My local community theatre, The Wharf, has been hit hard by the Covid-19 lockdown. Like arts and music venues across the country, the future is uncertain, and for now box-office income has halted completely.
The Wharf launched a JustGiving campaign, and knowing there must be an archive of photographs, I offered to create a video-montage to show off their best work and promote the campaign across social media. It was great fun to go through the photos of a huge range of different shows - and really hard to pick out some key ones for this video. I favoured 'action shots' over posed photos, and those that packed an emotional punch (fortunately, there have been some talented photographers involved over the years).
Using the campaign press-release, I wrote a voiceover script to highlight the need to raise funds, and to encourage people to give generously. It felt special to lend my voice to a local campaign that I really believe in, and I think that passion comes across.
Creating and voicing this has been a lockdown-highlight for me, and so far the JustGiving campaign has raised over £9,000.
Our world has flipped 360. It's only shocking that we didn't really realise it was coming. While my family in Italy were already in isolation and sending us 'le regole' of the Italian authorities, we were weirdly nonchalant about the whole thing, in hindsight.
Like illness and accidents, we can only imagine it happening to someone else. Or maybe it's simply inconceivable that life could actually grind to a halt. But now it has. I live in the centre of Devizes, a pretty market town in Wiltshire, and over the last week the dog & child have used the market square car park as a playground. It's empty. Almost every shop closed. Pubs dark, their Mother's day and Easter-lunch signage now looking incongruous and sad.
However I feel I'm one of the lucky ones. All the things that, for me, have been a challenge in voiceovers: the lone-working, isolation, communicating via the web for everything... are now its great plusses. How strange! With professional studios closed, home studios are suddenly in demand, and enquiries increasing.
I've even had agents knock on MY door! These really are strange times...
I'm counting my blessings as I record phone greetings that inform clients the offices are now closed. I'm grateful to play a part in social media videos sharing lockdown tips and Government advice. A genuine highlight has been joining some very big names in the industry for this:
You may not know their names but, from X-factor to Big Brother I think you'll know some of these voices! This has to be one of the most impressive examples of remote-working - recorded by Voice Actors in home studios across the UK, edited/animated remotely by different individuals, and brought together by the inspirational John Calvert of AirForce under #VoiceoversUnited and #keeptalking. Can you hear my phrase?
In these strangest of times, joining forces with others to produce something positive means so much. Many of us find ourselves doing things we never dreamed of right now, or re-shaping our working lives/businesses to enable life as we knew it to (sort of ) continue. I wish you luck, as well as good health, in the weeks and months ahead.
May we all get through this together - even though apart 🙏🏻
When I’m not at the mic, I’m probably on the mat. Yoga is a big part of my life, and I’ve been teaching it in a variety of settings since late 2012. I first encountered Yoga at theatre school in Cornwall almost 30 years ago. I remember the long, elegant limbs of our movement teacher, Serena, slipping into ardha matsyendrasana – a seated spinal twist. That was my first yoga pose, and it has remained one of my favourites.
I immediately loved the deep all-over stretching that is unique to Yoga. Practising the poses seemed to open a door to me to explore my physical self and the possibilities of movement. These became important tools to me as an actor.
Yoga is about coming home to yourself. You can try and treat it as a series of movements, purely physical exercise but you probably won’t get far. Holding poses requires breath control and concentration and this in turn leads you inwards. It’s hard NOT to become more aware of your inner workings, your thoughts, feelings, as well as your physical self.
This kind of self-awareness, this slowing-down and spending time with yourself is so healthy for those of us who put our souls on the line for a living: artists, actors, writers, dancers, musicians, photographers, singers…
As a Voice-actor, as much as I try and convince myself that my work is just a recording, purely audio, it’s not me….it’s pretty hard to NOT feel that a little piece of Helen is out there in mp3 form(at). It reminds me of the saying that once you’ve had a child there will always be a little bit of yourself walking around out there in the big bad world.
It makes you vulnerable.
Because our performance or creative work draws on our very selves, our experiences, our inner wisdom. You can’t detach from your inner life and expect to give a meaningful creative offering. Rather, you have to use that experience – together with technical skill – to create an honest, inspired one.
'Yoga is the perfect opportunity to be curious about
who you are' ~ Jason Crandell
Yoga seems to provide nourishment for the creative's soul. It’s like a topping-up, a recharging system. Whilst any physical exercise makes us feel good and releases the endorphins, yoga is not only toning and stress-relieving, it’s also nurturing. Or rather, it shows us how to nurture, enables us to self-nurture.
This is valuable not just for the creative spirit but also for the business owner. In the freelance self-employed world, it’s easy to feel disempowered and spread-thin. Will I be chosen? How do I get more clients? Did they even listen to that audition?!
Having an internal support system - self-esteem, confidence and belief, is essential if we are to withstand the ever-shifting sands of the creative vocation. When I step onto my yoga mat, I am stepping in to myself. It allows me to feel my feelings, to release my hurts or frustrations, to hear my mind (and all the tricks it can play) and come to a place of stillness, clarity and balance.
When I step up to the microphone to give a voice-acting performance, I hope that I do so in that same spirit of balance. As it is only from that place – that place of quiet listening - that I have access to my inner well of resources. My creativity, my intelligence, and my true voice.
