Paul Alan Ruben

Paul Alan Ruben

Monday, April 30, 2012

Interrogating The Schmooze: a note to narrators mining for work at APAC, 2012

If the sole priority of each narrator attending APAC this June isn’t to secure employment, it would interesting to know what is.

Given that you’ll likely find yourself assuming the schmooze position when encountering potential employers, a question that arises is, how do you truly distinguish yourself vocally? What could potential employers possibly hear from you that hasn’t been proffered in a hundred iterations a thousand times before?

(FYI, in a wholly unsolicited email Aunt Mary assured me, “I will be there schmoozing the socks and nylons off publishers with my hot new demo that’s gonna blow the author’s words off the book!”).

To be sure, a substantial resume featuring award-winning work for major publishers couldn’t hurt. It’s fair to say, too, that given economic reality, a facile, prepared narrator is an attribute worth emphasizing. That said, what’s special about you? My bet would be that because most narrators are actors or have a performance background, they’d like to assert that their ability and passion to tell stories not only distinguishes them, but actually means something to the listener. The problem is, employers are ahead of you: they get the enthusiasm and they recognize that the person in front of them isn’t about to discredit their skill.

So, as a narrator seeking to pique a potential employer’s curiosity, what to do? You can always follow AM’s lead: “I’ll be squeezing their cheeks with my pointy nails screaming, hire me, till they either nod yes or pass out.”

Or how about an equally unique, albeit more nuanced sell, one that proposes to directly link your abilities to the listener’s storytelling experience by ‘particularizing’ them through a performance lens.

Let me explain by first suggesting that, in my opinion, though audio book employers value great narrators, many may not possess the performance vocabulary to sustain a conversation about acting, much less storytelling. Hopefully, they will find a dialogue that seeks to tangibly clarify what you do fascinating, different. Arresting? I’m getting carried away.

In contemplating how to initiate your performance schmooze, I’d argue, don’t think of potential employers as publishers or producers, but rather, listeners.

As a listener, consider: Where should they be, emotionally, the moment they hear your voice? What should their experience of you be throughout the audio program? How might you introduce (respectfully, deferentially, of course) terminology that assists them in articulating their opinions (hopefully raves) about your performance? And how should they congratulate themselves for hiring you in the first place?

Let’s suppose that you suggest, your demeanor matter-of-fact, breezy, “Ya know, in fiction and non-fiction, my job-one is to emotionally connect you to the author’s story so that we are both engaged in the narrative’s action as if it were happening right now.” I wishfully see the employer taken aback, thoughtful, contemplative: Ooooh, yeah, that’s like, so cool. Tell me more.

Well, assuming he hasn’t been yanked away by a long lost colleague, why not add, as if momentarily propelled by an inspirational gust, “In fiction, imagine locating each character’s point of view, feeling it, as if you were inside their head? When that occurs, I’ve succeeded as a storyteller. I’ve connected you to the text, emotionally. Oh, and in non-fiction, I expect you to feel connected to the author’s passion, her point of view, because it’s as if I’m that passionate author, you can believe that.”

I envision - inching wondrously toward ‘best case scenario’ - the potential employer’s tantalized visage as he reconsiders audio books through your performance lens, thinking to himself, yeah, this is totally awesome. He’s primed for the bottom line: what distinguishes the storyteller from Aunt Mary, who is lurking behind him, fingernails battle ready? “By the way, I’m the author’s emotional conduit. I connect the feeling embedded in every single word of the narrative to you. Actors call that feeling subtext. Oh, hey, happy to unpack the jargon during cocktail hour. Anyway, I know you gotta bounce, but, remember, connecting emotionally is how I keep you in the garage finishing the last CD when you should have been in the kitchen chopping the salad, right.”

It’s never easy to schmooze a potential employer. Few people enjoy selling, even fewer can tolerate selling themselves. That said, it may be fair to argue that attempting to create a performance dialogue with an employer – one that particularizes the narrator’s responsibility to the listener - might introduce a new and meaningful lens through which the employer can regard the narrator’s relationship to the listener.

Yes, the proof is in the storytelling. Ultimately potential employers must be impressed by the narrator’s work. But I imagine them thinking sometime later, wow, I had this conversation with a narrator who really gets his craft, knows what he’s talking about. Yeah, really interesting; Oh, I’ll remember the conversation. And if I hire him it's because he connected me to that book, end of story!”
I’ll be hosting a panel discussion at APAC: Casting the Voice. Check online for update on panelists.