Brad Venable: She is a noted Los Angeles audiobook narrator and always looking for a good storyteller. Tonight, the Voice Actors Studio welcomes Vanessa Hart.
Where do you come from?
Vanessa Hart: Well, that’s a big question to begin with. I was born in Florida, raised in Arkansas, educated in Dallas and Minneapolis. I started my professional career in Minneapolis and lived there for 12 years. I’ve been in LA now for 17 years – Please DO NOT do the math.
Where did you receive your education?
I did a year at SMU and finished up at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.
Did your education prepare you for the world of voiceovers?
Not sure that anything really prepares you for a career in the industry. But it is how voice work first occurred to me.
How did you get started in the voiceover industry?
The last quarter at the U of MN there was a class that’s goal was to prepare you for a life as an artist. They brought in many speakers from various areas of the industry. The last person that spoke was the voice rep for the biggest agency in town. That’s when it first entered my reality that “voicing” could be a job. I eventually signed with the agency and got my first national, union gig shortly thereafter. That was amazing good fortune – I truly don’t believe that it works that way anymore.
How is the industry different now than when you started?
Home studios and P2P. And the ugly race to the bottom regarding rates.
When did you decide to make the move to Los Angeles, and why?
I moved in ’94. I have did the scratch track for a national Lee Jeans commercial and when they returned from shooting the commercial they decided to recast with all LA talent. That did it for me. I thought I had gone as far as I could in Minneapolis. That is not true today.
What’s the most valuable piece of advice you got when starting out, and does that apply today?
Know yourself. Today that’s called “your signature” and is just as true.
If you were starting out today, what would you do differently?
Honestly … nothing. Every step has led me to where I am. Also, I’m not a big fan of regrets or looking backwards.
Let’s talk about workshops and classes for a moment; what kinds of VO education do you offer?
I coach privately with a very small and select group of students. Together we access your needs and goals and then make that happen in a way that also works within your budget. This can, and does, cover everything from the gifted beginner who needs to know everything to the advanced student or working pro who wants help on an audition or needs assistance formulating a deal to approach an audiobook publisher with. I also produce both commercial and audiobook demos.I’ve just started doing workshops and find that I love doing that. The energy and talent is uplifting and the courage is inspiring.
And when *you* take classes, if geography and logistics meant nothing, whose class would you attend, and where?
I have studied with and am a huge fan of Pat Fraley, Nancy Wolfson and Cathy and Harv Kalmenson. I study every chance I get. Continuing education is a must in this business.
Many people don’t know the exact process of doing an audiobook gig, from casting to final sign-off. Can you describe that process?
Good lord – NO. This would take hours and is one of the reasons I teach. Come and study with me Brad and all will be revealed.
Haha! I think I might just do that! As a working narrator who recognizes what it takes to work right now, what are the best traits in a talent?
You’ve got to be smart, disciplined, hard working and easy to get along with. I would say that’s true for every profession.
How rich an acting background does it take to succeed in audiobooks?
It’s not necessary but it sure helps. I started out as a professional stage actor and that has helped me tremendously. When I work with professional actors it’s usually just a matter of explaining how to translate the skills from stage, TV or film to the audiobook medium. But acting can be taught. Talent … no – that’s a gift. But acting is about knowing the right questions to ask and then incorporating those answers into your read.
Now, you aren’t *just* an “audiobook narrator,” are you?
No. I’ve come to the genre only recently. At some point you want to do something that will outlive you. I still love doing commercials and other voice acting work but audiobook work is by far the richest experience I’ve had as a voice artist.
How much has the ‘online game’ changed the industry, and is it a good or bad thing?
It’s totally changed the industry and right now the industry (that means us) is fighting to decide whether it ends up being a good or a bad thing. Rates are an issue and there are many, many others. This is a four hour discussion – minimum.
You’re a union talent. How does that affect your work?
Well, the big change has been in the field of audiobooks. I was approached several years ago to sit on the AFTRA audiobook steering committee and my first response was “You do understand that 100% of the audiobook work I do is non-union?” And they did and they understood it all. Where there were no union contracts with the major publishers then – now, most of the big houses are working under a union contract. You do not have to be a union member to work with those houses but if you are you now have the option of working under the contract and receiving H & R. This is so very important for the working actor and one of the most rewarding efforts I’ve ever been involved in. In fact, I just had a meeting with NY this morning and we approved the terms for a new contract with one of the largest publishing houses. I would love to tell you who but I’d have to kill you.
Where do you see the unions going in the near future?
I see a merger between SAG and AFTRA for the betterment of all. I also see the union continuing to be proactive. In my crystal ball I see a quick and easy way to turn all non-union work union. Bob Bergen is at the forefront of this movement and I thank him along with all the others who give of their time so that others may benefit.
What is your relationship with the publishers and the casting directors?
Why – I love them – as does my landlord. No, but really – these are some of the nicest people in the business. I appreciate them and what they do. These are highly valued relationships.
So, speaking of your landlord, do you voice from home?
95% of the time.
What’s the most memorable project you’ve worked on? The most memorable talent you’ve stumbled upon?
This I cannot do. I could give you 5 or 6 of my favorite audiobooks and 3 or 4 narrators who make me cry and the hair stand up on my arms … but I won’t. Too much excellence would be left out. I have never worked on a project that lacked merit or worked with a student who did not, at some point, move me.
What are the best characteristics of someone wanting to get into audiobook narration?
I believe we’ve covered this but I’d like to add that you must love the work. The prep, the voicing, even the hunting for work are all important. If you love literature and always wanted to play all the parts in a movie or play – this is the job for you.
And so we begin our classroom with the questionnaire invented by the great Bernard Pivot, and used by the incomparable James Lipton at the Actor’s Studio…
What is your favorite word?
What is your least favorite word?
What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
What sound or noise do you love?
What sound or noise do you hate?
Haha! That seems to be a trend here! What is your favorite curse word?
What profession, other than your own, would you like to attempt?
What profession would you not like to do?
If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
That was an excellent journey – are you ready for the next one?
Vanessa, thank you so much for your time. Any parting words of wisdom to the talent and fledgling talent out there?
Believe, believe, believe and don’t give up before the miracle. Thank you Brad for having me – this was a blast and I really look forward to spending some face time with you and your fellow artists in Dallas.
And likewise to you, Vanessa!