Connect with Helen:
Pregnant pause. Dramatic pause. Whatever you call it a pause is never just a pause, is it? It’s never just a bit of silence when nobody’s speaking.
When narrating a voice over script, pauses are golden. They can even be edited-in afterwards; but finding the right place for them within the narration is where the magic really happens.
Need to let that information sink in? Pause.
Need authority? Pause.
Need to draw in your listener? Pause.
Need to seem caring and compassionate? Pause.
This may sound simple or obvious, but the novice voiceover artist or speaker can easily skip this consideration in their haste to ‘get through the read’. It can also be a particular (acting) challenge to maintain the energy of a read – and the interest of the listener - whilst also finding and honouring the pauses, the gaps…
Pausing is not a popular pastime in our modern world. We’re not set up for it. Busyness and ‘doing’ is valued above all else.
'Being', just well, being–with no agenda and no list - is not the obvious way to frame a response to So what did you get up to at the weekend?
-Well, I stared into space, picked some fluff off my jumper, pottered around the garden and dozed with the cat.
-What?! You under-achiever-you, go get a life, get a hobby!
Simplicity is seriously under-rated. We see it as non-constructive, literally a waste of time.
Perhaps we're a bit scared of it, and of its close relation - Silence.
We mostly want to fill it, don't we?
But the absence of words/sound doesn't mean the absence of meaning. Quite the opposite. Every pause holds the truth and an opportunity for understanding. Try it. Relish it.
In the words of Rumi..... 'Listen to silence. It has so much to say.'
To listen to my work with words (and silence) click HERE To discuss your voiceover requirements - Get in Touch
This summer was audiobook season in my booth! From light and fun (a children's storybook) to dark and rather sinister...The Sicilian Woman's Daughter was a wonderful chance to both use a little of my Italian language skills and to do some challenging voice-acting, conveying the brutal reality of Mafia life.
Here's an overview:
As the daughter of Sicilian immigrants, in her teens Maria turns her back on her origins and fully embraces the English way of life. Notwithstanding her troubled and humble childhood in London, and backed up by her intelligence, beauty and sheer determination, she triumphantly works her way up to join the upper middle-class of British society.
There she becomes a bastion of civility.
But a minor incident wakes up feelings of revenge in her, like those lurking in Maria’s Sicilian origins. As she delves deeper into her mother’s family history a murky past unravels, drawing Maria more and more into a mire of vendetta.
After my first take of the Prologue to the Sicilian Woman's Daughter, the author asked that I give the the voiceover more lingering 'menace'. Even the description of the making of traditional Sicilian biscuits 'cuddureddi' needed emotional depth - the listener needed to sense that those same, aged-but-agile female hands had committed murder...
Described as a 'must-read for mystery lovers' - you can read more about this gripping story here and order a copy.
Here's a short extract where Maria is describing the legendary and terrifying Great Aunt Ziuzza...
Need a versatile voice-actor to tell your story? Get in touch
What’s in a smile? - Compassion, trust, warmth, friendship, understanding…the list goes on. But why is a smile so important in voiceovers? Maybe you’re narrating something obviously smiley – a cute children’s storybook, say, meant for this little fella and his mates, above.
But maybe not – that 10,000 word e-learning course on health&safety in the workplace isn’t exactly joyful.
What could there possibly be to smile about?
Smiling gives you presence. And that’s something you can hear. It says I am fully in this moment (not thinking about my holiday plans). Does the narrator/speaker care about what he/she is saying? With a smile, the answer will almost always be Yes. Smiling brings warmth to your tone of voice, and when you sound warm you are more likeable – and more listenable. People want to tune in and hang around for longer.
The Dalai Lama says:
‘A simple smile. That’s the start of opening your heart and being compassionate to others.’
Compassion is an important quality to cultivate as a Voiceover, a Speaker or a Presenter. Compassion for your listener, what do they need to hear; how will you ensure they hear it? Compassion for your script – what is it really saying? What are the key messages? Compassion for any characters you are playing – why do they matter?
Now, I'm not suggesting every voiceover-narration or presentation be performed with an enormous grin! It's more subtle than that. Indeed, I think of it as the 'subtle-smile'. Pick up a newspaper and try reading an article with a gentle smile ie. your mouth turned up at the corners, allowing your cheeks to lift. How does it sound? How does it feel? Try reading the same piece with your mouth flat - those corners turned down - and feel the difference. Next, record yourself reading in these two ways (use your phone's recorder if you don't have a microphone).
Listen back, can you hear the difference?
This subtle-smile technique can be used in any scenario to bring warmth, presence and 'listenability' to all manner of spoken content: presentations, lectures, formal speeches, and demonstrations.
I recently gave a talk on voiceover and presentation techniques at a women's networking lunch, and I met a lady who works as a funeral Celebrant. With an emphasis on honouring and celebrating the life of the deceased, she was keen to convey a sense of warmth and humanity to the gathering of loved-ones. She wanted to avoid sounding like she'd read the words a hundred times before - perhaps an easy trap for someone in the ceremonial-leading business. Her voice being her instrument, we discussed how the subtle-smile could be a very simple means of engaging - with both the words of the ceremony and, hopefully, with the hearts and minds of her listeners.
Why not try the subtle-smile next time you're narrating or presenting?