A very strange thing has happened since I started working in the voice world. People keep referring to me as an actor.
I’d always wanted to be an actor, that was kind of the original plan.
I went off to college to do a Btec in Performing Arts, despite having the grades to do pretty much any A-levels I wanted (no small achievement for a dyslexic, but more on that another time). I’ve always loved make believe – the magic of storytelling – and I wanted to learn everything about theatre production, I didn’t just want to stand on a stage and look cool; I wanted to learn about the lights, the sound, who gives the orders to make sure everything happens at the right time, how the props are made, who takes care of the costumes. I am firmly of the opinion that the more you learn about your craft, whatever your particular craft may be, the better craftsperson you become.
In other words, I wasn’t one of the pretty drama girls assuming their rightful place in the spotlight. Which meant I found myself doing less and less onstage, and more and more backstage. Backstage was short of people and onstage really wasn’t.
And somewhere along the line, somebody told me I couldn’t act. And I believed them.
Never mind, I thought, at least I still get to be involved.
I retreated into the wings to pursue a career in Stage Management which I did an excellent job of convincing myself I wanted. I dutifully went off to Uni to pursue said career – but did I apply for Stage Management courses? No, I applied to Drama Schools and University Drama Degrees under the guise of continuing my wholistic approach. I’ll be more effective backstage if I have a thorough understanding of what goes on onstage, right?
I beat out 3,000 applicants to get one of 60 places on the best university drama degree course in the country at the time. Pretty good going for somebody who couldn’t act, but my belief that Acting Wasn’t For Me persisted and after graduating I went out into the world to wrangle props and cue lights.
Although I had a moderately successful couple of years*, to be completely honest with you I wasn’t a very good Stage Manager. Perhaps it was because I could never quite shake that fish out of water feeling. Unsurprising when you consider that my desired pond was a few feet away from me in front of the audience. I was a water adjacent fish.
In the end, I had to admit defeat.
Stage Management really wasn’t for me. But I was pretty sure being an actor on stage wasn’t entirely for me either. So I took a desk job while I regrouped and tried to figure out what I was supposed to be doing with my life. It will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that nine to five office life really wasn’t for me, but as I now had no idea where to even begin looking for my pond (too much with the fish analogy?) I stuck it out.
I began writing scripts, initially as a creative outlet after work, but then I started taking it more seriously. A few years in, I attended a talk by Dirk Maggs who was extremely generous with his advice on audio production and what free software was available and how you could absolutely produce your own work with very little in the way of resources. Up until this point I’d mostly been writing for TV or stage, but while listening to Dirk talk something clicked in my head. When the talk finished I had to ask my mate to go away for half an hour so I could sit on a bench alone and furiously scribble an action plan (which he very kindly did).
I could actually do that, I thought, and I think I really want to.
So I dusted off the drama degree, recorded the first series of Vamps, and here I am: a working voice artist. VOs tend to fall into two camps by and large; those who have a presenting or more corporate background, and those who have a background in acting. It’s safe to say that my tent’s pitched in the latter.
It’s funny how life has a habit of dragging you full circle. I am now an actor, just … not in the way I expected.
* Depending on your definition of “success” – in 2006 I had a grand total of 3 days off. I was working 7 days a week and often very long hours when my theatre gigs overlapped with my day jobs’ notice periods. I do not recommend.