for 15 years. And while this show has a deserved reputation for terrifying audiences, the scariest part for me would be memorizing the play itself, along with the dialects of the various characters “The Actor” assumes during the tale.

Today I learned I was awarded the part, and four weeks of rehearsals start tonight.

While I won’t have the luxury of a script in front of me like I do in the studio, I’m hoping this will get me out of my routine and, to be honest, jolt me out of the creative rut of a comfort zone (if you can call this “comfort”).

And as for the rest? …let the “avalanche” of paid work begin!

I’ve had my early summer tornado, ridden a rare east coast earthquake, and managed to dodge the most recent hurricane. So I guess an “avalanche” is next on the list, right Bob?

— over and out —

There And Back Again

…or maybe I should entitle this one:  Returning to the Scene of the Crime.

Our local MCA-i chapter met at WRAL-TV recently to learn how the forward-thinking station has developed its website presence over the years, and what it’s doing to anticipate the internet’s impact on local television.

We were hosted in Studio A, which has seen uncounted telethons, record-hop and gospel shows, political discussions, quiz programs, the early days of Rick Flair and Andre the Giant…and the tv debut of a cocky young would-be puppeteer.

It was kind of eerie, seeing the corner of the studio where I spent so many mornings chatting with long-time kiddie show fixture (and a great jazz man…plus one of the best friends I ever had in my life), “Uncle” Paul Montgomery.   Only later did I realize the place I chose to sit for the presentation by our generous TV5 hosts…was the very spot where Paul had me tape our very first “bit”.  It was in a free-standing puppet box used for their then-regular character, Crawford the Lion.  I showed up with about the only puppet I owned:  a little skunk named Stripes, who had a head cold and couldn’t smell anything.  We did a five minute ad-lib segment (something no modern audience would tolerate, I realize, but hey – this was over 40 years ago!), and everything just clicked.  Years later, that little effort would evolve into my entry-level ticket to working as a “hired hand” for Jim Henson’s Muppets in two motion pictures which used the Wilmington, NC studios in the late 90s.

Fascinating as it was to see what’s been done to the station in the years since I was there (the news department was just phasing out 16mm film when I came in), I felt a little something extra while sitting in the audience.  After all, none of the speakers had been in this market when the likes of Zoot, Stripes, Malcomb, Woody, Blorg, and J. Bennington Bunny were regular fixtures with Uncle Paul in Studio A.  Come to think of it…none of our gracious hosts had even been born!

…made me feel both ancient and forever young at the same time.

— over and out —

     No, I don’t think anyone’s ever accused me of having Adonis DNA, and I can’t even handle Dr. Pepper, let alone TigerBlood.  But I knew early on that the relative anonymity of being a Voice Talent and Actor could still have its rewards.

Cast, It's A Mystery

Fighting Crime and Craziness with "It's A Mystery"

     Sometimes there’s a tangible, immediate benefit:  like the talent fee and the wonderful dinner our It’s A Mystery group received from the Fayetteville Shriners after a recent performance.  But the good feeling that has lasted even longer was the news that we had a small part in helping them raise around $8,000  for a kids’ burn center.

RG with son Ricky (when he was a LITTLE boy)

Reading with my young son, Ricky, back when he was a LITTLE boy.

 More of my time has been devoted to volunteer reading lately for an outfit called Gatewave, which provides free audio content for the blind and visually impaired.  I’ve always loved to read, and used to get scolded by my kids when I didn’t “do the voices” as we went through the stories.  I agreed to do regular reads for Gatewave  at the behest of friend Melissa Exelberth, and the group’s director asked if I’d like to read old Science Fiction short stories from the pulps instead of news stories from current publications.

     I jumped at the chance for the more creative outlet, and of course immediately found out I’d been away from long-form reading longer than I’d realized.  Also, of course, I picked a story with lots of characters and a long runtime.  Still, thanks to my editing skills it all worked out fine.  And each successive story block I’ve read for them has become a little easier.

     The payoff…other than feeling good about doing something good for someone I’ll probably never meet?  I’ve noticed in the last few e-learning narrations I’ve been paid to do, that I’m doing them better.  I can handle the long-form without getting tired so soon.  And, I’m a better “teller of the corporate story”.  My friend Bob Souer is even encouraging me to add audiobooks to my demo list, based on what he’s enjoyed of my Sci-Fi tales.

     In some ways, things like these are instances where it appears you really CAN have it both ways.  So don’t diminish things you’re tempted to try just because of the pricetag or the amount of work for the fee.

     While I know a guy’s gotta make a living, and I fully subscribe to my radio friend Bob Inskeep’s motto “Ya can’t eat ‘Famous’…”, there sometimes CAN be something in it for you.   …even if it isn’t all about you.

— over and out —

Movable Wisdom

     A lot of times, the stuff people forward to you in an email is hardly worth the time it takes to delete.  But once in awhile a gem comes along that you’d never seen before.  I got one of those today from friend and fellow voice actor, Tom Jones.  You may already know it, but it was brand new to me:

     “Be Yourself.  Everyone Else Is Already Taken.”

     Man,  my teacher Nancy Wolfson would love it.

— over and out —