Finding Your Voice…the Hard Way

A man and a woman performing a modern dance.

A man and a woman performing a modern dance. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“I don’t feel you are committing to what you are doing,” the casting agent said to me at today’s audition.  “Mess it up more.  Make it more real.  Stop caring about it so much.”  Casting direction came at me all at once and flustered me.

Of all the different things I’ve done in life, acting is one of the most challenging.  Making something real isn’t just playing a part; it’s becoming part of it.  In so many things we do in life, we can “phone it in,” or “fake it ’til we make it.”  We play a part, whether it’s in the business world or somewhere else.  We become conditioned to follow someone or some institution’s many rules.  Do this.  Do that.  Follow what the sign says.  Fit in.  Understand the culture.  To go along, get along.

Rarely are we asked to “mess it up” and express our authentic self.  In fact, most of the time, we find ways to hide what’s real about our selves.  Some days I wonder about this.

So there I was.  As the casting director worked me over, I began to sweat.  “You’re doing it as if you were looking for my approval,” she said.  She was right.  At this point, I was looking for her approval.  “Don’t do that.  Just have fun and see what comes up.  If you go too over the top, I’ll pull you back.  And don’t worry.  We have lots of time.”

In the majority of acting and voice over jobs I do, there is specific but usually gentle direction.  Yes, I’ve even been ‘accused’, criticized if you will, for having ‘too pretty’ of a voice.  Now, once you get booked on a job, the client has every incentive to get you to do what envisioned and they certainly know that they catch more flies with honey than vinegar.  Plus, you are already booked and on the job, and part of the reality is that clients don’t want to squander their investment.   If you are moving the wrong way, they will tell you.  If they want you to have more of a ‘smile’ in your read, you’ll hear it.  If they want five extra takes even when they loved the first one, you’ll do them.

But today, I was face to face with a casting professional who seemed to read my mind and know my every insecurity.  “Do you do a lot of voice over?” she asked before I could complete the first take.  I nodded.  “I can tell.  Your voice is too perfect for this.  Make it more real.  Loosen up.”

Another take and finally I saw the casting assistant raise his arms in victory.  I must have done something good but I had no idea what I had done.  “I’m sweating,” I replied when she asked how that last take felt.  “Good,” she said.  “It means you finally showed up to the audition.”

As I left the office and walked out in to the bright sunshine, I was disoriented.  Not sure where I was and so I walked, unsure whether to laugh or cry.  I’d just eaten an audition and hadn’t felt this dejected in a while.  In a way it was no big deal.  Every actor knows that you have to eat a lot of auditions along the way.

But it made me think.  Why was it so hard to find my voice today? 

I wondered.  And wondered some more.  I thought about my voiceover friend Lynne and her thyroid cancer surgery.  What would it be like to physically lose your voice when you use it for some source of income?

In many senses, my blog and my exploration to understand my childhood burn accident is all about finding my voice.  I think a great deal about the story I learned on the day of the accident.  My mother was ironing in the basement when I slipped upstairs to grab a treat from the cabinet above the stove.  Call it intuition or just mothering, but my mom noticed I was missing and went to look for me.  When she found me stuck to the stove and burning, I was silent, unable or unwilling to call out for help.  I had lost my voice.

All these many years later, I am taking the time to find it.  It’s no coincidence that I wandered my way into acting, voiceover and writing.  When one door closes, a window opens.  The older I get, the more I think about those windows.

Back to that audition.  As much as I detested the moment, I am grateful to that casting agent for pushing me.  Just imagine if we were all reminded every day to work harder to find our true voice.  It’s certainly not easy but it is good.

Getting My Voice On

Some people might find getting burned in a fire difficult to connect with how, when and why I became an actor but that is essentially part of my story line and are inextricably linked.  As the burn story goes, my sister Susie always told me how she “smelled” me from her perch in the basement that morning and told my mom who was ironing away down there with her to check on me. There she found me, stuck to and burning on the stove. As Susie tells the story, I was silent. Not crying out or calling for help. It seems I had lost my voice.

 So today when I voiced tags* for 29 tv commercials across the country, I silently counted my blessings. A number of years ago, I found my voice and I don’t think I would have realized it had I not gone through the fire. The story is too long for a single post but this blog helps me tell it in my stylish, compartmentalized way.  Even this snippet focuses me on two things:  1) I need to have another conversation with sister Susie to see if the wives tale I’d heard is still her story today; and 2) Soren Kierkegaard‘s quote mirrors my own thoughts these days, “Life can only be understood backward but it must be lived forward.”


Earlier this week, I received a call from Unshackled!, the nation’s  longest-running radio drama produced here in Chicago every week before a live studio audience.  Someone had a conflict for Saturday’s show and as a member of the actors pool, I was asked to fill in, to which I happily obliged.  Curiously, I was asked to play two Hispanic roles but that is another story in itself. In any event, as a show with a religious theme,  Unshackled! ( has a strict dress code — modest skirts or dresses for women actors; jackets for the men. It’s been many moons since I regularly wore dresses or skirts for work (think 1980s Dynasty big-shoulder pads days). For the show, however, I have a few skirts I regularly wear when called up, a kind of modern-day Catholic school uniform if you will. So there I was prepping my outfit of blue pin-striped skirt and white blouse. I went to my drawer to peruse my usually large collection of black tights and black sheer panty hose. It was sadly small most likely due to my daughter raiding my lingerie drawer. Egads, there was only one pair of sheers without holes. I sighed in grateful relief and put them on. I mean, what would I do if I had to resort to nude panty hose over the burned leg? In front of a live studio audience? Of course, it struck me how ingrained my habit of leg-cover-up is as well as how silly it remains. But, as they say, it is what it is. My goal in public appearances is to NOT draw unwanted attention to myself — trust me, it invites stares and the eyes-looking-down-I-didn’t-mean-to-look-but-I-couldn’t-help-myself-and-I’m-really-sorry look. Uncomfortable for them and for me. So, black tights or plucky black sheer hose is my uniform with the skirt. By the way, the performance went well and I pulled off the Hispanic accents quite well.